Newton’s Pine-Cones: A Kashmir Epiphany

Pine-Cone exports comprise a potential, albeit deficiently-planned, economic prospect in Kashmir. The overwhelming abundance often goes wasted in the wilderness, as most of the temperate valley’s bountiful resources.  But do these primitive beings, hold promise for powering up the land and store dynamic calibre and immense capacity for international commerce?

Embarked about an outing at the lush forests of Kulgam back in 2016, the then-27-year-old Yasir Bhat, a physicist had his Isaac Newton-epiphany moment, when he and his friends spotted falling cones, a prevalent sight in the subalpine regions. The otherwise commonplace phenomenon, observed and forgotten by his companions, registered an indelible intuition and initiated a spurt of scientific inquiry, in the inquisitive and curious mind of the scientist. The seeds of ingenuity had been sown. Thenceforth, the energy scientist, strived to devise an alternative, accessible and organic energy production means from the natural, readily available source: Pine-cones, which were omnipresent in the region. These conifers posed themselves as suitable energy-sources for developing, arboreal areas, as his own, hailing from humble, remote, rural origins. He had to work to analyse their calorific viability and develop their utilitarian feasibility, i.e. processing them and devising apparata for harnessing their innate chemical potential. 

He hails from an agricultural household in Amnoo village of Kulgam, and is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in Physics from the Delhi University. Upon spotting the precipitating pinecones, Yasir took a few kilograms back home, missionarily zealous to devise a way to utilise them. His research field primarily being Super capacitors (very potent electrical energy containment and storage devices, often circuit components), Yasir felt spontaneously inclined to tinker with these plant products which could be converted to activated charcoal, an efficient, common fuel, which could store high amounts of energy and pose itself a viable alternative to depleting energy resources. Having delineated the axial principle, he uptook the task of  elucidating it by figuring out the exactnesses thereof, and framing it as a lucid research paper, as a challenge to surmount: The process involved combustion followed by pulverisation of the resultant coal, and its treatment using chemical activating agents including Zinc-chloride. The residue was subsequently subjected to constant heating upto 800-degrees Centigrade, before exposure to Nitrogen gas. Finally it was exposed to Carbon Dioxide, to increase its porosity which enhances internal surface area. Yasir believes his act will play a small part in alleviating the looming, impending global energy-crisis. He strenuously strived to prove that pinecone charcoal could be used to fashion practical capacitors, performing Raman Analysis, in order to establish its efficiency. 


Following three years of ardour and toil, Yasir’s research was finally unconditionally accepted for publication by Elsevier, in Electrochemica Acta, a globally-reputed journal of electrochemistry with an impact factor of 5.116. 

Most of Kashmir’s ill-harnessed ample hydroelectric prospects are diverted to the mainland, and seldom end up benefitting its native denizens. This is attributable to poor planning, lack of systematism and a trickle-down mode of administration. The Central government’s general, salient alienation, indifference, and vested interests in keeping the populace devoid of its own resources have led to both stoic and systematic neglect that integrates resource exploitation to a holistic nature. Policymakers need to frame a bottom-up approach, than the existant, incumbent top-down, that has been the keystone of Commissionary Planning ab-initio.

Hydroelectric projects are often exercises-in-indiscriminacy and insolence, destroying the aesthetically and biodiversity and endemism-wise crucial biota that the valley abounds and teems with. Picturesque forest tracts are inundated, and scenic vistas razed down, to create behemoths of concrete and stagnant water. An alternative, organic yet sustainable energy source, even one supplementary-intended, would be a welcome addition to the undiversified energy supply repertoire of the much-exploited region. Moreover, displacement of local indigenous communities that had been synced in-tandem with the ambience over centuries, leads to creation of a vacuum which in-turn usurps the delicate ecological balance and topples the entire ecosystem.

Yasir hopes his discovery shall be multilaterally and consequentially applied and utilised to tackle energy scarcity. He says his device can work in adverse conditions and withstand vagaries of nature, being fully operational from a frigid subzero 30 degrees to 90 degrees of heat. Yasir is scouting for International Bio-Energy companies and ventures, and energy solutions MNCs, to endorse his project on a large and practically viable scale. One major player in the sector, Bio-Consult, has already expressed interest in the publication. Yasir hopes his research will mobilise global attention towards the copious presence of massive bio-resources in Kashmir. The surplus natural wealth and endowment that nature abounds with, might prove instrumental in coping with the energy crisis and developing international investment and trade in the region, facilitating valuable inbound foreign exchange.

“Government recently announced battery-operated vehicles to be used in Kashmir, which can prove efficient through the use of capacitors generated from pine cones. These capacitors are equally useful in fire services, me

Yasir is a gold medallist and a Ministry for Science and Technology’s “INSPIRE Fellow”, the latter of which enabled him some financial support in order to carry out his research activities. 

“None from my family has ever gone to school. My brothers work at a saw mill. I was initially laughed at back in Kashmir. Then the research was not possible in Kashmir due to the lack of avenues and I had to conduct most of my experiments in Delhi University,” he said in an interview.

More than half of Kashmir is forested and enormous quantities of pine-cones are produced.

Yasir’s paper titled “Pinecone-derived porous activated carbon for high performance all-solid-state electrical double layer capacitors fabricated with flexible gel polymer electrolytes”, available on Research Gate, quotes its central dogma as “a novel configuration of electrical double layer capacitors (EDLCs), fabricated with porous activated carbon electrodes derived from bio-waste pinecone and plastic crystals-based gel polymer electrolytes.”

Super capacitors typically store electricity at 10 to 1000 times size-efficiency, i.e. possess that many times intrinsic energy density capacity, than the usually-encountered capacitors, i.e. Electrolytic capacitors. Activated carbon-based capacitors were introduced in the late 60s, and have since been an energy and material science applications research-interest mainstay. 

Scientific References:

Bueno, Paulo R. (2019-02-28). “Nanoscale origins of super-capacitance phenomena”. Journal of Power Sources. 414: 420–434. ISSN 0378-7753

Ho, J.; Jow, R.; Boggs, S. (Jan 2010). “Historical Introduction to Capacitor Technology” (PDF). IEEE Electrical Insulation Magazine. 26 (1): 20–25. 

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