17th March 2002

The Sunday Times on the Web















NERD creation-a car that runs on water

The centre seeks help to market its technology

By Naomi Gunasekara
The NERD Park was buzzing despite the humidity of the mid-day sun. And a group of school children in crumpled uniforms eagerly took down notes asking a few questions to cast away their doubts on the operation and uses of the diverse industrial inventions displayed at the Park.

The NERD Park, constructed four years ago to display various industrial inventions like cost-effective housing systems, hydro turbines and wind turbines, bio-gas units, solar drying systems and water heaters, raw paddy rice mills, yoghurt incubators, rice hullers, coconut oil extractors and wood/LPG fuelled crematoriums, looked more like a leisure park with its rich foliage and bougainvillea bushes covered with pink blooms.

Established in 1974 under the State Industrial Corporations Act No. 49 of 1957, the National Engineering and Research Development (NERD) Centre (which includes the park) began operations from a small room in the Katubedda University at Moratuwa under the guidance of Prof. K. K. Y. W. Perera, its first chairman and presently power and energy secretary. Having moved from there to Colombo years later, the centre now operates from Ekala after it was shifted in 1978, during the chairmanship of Dr. A. N. S. Kulasinghe, one of Sri Lanka's most eminent scientists who even developed a car that runs on water.

NERD engages in research and development activities that have a direct bearing on the industrial development of Sri Lanka and endeavours to improve the living standards of the people by developing technologies that help the sustainable utilisation of human and material resources, according to General Manager, NERD, J. A. J. T. de Saram.

Research Centre

"We are a research centre established by the government to carry out research. If many of our inventions are not sold (or transformed into commercial use) it would not cause much concern to us because our job is to carry out research and create successful products that improve the living conditions of the people," said de Saram.

Although the NERD centre was established to carry out industrial research it now engages in technology transfers to the private sector, especially the small and medium-scale entrepreneurs who are interested in self-employment projects. "We gave a licence to Clipsal to manufacture fan regulators developed by us because our objective is to help the small and medium scale entrepreneur and not the large scale entrepreneur who is not interested in local technology. Likewise, we transferred our technology on solar water heaters to Alpha Engineering Services and they are doing extremely well."

Award winner

NERD is the winner of a number of awards including a silver medal for their semi-dry process of bio-gas production at the International Exhibition of Inventions held in Geneva in 1996 and Presidential Awards for inventions in 1996 and 2000 for their idle jet control unit for petrol vehicles, small-scale coconut oil extractors and energy efficient wood-gas stoves.

The Sunday Times Business, during a recent visit to the centre, asked officials what happens to most of the research carried out at the centre.

According to Kumara Perera, Head of the Department of Techno Marketing, NERD's intention is to help the people by introducing economical products. Its scientists engage in extensive research to give the best product possible to the public. "We are making arrangements to make technology transfers through an agreement and make it available for outside parties and small-scale entrepreneurs who are interested in setting up their own workshops because we cannot cope with the demand we have for some of our products."

Demand for products

Most of the items developed using NERD technology like fan regulators, light sensitive switches and bakery ovens have a demand in the rural areas and NERD makes arrangements through its commercial division to market these products. "We even give in-house training for those who are interested in manufacturing products for us or becoming our licensees. Sometimes we sell the technology to outside parties who plan to improve our technology," he said.

However, Perera says that it is difficult for a centre like NERD, which was established to conduct research, to market their inventions by producing them at the centre. "If our engineers keep manufacturing a particular invention of theirs to meet the market demands they will not be able to engage in any other research activity. So research, production and marketing must be handled by different parties."

Technology transfers

In order to attract manufacturers to manufacture NERD products, the NERD centre exhibits all new inventions at the NERD Park while simultaneously informing Sarvodaya, Samurdhi and AGA divisions of the availability of new technology for the rural sector. "They arrange programmes relating to technology transfers, identify interested parties and bring them to the NERD centre. We attend to their needs by either selling the technology, making them licensees or supplying the products they want," said Perera who feels that no importation of technology is needed for Sri Lanka "because we already have what we want."

