A research team at Universiti Malaysia Perlis (UniMAP) and Newcastle University in Singapore developed a lower-limb prosthetic socket using locally derived natural fibers generated from agricultural waste. Fibers from kenaf, which is related to okra and cotton, and pineapple leaf were used to reinforce plastics in the socket. UniMAP has significant expertise creating novel composite materials from synthetic and natural fibers for applications in the marine, land transport, and construction industry.
Because making prosthetic sockets is so complex, and there are many stages in the production process, even the idea of introducing natural fibers may not simply lead to lowering the negative impact on the environment, the researchers said. Every stage in the socket’s lifecycle can consume energy, produce solid wastes, and emit greenhouse gases. At the end of its useful life with one consumer, a socket cannot be reused by another consumer, and may be recycled or sent to the waste stream. In the case of the latter, the plastic and natural fiber materials and the energy used to make the device are lost. Thus, making the device recyclable could save both materials and energy.
Newcastle University researcher Kheng Lim Goh, PhD, is conducting assessments to identify the environmental impact of the prosthetic device at every stage of its life cycle to identify opportunities to reduce the overall impact of the device.
“We will embrace an ecologically sustainable approach, with no waste build-up anywhere; leftover materials energy from one product stage will become raw materials for other industry. The best part of this is that the feasibility study will help to bring out novel ideas that if carefully put together could potentially represent a step-change approach to the development of the green prosthetic socket,” said Goh.
“By virtue of its economy, Perlis produces a lot of agricultural waste, such as pineapple leaf fibers. Given that the natural fibers are sequestrated carbon, there are advantages of turning the fibers to good use from a sustainability perspective. This will not only meet the objectives of [the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 12] for responsible consumption and production but also raise our ambitions to establish an ecosystem that embraces the local processing and supply of the natural fibers, fabrication of the prosthesis, and finally, the recycling industry, all of which could be carried out by the local workforce.”
The project is part of a joint research program between the two universities that was awarded a Research Environment Links grant as part of the Going Global Partnerships program managed by the British Council with Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology (MIGHT).
Editor’s note: This story was adapted from materials provided by Newcastle University in Singapore.