Monday, July 30, 2007

A bright future to our nation by developing process industry to its peak

A bright future to our nation by developing process industry to its peak

Process industrial sectors such as chemical process industry, pulp & paper, food, pharmaceutical, ammonia, sulfuric, caustic soda …etc are essential areas in an economy of any country. A country must convert raw materials into valuable & useful products rather than importing each & every thing in order to be a strong nation. Developed countries have very large scale process plants which convert their natural resources into commercial realities.

We had well established process industries in Sri Lanka. We had a Urea production facility a Sapugaskanda, a sulfuric production plant at Ranala, Paper production plant at Embilipitiya and several other mass scale production facilities which had the capability to contribute to our GDP at very high level. Those industries saved us lot of foreign exchange by producing most of essential industrial raw materials within our country. Unfortunately most of our mass scale production facilities including Urea & Sulfuric were closed down due to many reasons. Environmental issues, lack of research and developments, improper technological input, poor maintenance and many other reasons were behind those failures.

Present day Sri Lankan process industry has not been able to satisfy our people’s needs. While we are having enough raw materials, production facilities & skilled workforce we are importing paper from other countries. We have the potential of sulfur as an intermediate product of petroleum refinery & enough oxygen in our atmosphere; but we are importing sulfuric acid from other countries. Ammonia & sulfuric production facilities are essential parts of fertilizer manufacturing. It would save a considerable foreign exchange & it will cut cost of fertilizer. Ammonia is also used for the production of plastics, fibers, explosives, and intermediates for dyes and pharmaceuticals. Sulfuric acid has principal uses include ore processing, fertilizer manufacturing, oil refining, wastewater processing, and chemical synthesis. Even for the basic operation of treating water, we have to import alum. This was a main product of the Ranala sulfuric acid plant. These two base materials can change our economy rapidly. We are producing salt yet not satisfying all our needs. Even in that process we are pumping back the valuable brine solution (an intermediate product of salt processing) to sea without getting any use from it. But Dow Chemicals started its production from making bromine from brine solution in 1900s & now they are the second largest chemical company in the world with a turnover more than the GDP of our country. They started to use brine solution to make money in hundred years ago; but in 2007 we are neglecting it with out getting any use. Brine is electrolyzed in the “chloralkali process” to make bromine, sodium hydroxide, chlorine and hydrogen, as well as the hypochlorite and chlorate. These are very valuable & essential chemicals in an industrial world.

Today we are quite confident that we have oil resources and hopefully we will start exploring it. But in order to get maximum use of it we must process crude oil within our county using our resources and must maximize product yield which is not happening today. We do have some process industries in our country but most of them are based on raw materials imported from foreign countries. It is acceptable to import if we do not have any resources. Anyhow we are a nation rich with resources but we are not doing anything to get the maximum output from our resources. We are wasting our foreign exchange to import every thing including food items. We depend 60% on foreign sources to fulfill our fundamental food needs and spend more than 2 billion rupees a year on importing food item. We are an agro based society & we are having so many sources of food & potentials for proper food industry. Yet we are importing food items. We are still depending on petroleum based fuels for transportation, power generation & household uses. We must develop renewable alternatives such as Bio diesel, bio gas, ethanol, etc if we want to decrease our fuel cost & electricity cost. We do not have any food & energy security in country. That means in an emergency such as a world war we only have 14 days of petroleum storage & considerably small food sources within the country. Even though the war will be elsewhere we may be defeated first!

In order to develop process industry in Sri Lanka we need experts in that field. Some of developing countries do not have but we do have experts in every field. The Department of Chemical & Process Engineering established in 15th February 1972 in University of Moratuwa and today has a vision of “Delivering Chemical and Process Engineering knowledge, skills and innovation for a sustainable tomorrow.” Our department has produced more than 500 Chemical & Process engineering graduates. Most of them are aboard because of unavailability of an established process industry in Sri Lanka. However there are considerable number of experts in Sri Lanka who have made many a sacrifice to be involved in the development of our nation. Every senior lecturer of our department are having decades of industrial experience, foreign research experience & exposure. We are a community on whom our poor nation has invested multimillions to educate. But our people do not use our knowledge. Most of our intellectuals are involved in processes of foreign companies abroad. Our knowledge must be used to establish proper process industry. We do have solutions to increasing fuel prices, power crisis, waste management problems and many more burning problems. We are doing researches on alternative fuels, solid waste management, sustainable process development … etc. However they must become commercial realities in order to solve burning problems which we are facing every day. To become commercial realities planers and policymakers of the nation must seek advice from those who are capable of providing technical answers.

Recently our government increased fuel prices again. Some of our people blame government but it is not the correct response. We must ask government to support research and implementations on alternative fuels. Our people blame government because of increased living cost. It is useless. We want to force government to develop industrial & services sector in Sri Lanka to increase our per capita income. There is no solution to increasing living cost in absence of real solution. World is rapidly developing and living standards of many are uplifting day by day while we are a perfect picture for stagnancy. That is why we are suffering from increasing cost of living every day.

This worst case scenario is not completely a weakness of the technical background of Sri Lanka. It is due to improper technology management. Some of our industries achieved significant profit margins after changed hands from local ownership to foreign ownership. These foreign owners did not change the unit operation completely but changed the management procedures completely. They tuned past production lines to maximize efficiency and to be complaint with international standards.

As a final year Chemical and Process engineering undergraduate I was evaluating our nation’s present status with a technical view. According to theories and concepts delivered to us by our lecturers I can see a very bright future for my nation with extending our present day industry to new profitable areas & tuning it to compliance with international standards and achieve sustainable efficiency.

Sri Lanka is a country which is full of resources & intellectuals. Please use those resources & intellectuals to develop our nation. Otherwise, we will enjoy a place in the bottom of the pile and I do not think personally that we deserve that!

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