"We started technology transfer in 1998 because we found it difficult to meet the demand for some of our products. Ever since then our revenue has increased because the government seeks our help to carry out projects like building houses for government officers using cost-effective building technology. We have also generated a lot of employment in the rural sector through this programme by enrolling licensees from around the country," said Perera.

NERD has constructed a number of housing complexes for the armed forces and the estate sector in areas like Nikaweratiya and Moneragala while carrying out construction work for universities like Ruhuna and Peradeniya through its 300-odd licensees spread island wide.

Energy generation

The NERD centre has also done research on windmill generators that generate up to 100 mw. "We are looking at a 200 mw generator now because these generators can be used to generate energy where there is no grid power." Sri Lanka has only 65 percent grid power and people from the hill country and rural areas like Hiniduma and Polonnaruwa use batteries for power generation. These windmills can be used to meet the energy needs of 10 to 12 families," said Perera.

NERD has also developed a multi-blade windmill to pump water with a five-year guarantee. These windmills are, however, expensive, says Perera noting that individuals find it difficult to buy them because of the cost. "A windmill battery charger costs about Rs. 65,000 while the multi-blade water pump costs about Rs. 75,000. Organisations like Sarvodaya purchase these windmills for operation in rural areas that have no power."

NERD has installed seven windmills in the hill country including one at Hiniduma, on a direction made by the French government two years ago. "We also installed a 30 kw hydro-turbine generator and battery charger at Hingurana and supplied that power to the main grid. If there is a demand for hydro-turbines that generate 500w-30kw we have the capacity to design such plants. But a lot of people do not know about our technology, " said Perera who added, "It is the NGOs that normally place orders with us because people don't know what we do."

Energy management

The NERD centre consists of an energy management centre, which helps large-scale, medium-scale and small industries that consume a lot of energy to reduce consumption of energy and thereby cut down cost of production. To reduce the cost, NERD has developed an energy control device to monitor and control energy consumption.

Coming under the purview of Minister Milinda Moragoda and his Economic Reform and Science and Technology ministry, NERD provides all its staff and outsiders the opportunity to reach the centre with new technology ideas to help the rural sector. The NERD centre does not confine these research to paper work for it intends to create new technologies that help rural sector development.

"We are planning to conduct a market survey and commercialise this research. But the problem is that those who are interested in becoming NERD licensees do not have adequate capital. There are students with technical knowledge who want to start business with us but they are compelled to give up due to financial constraints."

Employment generation

Banks ask for security from amateur technologists who plan to start manufacturing products on their own and this discourages most of them, says Perera. "Say, for example, a diploma holder from a technical college wants to manufacture fan regulators by becoming a NERD licensee. He has to buy the necessary equipment and hire help to start the business. But this is costly and he finds it difficult to start the business without funds."

New projects

The centre is at present working on moulds that can be used by our plastic, rubber and glass industries. "This project promises a lot for the industry and will save a lot of foreign currency. We spend millions to import these moulds," said Perera who feels that the country will move forward if the technology introduced by the centre is marketed effectively. 

"We are also working on a bio-gas bio-fertiliser project at Muthurajawela where the garbage in the area will be dumped into a digester and the methane gas emitted from the garbage will be used for baking purposes."

NERD will introduce a special oven that functions on methane and generate employment in the area. Since salvinia - that has become an environmental threat -can be used as garbage under this project, the project will control the growth of this wild plant in the area. "These bio-gas digesters are in demand among the farmers in the Hambantota, Mihintale and Anuradhapura areas."

Marketing experts

Although the NERD centre has produced successful products that help poverty alleviation and solve energy needs, Perera feels that marketing these products is something that the centre cannot do on its own. 

"We need some expertise from the private sector. If someone could help us with marketing, it is the nation that will benefit because if we manufacture our own products we can save the large sum of money that is being spent on importing technology from other countries." 

The NERD centre is funded by the Treasury and has been told to generate its own funds as far as practicable. Hence the centre focuses on technology marketing in order to generate funds. 

