Developments in Science and Technology locally and beyond
To surpass barriers that exist in countries that are not innovation-based economies, deliberate regulatory and policy-driven strategies are required.
These policies must not only create economic incentives for innovation-based investment but also pursue the promulgation and inculcation of innovation as a tool for development, particularly among the youth of the country.
Using this point as his premise, renowned Guyanese scientist, Dr. Suresh Narine stressed that societies which are not culturally knowledge-based and whose economic culture is not pivoted on innovation, lag in the exploitation of science and technology solutions compared to what he refers to as early adopter societies.
He explained that the Institute of Applied Science and Technology here (IAST), has over the past decade, demonstrated that it is taking Guyana a step further in this regard. He said that the institution remains an elegant example of the life cycle of returns on research and development investment locally.
Narine began rebuilding the IAST’s scientific capacity some ten years ago, and he explained that it took a leap of faith from the former administration as well as the current Government in Guyana, to continue to fund the activities at the Institute on the promise of returns on that investment.
Narine said however that investment at the IAST, which has been significantly smaller than those in science and technology in other developing countries with comparable economies to Guyana’s own, has begun to pay dividends.
The Professor stated that most of these tangible dividends are coming as a result of investments in science infrastructure and training of people, and giving this apparatus the time to enable the emergence of measurable impacts.
In this regard, the father of three explained that many of the projects at the institute which offer transformative technologies have a life cycle for commercialization which requires constant engagement, tenacity and focus.
In some instances, Dr. Narine asserted that projects which represent technologies successfully commercialised elsewhere and in some cases where Guyana has competitive advantages over other countries where this technology is being used, there are still cultural, regulatory and lack of incentivized frameworks to allow these projects to move forward.
In this respect, the scientist said that he is appreciative of the fact that the Government of Guyana has now specifically focused on renewable energy and created economic and taxation incentives for investment in this sector.
Dr. Narine noted that the IAST has for some time now, developed technologies for biomass and biodiesel energy systems, and for decades, since Dr. Ulric Trotz was Director of the IAST, biogas has been a viable technology at the IAST.
In this regard, Dr. Narine expressed that The Rupununi Essence line of luxury facial cleansers has been an extremely successful project for the IAST and its collaborators which include the Medicine from Trees and Macushi Research Unit of the North Rupununi District Development Board.
He said that this line of products, which have already begun to differentiate the quality of luxury items from Guyana in the competitive cosmetic sector, was developed, branded, and commercialised due to the IAST’s efforts.
He said that the product has been extremely successful, and has an enviable business development model which is focused on forest conservation and community development, but is yet very profitable.
Another transformative project that the IAST has been involved in is the development of a variety of value-added rice-based food products. In this regard, he said that two of these, supported first by the previous administration and now by the coalition led government, have been tested marketed in the local and regional marketplace for two years and are now slated to begin commercial production in March of 2017.
He said that the products which include the Morning Glory brand of breakfast cereals and nutrition bars would be produced at a factory in Anna Regina, Region Two, which was designed and built by the IAST.
Professor Narine who recently returned from China said he was there doing the final inspection of the equipment due to arrive in Guyana in the second week of January 2017.
The celebrated scientist said that the Institute has also convinced the coalition-led Government to invest heavily, in partnership with the Canadian High Commission, in a transformative project to construct a modern solar food processing facility in Paramakatoi, Region Eight.
Dr. Narine disclosed that construction on the facility, which was designed and is being supervised by the IAST, began in November, last. He shared that some 2000 farmers are expected to be involved in the project when it becomes operational in 2017.
The project is aimed at the cultivation of tomatoes in the region, the sun-drying of these vegetables and their conversion to sundried tomato salad dressings for the local and overseas markets.
Narine indicated that in total, there are some 20 other projects underway at the IAST, and the institute is taking steps to further showcase these technologies to the public at large as well as to investment communities. To this end, the Institute will be launching “the green shack” at its headquarters, which is an innovation showcase of products and processes which offer solutions and opportunities in the emerging green economy.
As if this was not enough, Narine is engaged in some very exciting projects in Canada, focused on the commercialization of technologies developed in his laboratory at Trent University. He explained that there are about six active commercial projects underway, but he focused on one for the sake of brevity.
One of the projects relates to energy storage. Elaborating on this front, the Professor noted that his research group at Trent University holds several patents in the area of energy storage technologies. He highlighted one project which is at an advanced stage of commercialization – and which was an unintended result of their energy storage research.
He said that the group had developed a variety of “phase change materials” which store energy when they melt and release this energy when they crystallise. These specially designed materials, Narine said, are finding applications in compressed air energy storage, solar energy storage and wind energy storage.
However, at the same time, he and his students just launched a startup company in an area which is quite surprising for the application of energy storage materials.
In this regard, the scientist explained that inspiration for the project came from the announcement by the World Health Organization that hot beverages, above 65 degrees Celcius, have now been implicated in the causation of throat and other cancers.
Narine and his team seized on the inherent opportunity to modulate the temperature of hot beverages. They have designed a variety of food containers to address this problem. For instance, they have designed a travel mug for coffee and tea, which will be in commercial markets early in 2017, which within seconds reduces the temperature of a hot beverage to below 65 degrees Celcius, which is safe, but just below, so that the beverage is still hot.
However, the invention then keeps the temperature at this pleasurable temperature for more than five hours!
Narine said that reaction to the line of products has been astounding and that applications are being designed for everything from soup to coffee and tea as well as buffet food systems in restaurants.
Like all transformative technologies, the idea is simple – a phase change material in the container melts when the hot food is in it, by absorbing the excess energy in the food, thereby cooling it to a safe and pleasurable temperature.
If the food cools below this temperature, the phase change material crystallises, returning the heat absorbed by the food, keeping it warm and pleasurable for a much longer period.
Narine expects that there will be some 10, 000, 000 of the travel mugs manufactured for sale in North America and Europe in 2017.