It all began in February 2008. We will soon be celebrating the Fourth Anniversary!
A staggering claim was then made. A local inventor from Yatiyantota had invented a method for converting plastic and polythene into usable diesel fuel. It was claimed that the Petroleum Corporation analyzed his product and confirmed it as a sulphur free fuel. Moratuwa University offered assistance to develop the technology. Numerous private companies from India, China, Canada and Britain offered sponsorships which the inventor promptly refused. One Indian Company tested his machine and gave him one million rupees (Indian?) to continue. He claims that his machine can produce 1000 litres of fuel per day. It takes Rs 30/= to produce a litre of fuel. With 300,000 tons of plastic imported, he is convinced that 300 million litres of fuel can be produced The product could be directly pumped into vehicles – despite automobile manufacturers claiming to spend millions to develop fuel additives with anti-knock, anti-corrosive and other properties. The annual gain to Sri Lanka would be two billion (yes, billion – we no longer deal in millions!).The CEA under the Environment Ministry quickly drew up plans to begin the “Polipto” project with a 60% investment.
Things moved rapidly. The Inventor was made a Consultant to CEA (reportedly Rs 75,000/= per month). Polipto was launched as a Company. A pilot plant was to be set up. Rs 25 Million was reportedly released by the Treasury.
The saga continued to develop spectacularly. The Environment Minister (in an advertisement) was shown feeding Polipto diesel from a commercial pump into a fleet of three-wheelers and motor cycles. This was in April 2009 (?) just prior to some election. The “diesel” was kept sealed in the safe of Moratuwa’s Department of Chemical Technology. The wondrous catalyst (proclaimed to be entirely “natural”) is an unpatented secret known only to the Inventor (Mr Vithanage) and Chairman Polipto (Prof Wimaladharma Abeywickrema, now also Chairman CEB) It is so powerful that the inventor claimed that when inadvertently left overnight in a plastic container, it had by morning dissolved the container. This is a World First claim of polymer pyrolysis at room temperature. Encouraged by the early success, a large extent of land was being sought for a commercial production scale operation. Amidst a conspiracy of tight secrecy, it is “rumoured” that the projected investment is 60 Million (and not in peanuts).
We still await commercial diesel (after a four year gestation) at a projected price of some Rs75/=. But in vain!
Few details are disclosed, despite a probably unparalleled attempt by me personally, to seek information from all who could conceivably know. It is clear that a stubborn, lofty and unwavering refusal to answer letters and queries is one way of ensuring comfort and perhaps the right to pillage and deceive.
I am deeply disappointed by the silence of professional colleagues. Whether it is disinterest, fear or hope of future crumbs of reward, I do not know. But I am driven to doubt whether the lament of inadequate provisions of money for S & T, official claims of commitment, computers for every nook and cranny and such like cosmetic actions will ever help us on the ride to prosperity, overcome poverty, massage the various “economic” parameters and emerge as the Miracle of Asia. If silence and apathy are the results of what little we have invested in S & T, I may find it difficult to counter any assertion that it could have been better applied and that S & T is actually over-financed!
Meanwhile, I have, since the initial promise of Utopia in February 2008, very patriotically collected the waste polythene in my home. Will any, all, or some (but probably none) of the following tell me how I can participate in seeing how this rubbish can be used to run cars? Or, at least dispel my thought that it might have been better for me to focus on the other type of bullshit which at least, I could have composted for my garden!
Chairman Polipto (Prof W. Abeywickrema), Chairman CEA (Dr Charitha Herath), Mr Vithanage (Inventor) Head, Dept. of Industrial Technology, Moratuwa University,
I can only hope that a desire to promote scientific enterprise (by respect for the basic tenets of Science), inform myself about the proper expenditure of public funds and to wake up mysomnolent colleagues, will not be misunderstood as sabotage, disloyalty or lack of patriotism. If however it is, then so be it!
Dr U. Pethiyagoda