Natural repellent to combat insect-borne diseases in the Tropics
James Cook University researchers have helped develop a technique to produce a potent mosquito repellent from essential oils.
JCU’s Associate Professor Michael Oelgemöller and Dr Marie Oelgemöller have just returned from Noumea in New Caledonia. Working with the University of New Caledonia they helped produce a natural mosquito repellent that meets local and European health regulations.
Last year, Associate Professor Oelgemöller, a chemistry lecturer, introduced the technique to a local small-scale natural oil distillery that is now producing the repellent.
"Seeing the actual repellent on the shelf and hearing that it is well received by customers is truly exciting,” he said.
“It’s a relatively simple method that involves heating a blend of oils under certain conditions. There is no big capital investment required from the distillery as they already have most of the equipment needed.”
Dr Oelgemöller says this is an exciting and promising step in addressing major health issues in New Caledonia and the rest of the tropics.
“There is a strong public focus on renewable energy sources and sustainable starting materials,” she said. “This is not only about chemistry, it’s also about sustainable development.
“The idea is to add value to local production, and later on expand and focus on aid development in more remote areas where health issues caused by insect-borne diseases are a high priority.”
Associate Professor Oelgemöller said essential oil producers in Australia face similar challenges in product diversification and value-adding.
“That makes this process attractive for northern Queensland as well,” he said.
“The climate, sun, and flora in New Caledonia are very similar to those in Townsville. As a tropical island they also have mosquitoes and the health and social problems that come with them.”
The team has found that the essential oil from Far North Queensland makes an even better resource for refining. The JCU team is currently looking for local essential oil producers or retailers to replicate their success from New Caledonia.
The project in New Caledonia was funded by the French Embassy’s Pacific Funds and the scientists are also looking for seed funding to further develop the necessary operational protocols for limited production units in either New Caledonia, or Queensland, and ultimately, in other Pacific islands facing similar challenges.
Associate Professor Michael Oelgemöller
Discipline of Chemistry
College of Science and Engineering
P: (07) 4781 4543
Dr Marie Oelgemöller
Lecturer in Multimedia Journalism and Writing
College of Arts, Society and Education
P: (07) 4781 5215