Au naturel approaches for healthcare and biodiesel production

Researchers in Malaysia are using the chemistry of natural products for sustainable health and energy solutions.

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Scientists at Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS) are investigating applications for natural and sustainable resources in the health and energy sectors. Teams are looking for ways to exploit the therapeutic potential of black pepper and to use the catalytic properties of ginger leaves for biodiesel production.

At UNIMAS’s Faculty of Resource Science and Technology, Suk Fun Chin and her team have found a way to use modified starch nanoparticles to carry and slowly release piperine – the compound responsible for the spicy sting of black pepper – in the human body.

Research suggests that piperine has various therapeutic properties, including as an anti-depressant, an anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer agent, in addition to reducing fever and modulating the immune system. The problem is that it does not dissolve well in fluids and so cannot be effectively absorbed and used by the body.

To solve this problem, Chin and her colleagues modified starch using an acetylation reaction to form starch acetate. This was then slowly precipitated in a solution of ethanol to form starch acetate nanoparticles.

The team found they could load piperine onto the starch acetate nanoparticles better than onto non-modified starch nanoparticles. Piperine was also released by starch acetate at a slower rate, over 24 hours, compared with non-modified starch nanoparticles, which released the compound over 16 hours.

“We think there is potential for using starch acetate nanoparticles loaded with piperine as a food supplement for the compound’s health-related properties,” says Chin. The findings were published in the journal Starch.

In a nearby lab at the department of chemical engineering and energy sustainability, Mohammad Omar Abdullah and his colleagues have made solid catalysts for biodiesel production using waste ginger leaves.

The production and use of biodiesel have increased significantly in recent years. The production process involves converting oils and fats into fatty acid methyl ester, the predominant compound in biodiesel. Currently, the catalysts used in this chemical reaction are in the same phase as their reactants; in this case the oil and catalysts are both in liquid form. But it is expensive to separate the catalysts afterwards for reuse.

Abdullah and his team found a way to use a heterogeneous, and thus separable and reusable, catalyst made from waste ginger leaves. They used different approaches to activate the ginger leaf catalysts and tested a variety of reaction times. They also analysed the process’s energy input and output, and whether it was economical.

Of the approaches tested, one produced the highest yield of biodiesel, but it was not the most energy- or cost-efficient. “Catalysts derived from agricultural waste are biodegradable and non-toxic,” says Abdullah. “More efficient processes for the use of waste ginger leaves as catalysts for biodiesel production could reduce the cost of biodiesel and make it more sustainable.”

Abdullah says further research is needed, but the study, published in the journal Renewable Energy, is a step in the right direction.


Further information

Prof Dr Mohammad Omar Abdullah | [email protected]
Faculty of Engineering
Universiti Malaysia Sarawak

Assoc Prof Dr Suk Fun Chin | [email protected]
Faculty of Resource Science and Technology
Universiti Malaysia Sarawak

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Published: 09 Mar 2022

Contact details:

Universiti Malaysia Sarawak94300 Kota SamarahanSarawak, Malaysia

Academic disciplines: 

Journal: Starch
Starch Acetate Nanoparticles as Controlled Release Nanocarriers for Piperine

Journal: Renewable Energy
Techno-economical and energy analysis of sunflower oil biodiesel synthesis assisted with waste ginger leaves derived catalysts