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Alka Zadgaonkar wrings plastic waste for profit[continued]

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The inevitable hard journey then began. News of such a development naturally evokes both hyperbole and skepticism. Media picked up the story and all Nagpur was agog. Then on Sep 2, 2003, the Union petroleum ministry sent a team from Indian Oil Corporation's [IOC] R&D department.

They were dedicated investigators. They sat all day in Alka's lab, even taking lunch there. They measured and noted everything, peered into corners and took away samples they produced with their own hands. Then at the invitation of the minister Ram Naik, another demo took place at IOC's Faridabad centre. Two more demos followed in Mumbai and Delhi.

IOC then declared its findings in a report: "The products have been tested at IOC R&D and recommended possible end uses are as follows: For liquid hydrocarbon: agricultural pumps, DG sets, boiler fuel, marine bunker fuel, as input for petroleum refineries, fuel oil etc; For gas: any nearby industries using LPG, in-house consumption; For solid fuel: thermal power plants, metallurgical industries." The minister then declared a grant of Rs.6 crores for a pilot production plant to be set up by Zadgaonkars in collaboration with IOC.

The freedom run:

Only, the grant never materialized. Alka and Umesh wrote letters, reminders and called. Things stayed intriguingly silent. When they probed deeper they discovered that a senior science bureaucrat was angling for equity in the venture. Elsewhere, Alka's PhD guide was campaigning to be named co-inventor.

Well, well what's new you say. Aren't these typical of India. Yes, odds are indeed stacked against those with novel ideas and spontaneous help seldom comes forth. But aren't heroes meant to be of sterner stuff? And if there weren't enough of them around GoodNewsIndia can't have run for over five years. A hero does suffer setbacks but they don't stop him. Nor does he make a display of his martyrdom. A hero vaults the odds or works around them.

In 2004, Umesh, ever the entrepreneur, flushed the whole connection with IOC. He went over to the State Bank of India and presented a business plan. They were interested but would conduct their own trials on the idea. It was soon done and a team of senior bank staff arrived in Nagpur to grant a loan of Rs 5 crores. Alka's patent was treated as equity and pledged to the bank as security. In under six months the plant came up and in 2005 production began.

The rest we know.

Umesh is a busy man now, taking calls and meeting potential franchisees. A delegation of Chief Ministers from five states have visited to explore setting up plants in their states. A team from Netherlands is in dialogue to see if the produce can be mostly solid coke instead of liquid fuel. A team in IIT, Mumbai is designing automation features for standard 5 TPD units to be set up by franchisees. But these are early days still.

For now, clients in Butibori Estate's industrial units are buying all that Unique can produce. The Bank has seen repayments begin. But at the Zadgaonkar household, values have hardly changed. Success sits lightly on this family of knowledge seekers: Alka refuses to give up her calling as a teacher.


Prof [Mrs] Alka Zadgaonkar
Head of the Dept.- Applied Chemistry,
G H Raisoni College of Engineering, Nagpur - 440016
Phones: Home: [0712] 2220111; Mobile: 093701-20111 [Umesh Zadgaonkar];
email: ;

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