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1 June, 2018 00:00 00 AM

Mubarak Ahmad Khan

By Bipul K Debnath
Mubarak Ahmad Khan

For the first time, a scientist of our country has invented a jute polymer. It is biodegradable and can be used just like polythene. Bags made out of the waterproof material have been named ‘sonali bag’. Now, consumers can use the eco-friendly bags for shopping to carry fresh produce like vegetables, meat and fish. The sonali bag can be the best alternative to the widespread use of non-biodegradable polythene bags, which is causing irreparable harm to our environment.

In an interview with The Weekend Independent recently, the inventor of ‘sonali bag’, Mubarak Ahmad Khan, scientific advisor of Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation (BJMC), a wing of the Textiles and Jute Ministry, shared his research activities and future plans regarding the jute polymer.  

“Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation has set up a pilot plant for producing sonali bags at Latif Bawany Jute Mills at Demra area of the capital where experimental production is going on. Some scientists and workers are engaged there. The success of the plant will help to bring back the golden time of our jute. Eventually, we will manufacture it commercially,” said Khan, aged 60.

“Actually, sonali bag is made of jute cellulose. It is totally biodegradable and   environment and human health friendly. It is recyclable and reusable. It stays stable in water up to five hours and decomposes in soil within six months. It could be used as packaging material for every sector, including the food industry, pharmaceuticals and readymade garments. On burning, it turns into ash. Its tensile strength is one and a half times higher than that of a polythene bag,” said Khan describing the main features of the sonali bag.

Explaining his reason for choosing jute to produce a plant cellulose as a substitute to polythene, Khan, winner of Bangladesh Academy of Sciences’ 2010 Gold Medal Award, said: “After working with wood for my doctorate degree on polymer and radiation chemistry in 1991, I realized jute would be a good option, rather than wood. The composition of wood and jute are chemically similar. Jute grows well around our country and cellulose can be collected from jute plants within four months. On the other hand, trees take about 8 to 10 years to provide cellulose. So, I started my research with jute.”

“Later on, I started developing the jute plastic composite. I did research on it in Germany and the USA. After coming back to Bangladesh, I did preliminary research on sonali bag when I was director general of Atomic Energy Research Establishment. It took 20 years to make it a success,” said the scientist, who has also worked as a research fellow in the USA, Germany, Australia and Japan.

“The cost of each bag is Tk 8 to Tk 10 for now. However, our scientists are trying to find a way to reduce the production cost. BJMC is now producing about 3,000 pieces of sonali bag per day under the pilot project. Besides, they are working to increase the production capacity. As a result, the market price of these bags would be reduced to Tk 6 to Tk 7,” said Khan, who is also an adjunct professor at nuclear chemistry and chemical engineering department of Dhaka University.

“There is a huge demand for this biodegradable bag at home and abroad. So, I believe it can also be a source of earning foreign exchange. But so far, we have not received any concrete proposal from new entrepreneurs or industrialists to produce this bag commercially. It is good that our government has set up a target to produce this best alternative to polythene bags. It will provide great benefit to humanity and the rest of the world,” said Khan, who is also a member of International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC).

“Now, we need to mass produce the machines required to manufacture the bags. Since I am not an engineer, I cannot make them. So, the help and cooperation of mechanical engineers are needed. I am ready to transfer my technology,” said Khan.

Besides the jute polymer, Khan has also invented advanced wound dressing material from cow bone, liquid bio-fertilizer from textile effluents, natural plant growth promoter from prawn shells, jutin, a jute reinforced polymer corrugated sheet that is an outstanding housing material, and a food preservative using oligochitosan, a  natural antifungal agent, as an alternative to formalin. n

Photos: Courtesy, file.

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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