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Two Indian Scientists On The Importance Of Solving The Biggest Environmental Challenges Through Research And Technology

In conversation with researchers from Cambridge University, who have developed a system that can resolve biggest environmental challenges – greenhouse gases & plastic waste

New Delhi: In a first, two Indian researchers from Cambridge University – Subhajit Bhattacharjee, PhD Researcher and Dr Motiar Rahaman, Senior Postdoctoral Scientist, have developed a system that can potentially resolve two of the biggest environmental challenges faced by the Earth – greenhouse gases and plastic waste – at the same time.

Under the supervision of professor Erwin Reisner at the Reisner Lab, which develops concepts and technologies for a sustainable future, researchers developed a reactor that converts greenhouse gases and plastic waste into sustainable fuels and other valuable products. The result of the research has been published in the journal Nature Synthesis.

To discuss the importance of research and technology in solving environmental challenges, Team Banega Swasth India spoke with the researchers. Here’s what we discussed:

NDTV: Tell us about your innovation along with the inspiration and the reason which made you research something like this.

Subhajit Bhattacharjee: In our lab at Cambridge, we have been looking at developing such kinds of innovations. So, in past, we have looked at green hydrogen and strategies to mitigate carbon dioxide and convert the same into different kinds of fuels. And there was also constant interest in looking at waste polarisation, particularly plastics and biomass. But, this is the first time we have envisioned a reactor that can look at solving two of the biggest problems together – plastic waste and greenhouse gases. And the best part of this innovation is the fact that the reactor, which we have developed is driven by sunlight completely.

Dr Motiar Rahaman: Our motivation was to simply try and find a solution by combining the two biggest environmental challenges – Greenhouse gases and plastic waste together and then come up with something unique.

NDTV: What makes this innovation unique in terms of the problems that it addresses?

Subhajit Bhattacharjee: The innovation is unique in many ways and the way it is solving issues. In layman’s terms, our technology has two compartments – at one compartment Co2 gets converted into different kinds of fuels and chemicals and on the other side plastic is getting converted into glycolic acid. In terms of efficiency, we have been able to surpass previous reports that come for efficiency for this kind of process.

NDTV: If you can explain in brief about the products that this technology can help make by addressing two of the environment challenges – greenhouse gasses and plastic waste.

Subhajit Bhattacharjee: Right now we are focusing only on PET plastic which is the plastic found in commercial bottles. From the plastic bottles, we convert plastic into glycolic acid which can be used in pharmaceuticals and cosmetic space, particularly in skin care.

NDTV: What are the immediate benefits of countries switching to sustainable fuels and how do you think that this can really become a reality for a country like India?

Subhajit Bhattacharjee: Apart from the environmental benefits of this technology and it mitigating greenhouse gasses, one of the key benefits of switching to sustainable fuels is ensuring energy security and achieving a certain degree of economic independence. India is well in a position to achieve this status given the abundance of resources our country has in terms of sunlight and biomass.

NDTV: How can technology help reduce the impact of environmental degradation?

Subhajit Bhattacharjee: Global warming has a lot of adverse health effects. Particularly, carbon-di-oxide is one of the major greenhouse gases and the main cause of global warming. So, converting the Co2 that gets emitted from different industries and converting it to something less harmful is what this technology aims to achieve and that is something that is the need of the hour.

NDTV: What are the possible solutions that countries should look out for in fighting greenhouse gases?

Dr Motiar Rahaman: If we want to control global warming in the next 5-10 years, we have to mitigate the excess amount of Co2 in our atmosphere. The way forward and to tackle the climate crisis is to work on technologies like this that will help convert Co2 into some valuable products. Of course, we need to control the emission of Co2 but in addition to all this, we need to start converting this gas and remove the excess amount from the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases are one of the main causes of global warming and the way to tackle this is to develop this kind of technology that caters to finding a solution.

NDTV: Talking about investments, what should countries look at and what about India?

Subhajit Bhattacharjee: Investments in the research and development and eventual deployment of these low carbon energy solution is very important for the country. But we also have to keep in mind that switching to renewables abruptly is not conducive particularly for developing economies like India. I think, what we need is a systematic and strategic approach where you deploy the technologies gradually and at the same time you phase out the polluting resources for example coal. India, I think has a lot of geographical advantages in terms of the sunlight it receives annually, it has a long coastline, and it has rivers. India should definitely look for investing in solar technology. It is very important and can be beneficial. Another advantage is in terms of biomass; it can act as feedstock in terms of making sustainable fuels and chemicals. India is on the right track because there is a lot of investment coming in sectors like green hydrogen, renewable energy, energy storage and waste polarisation etc. The way forward is to have such technologies, have different types of catalysts which can create more complex fuels and chemicals. In India, we are open to work with different organisations and governments to scale up this technology.

NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ populationindigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (WaterSanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollutionwaste managementplastic banmanual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.

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