Ringing out the rubber clean and waste free
= Sunil Somasiri Gomes’s Ecodesigned Spherical is a sustainably efficient model to replace the nearly 125 year-old technology currently used for natural rubber latex centrifuging
The Ecodesigned Spherical, the brainchild of Sunil Somasiri Gomes addresses two pressing global issues – environmental pollution and the depletion of natural resources.
A Consultant and Resource Person at the National Cleaner Production Centre of Sri Lanka, for Sunil, ensuring a clean environment and sustainable development are issues close to his heart. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that his invention, which has been nominated for ‘The Ray’ award, also addresses these issues.
The Ecodesigned Spherical, aims to reduce wastage and increase efficiency in the natural rubber latex industry. The invention won Sunil the Environment Awards 2010 (Professional Category) conducted by the Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science (SLAAS). Sunil also holds a Sri Lanka Patent for this invention as well as patent rights of the World Intellectual Property Organisation.
“The idea of creating such a unit occurred to me while I was engaged in cleaner production assessments as part of the rubber sector consultancy programmes,” explains Sunil, adding that he witnessed much wastage and other shortcomings in the existing technology in this field.
So how great an impact do these shortcomings have in the natural rubber latex industry? Quite a lot! This is due to the fact that high environmental pollution is an inevitable consequence of the current technology. Further, the country’s economy is affected due to the low productivity and high wastage.
“Thus, finding a solution to these problems is of paramount importance to Sri Lanka which is the seventh largest natural rubber latex producer in the world,” says Sunil. This industry wields a substantial economic effect on rural livelihood too.
“The current technology, used from the point of the latex being collected till it is centrifuged, is nearly 125 years old,” says Sunil.
The saying ‘old is gold’ evidently does not ring true in this case. Under the current method, the latex is transferred nine times when it is taken from the pails it is collected in to the production centres.
This leads to a chain of adverse effects as it results in the wastage of latex, higher amount of coagulation of latex within the production process, high volume of ammonia escaping to the environment, a difficult cleaning process and consumption of much water and electricity to name just a few.
Thus, the need of the hour is new technology which can be used for the natural rubber latex centrifuging and production process which would minimise wastage, improve productivity and prevent environmental pollution.
And this is exactly what Sunil has achieved via his ingenious invention. The Ecodesigned Spherical is also in line with the definition of Cleaner Production put forward by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) – finding means of efficiently using resources while minimising wastage and safeguarding the environment. The Ecodesigned Spherical which comes in two volumes (2000 litres and 600 litres) has cut down the number of transfers from nine to just two! Further, the unit itself can be transported to and from the rubber plantations and the latex processing factories.
Sunil has evidently put in much thought into this invention, endeavouring to address as many problems as possible.
“The circular shape has less surface area which reduces coagulated rubber formation, especially as latex gets deposited in whatever surface area it comes in contact with,” he says explaining why he specifically designed a spherical object.
In addition, the spherical shape provides an effective way to drain out all the latex.The absence of corners in the sphere does not allow coagulation and thus prevents stagnancy of latex and growth of micro bacterial organisms as a result.
A height adjustable valve attached to the lower part of the sphere enables the field latex to be taken out without disturbing the sediments deposited during the centrifuging process. Converting the collected sediment – Magnesium Hydrogen Phosphate – to useful by-products, from the sphere, is also possible.
“This unit can be directly connected to the Centrifuging machine,” says Sunil.The Ecodesigned Spherical improves resource productivity without any additional cost as well as minimizes wastage of latex, chemicals, water, machinery and electricity.
“Thus, the sphere ensures sustainable rubber production” sums up Sunil.
The Ecodesigned Spherical has been tested successfully at Lalan Rubber, Bulathsinhala and at the Arapolakanda Crepe Rubber Factory. “This unit is also ideal for use in Small and Medium Enterprises,” says Sunil, adding that this technology can be used in any country where natural rubber latex is found.
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