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“Golden opportunity of golden fiber diminishing in absence of self-reliant jute value chain”

Proper financing and long-term strategy to develop machinery are required for a self-reliant jute value chain

Bangladeshi scientist Dr. Mubarak Ahmad Khan is a legendary name in the field of jute. According to the science-based research database Scopus, Mubarak Ahmad is regarded as one of the leading scientists in the study of jute worldwide. Dr. Mubarak Ahmad Khan is currently serving as an Advisor of Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation (BJMC) and a former Chief Scientific Officer of the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission.

He successfully developed a biodegradable and eco-friendly bag from jute cellulose – known as the ‘Sonali bag,’ in 2015. Also, jute-based ‘Jute-Tin’ and many other such innovations were invented by him.

In a recent interview with Textile Today, Dr. Mubarak Ahmad Khan shed light on his inventions of jute-based products and how Bangladesh can utilize jute as the main export earner.

Dr. Mubarak Ahmad Khan.

Textile Today: Kindly share with us the biodegradable Jute poly bag’s current situation.

Dr. Mubarak Ahmad Khan: Jute polybag or Sonali bag from jute cellulose has come far after the invention. The ‘Sonali bag’ name was given by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina which aided in country branding as well as branding the bag itself.

Jute polybag is now a global attraction – also thanks to Textile Today for making earlier reports about it. Its unique biodegradable attribute is appealing to a wider community.

As for manufacturing capability, at present, every day we are producing 1000-kg (1 ton) of the film – from which Sonali bag or similar type single-use items can be produced –under a pilot-scale project. We are now ready for the commercial production stage.

We are making 20 microns to 160-micron thickness range Sonali bag for multi day-to-day purposes like a shopping bag, garbage bag, thermal bag, rice sack, grocery bag, etc.

At the same time, we have acquired quality control machinery like bag’s strength tester, sealing system, load-bearing, etc. Also, we have called for a tender to buy an automated Jute polybag making machine to scale up our production.

In addition, I want to share the very heartwarming good news that BJMC received BDT100 million from the Ministry of Environment Climate Change Trust (BCCT) which has greatly enhanced our R&D capability and we are now able to buy the necessary equipment.

Textile Today: Kindly share with us the variety of products you are making from the 1-ton jute cellulose film polymer.

Dr. Mubarak Ahmad Khan: Although we are only making jute cellulose film polymer that has multipurpose use i.e. any type of packaging bag or material can be made from it.

As for creating other variety of products, we have also made Personal protective equipment (PPE), clear mask sanitary napkin and single-use cutlery items from this jute cellulose film polymer. This is one of a kind PPE since, after a single-use, all the doctors need to soak this PPE in a soapy water bucket and any kind of bacteria on it will be killed for its antibacterial property. To ensure that we have increased PPE’s pH balance. We are also creating the antibacterial property from shrimp peel ‘Chitosan’ – which is also a bio-polymer.

Both of the PPE ingredients – Chitosan and jute cellulose film polymer are locally available – local availability made it easy for BJMC to produce it.

Jute polybag is now a global attraction – also thanks to Textile Today for making earlier reports about it. Its unique biodegradable attribute is appealing to a wider community.

Dr. Mubarak Ahmad Khan

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) SOLVER® awarded us for this innovation while the World Health Organization (WHO) is actively considering this PPE for certification. WHO took several interviews from us and examined if all the parameters are met.

This jute-made PPE can be a game-changer in the face of a sudden influx of plastic pollution in the COVID-19 pandemic.

The clear mask has a good demand in the USA, as everybody can see the wearers’ faces. At present, the National Health Institute of USA is examining and testing the mask. Hopefully, we will get the certificate from them soon.

Jute-based sanitary napkin is a very recent development. This sanitary napkin also nullifies any waste, unlike the present ones. The wearers just need to flush in the toilet for it to dissolve. It is very comfortable and inexpensive as well.

Most importantly, all the products are made from jute waste and all jute cellulose film polymer-based products are recyclable.

