Prof Thorat from ICT to Receive 2012 VASVIK Award
- Professor B N Thorat

VASVIK (Vividhlaxi Audyogik Samshodhan Vikas Kendra) Apex Committee has approved the name of Professor B N Thorat, Professor of Chemical Engineering, Department of Chemical Engineering, Institute of Chemical Technology (ICT), Mumbai, jointly with Dr R B N Prasad, Head and Chief Scientist, Lipid Science & Technology, ICT as the winners of the 2012 VASVIK award in the category of Chemicals Sciences & Technology. The award will be presented at a public function in Mumbai in December 2014.

India has a huge manufacturing potential, but unfortunately it is not being utilised in the best possible manner, believes Professor Thorat, who has been named for 2012 VASVIK Award for his contribution in the field of Chemical Engineering, in particular Drying Technology and for the development of appropriate technologies such as solar assisted drying, valorisation of farm products including marine fish.

While commenting on the achievement, Thorat expressed that India needs appropriate technologies to solve variety of problem that are faced in everyday life. Food and Pharmaceutical sectors are the ones that need to be strengthened if we want to see the real progress of India on the technology front.

In a candid interaction with CEW, Thorat further emphasised the need to strengthen Infrastructure and Research.

“At many places, we have excellent infrastructure, but unfortunately we are not able to utilise the technology to its potential,” says Thorat, who has also been a part of State Expert Appraisal Committee (SEAC) of Ministry of Environment and Forest, Govt of Maharashtra. While sharing his experience as a committee member, Thorat reveals, “Once we decided to evaluate the performance of some of the Common Effluent Treatment Plants (CETPs) – about 27 of them – in various denoted industrial areas, and to our surprise, we found that majority of them were non-functional. We were shocked.” He expresses his concerns over the quality of water that is being discharged in the rivers and canals and its negative impact on the marine life in the rivers and ocean. Thorat strongly feels that all the CETPs can be made functional if we have a collaborative approach from the industry associations, regulatory bodies and most importantly, from the individual companies. Thorat also highlighted the need to have stricter regulations.

“To treat water is not a herculean task. If BASF can treat 385 MLD of effluent every day in an industrial city in Germany, why can’t we do that in our MIDCs,” he questions.

According to Thorat, if a company can understand what goes into their waste, they can make changes in the process and thus attain the goal of sustainable development in the long run. He suggested having a dedicated team of experts who can advise industries on making CETPs functional.

Huge Scope in Specialty Chemical Manufacturing
Thorat talks broadly about expanding India’s manufacturing capabilities in the field of specialty chemicals. He says that India is abundant with qualified professionals who can do wonders through research and development in this area, but we need to encourage them to stay in India and work. “India produces about 15 lakh engineers every year, but unfortunately only 10 to 15 per cent are employable; the number of deployable students is lesser than that. Most of them go abroad to pursue the research. Very few of the employable students choose to work in India. This number has to go up,” Thorat laments.

He also asserts that the government has taken the initiatives and fast-tracked the procedure of awarding fellowships to research students. “The process has become simpler now and students are getting attracted to the world of research and development,” he adds.

Infrastructure is the second thing that needs to be strengthened. “We must have dedicated zones for producing speciality chemicals. The Government of India did announce building Petroleum, Chemical and Petrochemical Investment Regions (PCPIRs) but as the fact remains, only one of them in Dahej, Gujarat is functioning up to some extent. India’s contribution to speciality chemicals is more than its contribution to bulk chemical. And if we have special chemical manufacturing zone, we can surely contribute more… We must manufacture phenol and melamine in India itself and build world capacity to feed the raw material to manufacture these speciality and performance chemicals,” he states.

Thorat again cites the example of Germany and explains that the western country, despite the unavailability of raw material and energy, manufactures a huge amount of speciality chemicals.

‘Precision and Perfection’: The Missing Elements
According to Thorat, in India equipment manufacturers are missing two things: Precision and Perfection. He believes the concept of QBD – Quality by Design has not yet matured.

“Without design, you cannot achieve precision and perfection. This philosophy has to be imbibed in equipment manufacture in India. In order to improve the quality of their products, some manufacturers/end users are ready to buy equipment, which are five to ten times costlier, from foreign countries. But if you want everyone to use quality equipment, you need to manufacture them within the country. These will certainly not be as expensive as the imported equipment and thus more companies will be able to install them in their manufacturing units,” he explains.

Pharma and speciality chemicals are the two areas that need high-end equipment to maintain the product quality. Thorat explains that pharmaceuticals are manufactured in small quantity. There can be variations from batch to batch. And in order to minimise the variations, standardisation has to be done properly. Equipment performance matters a lot and no company compromises on that. These equipment are not available in India. They are imported.

So, there are a lot of opportunities to improve the quality of our locally manufactured products for crystallisation, filtration, drying, milling and granulation.

WFCFD: Taking the Lead
Thorat is Founder President of The World Forum for Crystallization Filtration and Drying (WFCFD). While commenting on the contribution of the forum, he reveals that the forum has played a crucial role in bringing the industry and academia together to promote the manufacturing sector in India.

“Today, drying equipment manufacturers in India are able to do business of about rupees eight to ten thousand crores every year, and I strongly feel that a forum like ours has contributed to a great extent in the growth,” he reveals. “The basic philosophy of WFCFD is to bring three nodal agencies Industry, academia and equipment manufacturers together to propel the growth of manufacturing industry within the country. Unless experts from these three areas come together and understand the need of end-users, we are not going to succeed,” Thorat continues.

According to Thorat, about two thousand equipment manufacturers are in touch with WFCFD. He lays emphasis on having more such forum which can take responsibility to innovate in different areas ie, crystallisation, granulation, milling and conventional filtration.

- Harshal Y Desai