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A drone, partially made with pineapple stems, flies at a pineapple plantation in Jenjarom, Malaysia December 12, 2020. Picture taken December 12, 2020.

Pineapple waste used to build disposable drones

Image credit: REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng

Researchers in Malaysia have developed a method to transform the fibre found in normally discarded pineapple leaves to make a strong material that can be used to build the frames for unmanned aircraft, e.g. drones.

The project, led by Professor Mohamed Thariq Hameed Sultan at Malaysia’s Putra University, sought to find sustainable uses for pineapple waste generated by farmers in Hulu Langat, an area about 65km (40 miles) from the capital Kuala Lumpur. “We are transforming the leaf of the pineapple into a fibre that can be used for aerospace application, basically inventing a drone,” he said. 

Hameed Sultan said the drones made out of the bio-composite material had a higher strength-to-weight ratio than those made from synthetic fibres and were also cheaper, lighter and easier to dispose of. He also said that if the drone was damaged, the frame could be buried in the ground and would degrade within two weeks.

A student holds pineapple leaf fibres at a workshop of University Putra Malaysia, in Serdang, Malaysia December 15, 2020. Picture taken December 15, 2020.

A student holds pineapple leaf fibres at a workshop of University Putra Malaysia, in Serdang, Malaysia.

Image credit: REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng

These prototype drones have been able to fly to a height of about 1,000m (3,280ft) and stay in the air for about 20 minutes, he added. The research team hopes to create a larger drone to accommodate bigger payloads, including imaging sensors for agricultural purposes and aerial inspections.

“Our role here is to help the industry, the farmers, to increase their yield and make their jobs much easier,” said William Robert Alvisse of the Malaysian Unmanned Drones Activist Society, a non-governmental group helping to design the drone.

University Putra Malaysia professor Mohamed Thariq holds pineapple leaves and a drone partially made with pineapple stems, in Jenjarom, Malaysia December 12, 2020. Picture taken December 12, 2020.

University Putra Malaysia professor Mohamed Thariq holds pineapple leaves and a drone partially made with pineapple stems, in Jenjarom.

Image credit: REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng

Before the project launched in 2017, pineapple stems were discarded after the once-in-a-year harvest period. Farmers in the district hope the drones project will encourage more innovation to find uses for the waste and boost incomes.

Irwan Ismail, a pineapple farmer at Hulu Langat, said: “With the health issue, the economy problem due to Covid-19, the society is desperate and there is no alternative to increase income.”

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