"We have talented people and the technology to create whatever we want. But marketing these products is a problem. I feel that researchers, manufacturers and marketers should come together and develop technologies that will help the country to move forward," Perera said.

He said NERD's technology is not used to optimum capacity by the people of Sri Lanka because they are unaware of the existence of such technology. 

Thus, if these technologies are effectively marketed, it is not only the small and medium-scale manufacturer who will benefit but the large-scale manufacturer too will be drawn towards the NERD Centre to improve the technology developed by NERD and perhaps take such technology to the international market.

Some NERD inventions
Energy saving bulbs - These lights save up to 30-50 percent of energy and gives no stroboscopic effect. Its illumination power is also higher than normal bulbs.

Teaching aid kit for A/L students - The set comprises eight components that are necessary for A/L science students and costs Rs. 7,500 whereas imported kits that consist 6-7 components cost Rs. 50,000-100,000. The kits are not moving fast because of ministry imports.

Wood gas stove - Wood chips provide energy for this stove which will help the small-scale manufacturer. The NERD centre is looking for parties who are interested in purchasing this technology.

Bakery oven - This oven, which contains four components can bake 16 loaves of bread in one component and runs on LPG and wood.

Paddy hullers - The centre has sold over 25 of these hullers in the Polonnaruwa area and the product is in demand because it is portable. The small-scale farmer doesn't have to take their paddy to a huller anymore because they can use NERD's huller that costs about Rs. 19,500.

Windmill generator - An ideal source of power generation in the hill country. Generates 100 mw per day. NERD has installed these generators in several parts of the hill country including Nelluwa.

Hydro-turbine water pumpers - These pump 60 litres of water per hour and is mainly used down south and in the hill country.

Solar power water heaters - Ideal for hotels and hospitals that require warm water. It reduces the energy bill.

Vegetable dryers - Operating on solar energy, these machines can be used to dry vegetables and seeds. A number of these devices have been distributed under the Samurdhi scheme.

Yoghurt incubators - Designed for those who are interested in self-employment projects.

Hospital incinerators - NERD has installed these incinerators at a number of government hospitals like the Chest Hospital at Welisara and the Ragama Base Hospital.

Micro-concrete tiles - A self-employment project. Tiles can be manufactured using NERD technology at a cost of Rs. 6.50 and sold for Rs. 12.

Crematoriums - Operates on both wood and gas. NERD has sold over 35-40 crematoriums on requests made by Pradeshiya Sabhas because the cost of these crematoriums are very much less than the imported units. An imported crematorium costs Rs. 6.5 million while NERD's invention costs only Rs. 2.5 million.

Cleaner production - The NERD Centre has developed a technology for the disposal of industrial waste without harming the environment. It carries out this work for factories which are interested in disposing their waste environmental damage.

Prashakthi lamps - An 8-20w lamp that runs on batteries. Ideal for areas where there is no electricity.

Coconut oil detractor - The coconut can be used for extraction of oil and subsequently for cooking.

Cost-effective housing
The cost-effective housing technology developed by NERD reduces 30 percent of the actual cost of a house by replacing some of the material used for construction. Houses ranging from Rs. 100,000 to Rs. 1 million are available under this scheme, which offers 14 model houses for the customer to chose from.

The centre has trained licensees around the country to assist interested parties to build cost-effective houses. Every house that is built under this scheme is built after inspection of the soil of the area and taking into consideration the number of inhabitants.

The cost of these houses is reduced by the replacement of wooden door and window frames with cement frames and reducing the thickness of the concrete. The cement and tiles used for the roof are also NERD creations. Since the cement used for construction is a special cement produced by NERD, plastering of these houses becomes unnecessary.

NERD has built a number of government buildings using this technology including the main stores building, pre-stressed yard building, housing projects at Pallekelle, Nikaweratiya and Nawalapitiya, the auditorium of the Peradeniya University and hostels for the Ruhunu University.

More Business
Return to Business Contents
Business Archives


Please send your comments and suggestions on this web site to
The Sunday Times or to Information Laboratories (Pvt.) Ltd.