At the age of fifteen, when most people are entangled in schoolwork and teenage drama, Bisman Deu invented a environmentally friendly building material, Green Wood, from rice husk and straw. The idea came to her when she saw piles of rice waste and straw being burnt during an evening walk with her father on their family farm in Amritsar, and seeing the environmental hazards and breathing problems, which people started suffering from because of the clouds of smoke. “I’d go to my family’s farm, where my dad grew up, for the holidays, and see them burning piles and piles of it. The harvesting months are the worst and the black smoke gets quite harmful, causing people to have problems breathing, as well as polluting the environment,” Deu tells The Guardian. “I started researching pollution,” she says, “then I researched the properties of rice husk; it has a high silica content, is waterproof, and termite resistant,” she says. With research ready and a mind full of ideas she ventured into the kitchen to experiment. She mixed the leftover husk after rice cultivation with resin and baked it--the result was the prototype model of Green Wood, which could be used as alternative low-cost building material in rural areas.
She says the product is fungi and mould-proof, making it a viable option for building houses. Deu also plans to use the material to build low-cost school furniture. “I think it could be a local, sustainable solution to some of the problems we see here,” she says to The Guardian. After the initial prototype model was made, she got two more students on-board the Green Wood team and together entered the Social Innovation Relay competition held by HP in 2013. Green Wood won first prize out of 43,000 student entries from around the world. In 2014, Deu was invited by UNICEF to be a keynote speaker and panelist at their State of the World’s Children event in New York, and she’s also currently the only young person on UNICEF’s Wearables For Good judging panel.
Today, Deu is eighteen years old and finishing her schooling in Chandigarh. “I’ve made a few designs now and I’m still improving it. Since I’m in a crucial grade of studying, I’m working on both the green wood and school right now, but I’m hoping to have it available to as many people as soon as possible,” she stated to The Guardian. “I want to provide cheap and affordable housing material to people, because many live in homes made of mud, which can’t always withstand the weather,” she says.
Though Green Wood is a work in progress, it is a major development and a much-needed invention when seen in the context of India’s waste production and management. North India suffers huge amounts of air pollution during two major burning seasons for farmers in the country. The first being in May when wheat chaff is burnt and rice is sown, and the second is later in the year in November when the next cycle of harvesting the rice, burning the paddy and sowing wheat occurs. This entire process is essential for India’s agrarian society, with Deu’s model the environmentally-hazardous practice can be avoided and instead recycling the unwanted rice husks and straw into an alternative cheap and sturdy building material.
Feature image courtesy UNICEF via Forbes