We arrived in Trivandrum on 20 October 2016. We travelled to Amritapuri, where we spent the next few days adjusting, handling payments, filling in forms, getting a cultural introduction, and other formalities. Here, we met Maarten de Groot who answered all our questions about life in India and Amrita.
On the 25th of October, we arrived in Ettimadai, where we got settled and had a first meeting with Dr. Udaya, Mahesh and Prithvi. That weekend, we paid our first visit to Valaramkunnu, together with Dr. Udaya. This visit was just for a weekend, in order to meet Mr. Hari and Radakrishnan, and to see the prototype.
We tried using the distillation unit for the very first time ever (also for Udaya) to see if the prototype works. We concluded that it worked, which was reassuring (we even got a little bit of oil), however there were some problems:
- The pressure release safety valve leaked; it already opened at a much too low pressure, so we weren’t able to reach the pressures/temperatures we needed for distillation
- The pressure gauge on the distillation unit needed to be replaced with one that can reach higher pressures
- The gasket was deformed and hence there was a leak at the seal of the distillation unit
- We needed a steam rotameter in order to know the steam flow rate
From the 31 October until 27 November (week 3-6), we stayed on campus in Ettimadai.
The next days, we did some calculations about the steam requirements and the separator dimensions in order to get familiar with the calculations. In the week of 7-11 Nov, we had some meetings and made a list of the experimentation equipment that we had to procure. We also made an experimentation plan, indicating on which day we’d do which experiment. We were supposed to leave for the village to get started with the experiments on 19/11; however, we experienced some delay because we had to wait for funding in order to buy the required experimentation materials.
We spent the next two weeks (14 – 25 Nov), while waiting for the funding, working on the business and marketing aspects. We made up a list of businesses we could contact. We sent an email to the Wayanad Tourism Organization (WTO) and set up a meeting with them in order to promote our product. They already knew about the project through last year’s group. The meeting was on 28 November already so we prepared a presentation.
On 24/11, we had finally received the money and immediately went to Coimbatore to buy the necessary items. We were able to get everything except the rotameter, which Dr. Udaya would bring when he joined us in Wayanad.
Week 7 to 11: Living with a host family in Wayanad
We travelled to Wayanad together with the supervisors from the TU Delft and showed them the prototype on Monday 28/11. We brought the items we had bought in Coimbatore with us, however we weren’t able to install them before 2 December, when Udaya arrived at the village. Another problem we ran into when we arrived at the village was that the focal point of the solar collector had burned a hole into the water pipes (which were made out of plastic) so it had to be replaced by a GI pipe. We spent the days without Udaya (28/11-2/12) working on the report, analysing the safety & security aspects of the process, and working on the business aspects.
On the evening of 28/11, we had the meeting with the WTO, where over 50 hoteliers were present. We held a presentation about the project and the business opportunities. After the meeting, we talked to several of the hoteliers, who were in general very interested in the project, and exchanged contact details. There was one company, Parisons, that showed great interest, and they had already bought the product from the group last year, after which they wanted to get a new delivery but weren’t able to due to loss of contact. We explained that the production of the oil hasn’t really gotten started yet and decided that once the production was running and we were able to deliver the product on a regular basis, we would prioritize Parisons as our first customer due to their loyalty and guaranteed interest.
Udaya joined us on the weekend of 2 – 4 December. During that time, we installed the new GI pipes, replaced the valve and the pressure gauge. However, Udaya wasn’t able to bring a rotameter, so we’d have to do the first experiments without knowing the exact value of the steam flow.
Unfortunately, there was not enough time and sun to do an experiment while Udaya was still there, but he explained to us in detail how to use the prototype and so we were ready to start experimentation without him. After Udaya left, we first spent a day cleaning the mirror (since it was quite dirty and this caused a great loss of reflective capacity), learning how to cut the grass, and filling the water and steam tanks, which were empty after the replacement of the pipes. After this, we started doing the first experiment. However, when doing so, two of the C-clamps of the lid broke. They couldn’t handle the pressure (even though we were only at 0.5 bar). Because of this, we had to stop experimentation until Mahesh and Prithvi would arrive with new clamps on Friday 16 December. And so, during that week, we continued working on the business plan and on the final report.
When Mahesh and Prithvi joined us, we spent two days replacing all the clamps by new, stronger ones. We finally ran the first experiment on Sunday, 18 December. The first days of experimenting were just a matter of trial-and-error and getting more familiar with the unit and the process. They didn’t deliver any accurate results since we still had to figure out several details about operating the process, for example, how to keep all parameters constant throughout the entire distillation. Also, since there was no rotameter, we didn’t know what flow rate we were using, which made precise scientific experiments virtually impossible.
In the 11th week, (last week of December), we went on holiday, while Mahesh and Prithvi took over in the village. They’d brought a new coil and a rotameter, which they installed while we were gone. When we returned at the beginning of January, we hoped to continue with the experiments, however, there turned out to be large leaks at the outlets of the rotameter. We spent the last two weeks in the village repairing these leaks. On 15 January, we travelled back to campus, where we completed the report, had round-up meetings and held a final presentation for our supervisors as well as the Amrita International Office. We then had a few days of holiday, enjoing our last days in India before flying back to Europe on 29 January 2017.