FASTER production of vinegar and an alternative treatment for wastewater are just two of the things that Dr. Lucita de Guzman wants to achieve in her research on the fibrous bed bioreactor (FBB).
The 62-year-old University of the Philippines–Visayas professor conceptualized the machine while doing research on cell adsorption kinetics at the Ohio State University, Columbus in 2004. Adsorption is the process by which molecules cling to one another.
Dr. de Guzman concept was to immobilize cells of the Acetobacter aceti bacteria in the FBB, which has been adapted to produce vinegar. Currently, the Philippines relies on sugarcane, palm tree sap, and coconut water for its vinegar needs. However, it normally takes 30 days to fully ferment vinegar using these products.
Aside from helping local coconut farmers gain extra income out of the mature coconut water that usually gets thrown out when copra is produced, de Guzman explained that with the use of FBB, vinegar can be produced in 14 days.
As of September 2017, Philippine Statistics Authority said that coconut oil place second among the top exported products in the country. Exports of it grew 63.8 percent from last year, second only to gold. Coconut oil is extracted from copra or dried coconut.
Dr. de Guzman further explained that even though it is a bit expensive to make one FBB, it can be used for six months, at least. With the use of pure cotton or polyester overlaid with stainless steel, “pulot” or musvocado syrup, and mature coconut water, vinegar can be produced.
With the use of acetobacter aceti bacteria, a new fermentation technique can minimize the risks of contamination in making vinegar. Her greatest challenge, the doctor revealed, is the lack of appreciation for her work, which UP Visayas has funded.
“It’s a bit of challenge for me because chemical engineering has not been recognized normally by the constituents of the university.” The School of Technology professor also wants to uplift the lives of coconut farmers and is awaiting a partnership with a private or public investor so the vinegar can be produced in commercial quantities.
She is also open to partnerships with cooperatives.