Amid Imports, Sri Lanka Developed Nano-Fertilizers 11 Years Ago | Print edition
By Sunimale Dias
As Sri Lanka imports liquid nitrogen nanofertilizers from India, the country’s scientist Professor Nilwala Kottegoda and her team at the Sri Lanka Institute of Nanotechnology (SLINTEC) – in search of renowned agricultural techniques global – have developed a new nano-fertilizer platform technology. for the first time 11 years ago.
“As one of the new concepts, this new fertilizer product received four US patents and there was international attraction realizing its future potential”, Professor Kottegoda, Board Member of SLINTEC, Senior Scientist at this pioneering team in the development of the concept of slow-release nano-fertilizers. , said Wednesday in an interview with the Business Times.
For various reasons, Sri Lanka was not in a position to commercialize the product at the time and therefore the technology was transferred to an Indian fertilizer company in order to generate foreign income for SLINTEC which was a start-up. -up at the time, she explained. .
Sri Lanka has not sold all of the patent rights; conversely, the right to use the concept in the manufacture of the product here is still possible with SLINTEC, she noted.
“I’m happy at the time, we were the first in the world and it was a unique patent for Sri Lanka. But the current material (the Indian product) is not the same although conceptually it is, ”explained Professor Kottegoda. The Sri Lankan product is a soil application with a 38-40 percent nitrogen load while the imported product is a foliar application with a 4 percent load (nitrogen).
Professor Kottegoda further explained: “When urea is applied to soil, up to 50-70% is wasted as water-soluble compounds and greenhouse gas emissions. In our innovations, the urea molecules are anchored on nanoparticles which offer a large specific surface to contain a large number of urea molecules; thus the wastage is minimal. Nanoparticles facilitate the slow and sustained release of nitrogen which is more available to plants.
In addition, Sri Lankan innovation has been tested at the farmers’ field level for rice and tea with support from the Rice Research and Development Institute and the Tea Research Institute (TRI). Up to 25-40 percent nitrogen savings as well as a 10-15 percent yield improvement have been noticed.
“Eleven years ago this was a new global concept and it is natural that commercialization did not take place immediately,” explained Prof Kottegoda, adding that “there were many challenges for the Sri Lanka to be marketed since urea had to be imported for the production process. . The process was more feasible in a urea producing country, which adds a minimum additional cost ”. This is a “next generation slow release fertilizer,” she said.
Professor Kottegoda’s team further developed this platform technology towards a greener process in terms of energy and minimum waste and has already received more patents. “It was a platform technology driving many other innovations to flourish.” His team has also developed a new process to dissolve natural phosphate from Eppawala. The rest of the work is done in collaboration with Sri Jayewardenepura University, she noted.
SLINTEC CEO Dr Nareshkumar Handagama told the Business Times that “we have the right to use our own patent although we have sold it to India with the clause to produce it in Sri Lanka”.
He also noted that the imported liquid solution is being used for the first time in Sri Lanka. Although the concept of this product is the same, the technology is different, Dr Handagama explained, noting that where the Indian product is a liquid solution, the one tested here was the solid product and the Sri Lankan product was used on the soil while the liquid is on the foliage.
With this method, you can control the solubility and make the particle a billionth of a meter when targeted in the plant which is taken up by the leaf or roots depending on the shape, explained Dr Handagama. The liquid fertilizer imported from India is to be applied to the leaf while the one developed by Professor Kottegoda’s team was a slow-release fertilizer particle applied to the soil.
The patent that was sold to Indian company Nagarjuna Cooperation Ltd in 2013 is not an exclusive right, so Sri Lanka still has the right to produce it using this technology, Dr Handagama said.
So far, at SLINTEC, with the exception of graphene, nothing else that has been patented and developed there has been commercialized, he said.
“We can still produce this nanourea here, because SLINTEC still owns the rights to this patent to produce it in Sri Lanka,” explained Dr Handagama.
Additionally, he noted that they were also working with TRI to convince them to use this nanourea.
“Over time, you can also reduce nitrogen application,” he explained, adding that this is an efficient way to transport nutrients to the plant with this technology.
SLINTEC, an original idea of the then minister, Professor Tissa Vitharana, was established in 2009 and currently conducts research mainly focused on energy; printed electronics and sensors; minerals and composites; rubbers, plastics and new polymers; textile materials and processing technology, and advanced agricultural technology.