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Sri Lanka as a leading nanotechnology destination:

A step towards the future

Sri Lanka had been talking of introducing nanotechnology for almost 15 years; ministers had promised to build nano parks and provide other benefits to get such projects off the ground. However, very little attention had been paid to the matter.

A model of the Nanotechnology Centre in Homagama

Last Thursday, the much talked about and long overdue foundation stone for the 54-acre nanotechnology Centre of Excellence (NCE) was finally laid on Government land at Homagama.

Chairman Sri Lanka Institute of Nanotechnology (SLINTEC), Mahesh Amalean said the investment for the initial stage of the project is Rs 830 million. The nanotechnology park, funded by the Government and a few private sector entities, would enable companies to invest and develop their research centres’ incubation facilities and pilot plants in the environment of an advanced technology park.

This would help Sri Lanka to be positioned as a leading destination for nanotechnology, taking the country closer towards becoming the ‘Wonder of Asia’.

The second phase of the park will focus on the expansion of research and business development for the public and private sector in Sri Lanka and potential foreign direct investment from multinational corporations as well as SMEs through attractive incentives, terms and conditions.

Nanotechnology Goldmine

One of Asia’s leading nano-scientists Dr Lalin Samaranayake told the Sunday Observer that Sri Lanka is sitting on a ‘nanotechnology goldmine’. It has not used its potential in the world market, he said

He said while Sri Lanka has the technology to reap economic benefits from nanotechnology in the island itself, the country only exports raw materials, giving all the benefits to the world. “Sri Lanka sells nano raw materials such as graphite, silica, titanium dioxide and clay for various industries in the world and imports the finished products spending a lot of foreign currency.”

Sri Lanka now has an opportunity to add premium value to its raw materials through research and development work in nano-technology by local scientists and engineers. For example, processes have been designed and developed to produce titanium dioxide and nano titanium dioxide which will save more than 10 times the foreign exchange spent on importing them for local industries.

Nanotechnology is considered a key technology for the future. Consequently, various governments have invested billions of dollars in its future. The USA has invested US$ 3.7 billion through its National Nanotechnology Initiative followed by Japan with US$ 750 million and the European Union US$ 1.2 billion.

Minister of Technology and Research Pavithra Wanniarachchi and Chairman, Sri Lanka Institute of Nanotechnology, Mahesh Amalean lay the foundation stone for the Nanotechnology Centre

Nano-scientist Dr. Lalin Samaranayake

Nanotechnology may be able to create many new materials and devices with a vast range of applications, such as in medicine, electronics, bio-materials and energy production. In addition, methods have been invented and patented to produce carbon nano tubes of high quality and purity which have a market price of about US $ 500 per gram whereas currently the raw graphite is exported from local mines at US$ 1,200 per metric tonne.

High quality products

Hence, the knowledge base and technology drive have been created and instated in-house and it is time to invest on them with a vision and put into practice measures where nanotechnology- based high quality products with ‘Made in Sri Lanka’ labels reach the global market.

“That way we shall not be very far from economic prosperity,” he said. He said one of the biggest advantages of nanotechnology is that it uses a low investment and brings high returns. Nanotechnology also consumes low levels of electricity and factories do not need large areas.

“This makes nano a viable investment for the private sector,” he added.

Another major advantage is that raw materials to produce nano tubes and other export telecast material would be freely available even for another century. Samaranayake, who is based in Sweden, said the recent Budget has provided incentives for research which is a very good initiative.

Budget 2012

Today there is increasing confidence among policymakers that research and development can make a significant contribution towards achieving development goals.

This is clearly reflected in the 2012 budget, said Minister of Technology and Research Pavithra Wanniarachchi.

“A few years ago, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, together with the Treasury, took a leap of faith in nanotechnology. We are now witnessing the results of this foresight and vision for our country,” said the Minister.

Recently, the SLINTEC in a landmark agreement, entered into a strategic collaboration with Nagarjuna Fertilisers and Chemicals Limited of Hyderabad, India, to develop the next generation of nanotechnology-based plant fertiliser solutions. It was the first program which provided Lankan technology to the international market, SLINTEC science team leader, Professor in Chemistry, University of Peradeniya, Professor Veranja Karunaratne said. The main purpose of this agreement is to develop the next generation of nanotechnology-based plant nutrition solutions.

 

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