Taro-based hand sanitiser a Samoan first

The Scientific Research Organisation of Samoa (S.R.O.S.) has unveiled a new taro-based ethanol hand sanitiser that has been six years in the making.

S.R.O.S. says it’s a monumental step as it works toward building a commercial factory.

The ethanol was a necessary prerequisite to creating the hand sanitiser. 

S.R.O.S. came up with the ethanol when they were searching for ways to help farmers find another way to make money from their taro plantations.

“The ethanol production all started because of the farmers. They wanted another avenue so that their taro could be sold,” said the Chief Executive Office of S.R.O.S., Seuseu Joseph Tauati.

“That’s how the ethanol story came through. We took the taro and other produce but we stuck to taro because there is a good supply.”

The C.E.O. said it will take time for the product to be commercially viable but S.R.O.S. will increase production when they scale up to factory-level production and increase their demand for taro. 

“We can buy more taro and we can do it with more ethanol products. We use any taro. We can just go to the market once it hits [the] commercial [market] we will have to write contracts with the farmers so we can have a steady supply but at the moment we just go buy it from the market,”  said Seuseu.

“Roughly speaking one taro can produce 750 ml of a product  

The sanitiser, Seuseu said, was launched shortly after the country was placed on coronavirus lockdown in late March.

“It went by the needs of the country because of COVID-19. Initially, we set it all out by ethanol production and whatever the need of ethanol in our laboratory and also ethanol for any value-added products,” he said.

“COVID-19 hit and there was a demand for hand sanitisers and we had ethanol on board…we are looking into commercial [expansion] so we’re just making some products to test the market and then once our commercial company is up we will be selling it at a commercial scale.”

Six years ago, S.R.O.S. began experimenting with taro, extracting or distilling the taro through a standard process of distillation.

“And we got the ethanol and then we made value-added products…we already had the ethanol and we just needed to use it for a value added product from and we took it from there,” said Seuseu.

“Like I said, we always had the ethanol and it’s not very good on your hands. It disappears very fast so we had to delay in making the aloe and the essential oils to create the nice scent and the aloe so you can have a nice soothing touch to your hands.”

The bulk of the hand sanitiser is taro ethanol. The active ingredient is 65 percent ethanol.

“Over 60 per cent ethanol is the recommendation for it to be effective. Ethanol was the key work we have been working on since six years ago so that took quite some time,” said Seuseu.

“When COVID-19 happened we turned around and yes we had the ethanol. It took us some time.”

S.R.O.S. has begun to test the market for their taro ethanol hand sanitiser and collect feedback.

“Obviously we are on a small scale now so we cannot fill up all the supermarkets. We will be testing the market for now but it will be early next year when we can get the volume up,” he said.

“[This] is a nice story because it comes from our own taro; this is the uniqueness of it all. You can import the ethanol from overseas but why not make it from our own taro?”


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