Textile Today: Being a government entity – BJMC has a lot of capacity. Why Sonali bag’s production capacity has not been scale-up? Also, share the market demand for Sonali bags.

Dr. Mubarak Ahmad Khan: Let me inform you of a valuable aspect of the Sonali bag – if Bangladesh’s total jute production turns into Sonali bag, it can reduce the 1/3 of global polythene usage.

Meaning Bangladesh’s lost glory ‘golden fiber’ has a paramount opportunity in creating a sustainable alternative to plastic pollution.

The 1-ton production capacity is a pilot project target. When the automated jute poly bag sealing machine will arrive, we will be able to produce 60 bags in a minute to scale up production. And very soon we will also increase the number of machines to boost further production. Undoubtedly, BJMC has vast places which we can utilize to manufacture these products.

Jute alone can transform Bangladesh’s entire economic scenario. At the same time, the entire jute value chain will greatly benefit from this value-addition. Many foreign experts say that if Bangladesh properly brands jute-made sustainable products, it can be the single biggest money-spinning source of Bangladesh.

Textile Today: Kindly share with us the future aspect of jute cellulose film polymer.

Dr. Mubarak Ahmad Khan: I can say that the future aspect of jute cellulose film polymer is immensely bright and it has an international appeal. We are also conducting a highly advanced type of research on jute cellulose-based nano-crystal, micro-fiber, etc. These biodegradable wonder products compete against synthetic carbon nano-fiber.

Jute cellulose nano-crystal is a high-strength material – 22 times stronger than steel. So, we can make a wide variety of smart components for high-end products. For instance, composite material for weapons, bulletproof material, automobile parts.

Not only that, cotton-based textile has 95% to 96% cellulose while jute has 70% cellulose. Through R&D I am trying to increase jute’s cellulose percentage to that of cotton. Then jute will be an alternative to cotton for making garments.

However, for this type of R&D, we need a lot of sophisticated jute research institute labs and equipment, which I do not have. Here I am urging our Prime Minister to give special focus to this project to become successful.

Unfortunately, the local universities do not have any jute departments. Bangladesh has been blessed with the golden fiber but we need to enhance R&D, related education to fully utilize its potential.

Textile Today: Global industries have been suffering from raw material shortage crisis – and Bangladesh has a golden opportunity to capitalize that with jute and developing its whole supply chain. For instance, you are suffering from a machinery crisis, can we also locally develop jute polymer machinery? Kindly enlighten us with your thought regarding this.

Dr. Mubarak Ahmad Khan: Of course, all we need is the proper financing and a long-term strategy to develop machinery. I am already talking to Bangladesh Industrial Technical Assistance Center (BITAC). They have visited BJMC, and talks are going on to develop machinery. We need support and finance from the govt. to make a completely self-reliant jute value chain.

You know, the government closed 26 jute mills under BJMC in a single day. These mills were running with more than half a century old machinery-a major reason to be closed. On the contrary, the private jute mills do not make losses as they installed new machinery.

So, it is evident that we need a long-term vision to develop capacity by including jute fiber-related departments in textile universities and R&D labs. Thus Bangladesh can truly utilize its jute and revive the lost glory of the ‘golden fiber.’

Not only that – we are already producing jute viscose which has great potential in our textile industry. To produce viscose from wood, it needs to plant a tree and after 4 to 5 years later, only 30% cellulose can be collected from trees. Whereas from jute, we can collect 65 to 70 percent viscose cellulose from 3 to 4 months old jute plant!

But to produce it on a commercial scale we need lab and machinery support.

As a researcher, I highly value the prospect of jute fiber. Even I can dare to say that if I had the opportunity, I can make the body frame of Bangabandhu satellite-2 with advanced jute fiber.

Textile Today: Till now apparel making is the biggest export earner of Bangladesh. But if jute fiber value addition is given priority – what level of export it can bring?

Dr. Mubarak Ahmad Khan: I will say the Sonali bag alone can be the top export earner of Bangladesh if it gets proper support from the government.

I always welcome everybody with an open hand to revive the ‘golden fiber’ of Bangladesh. And I will say that the government needs to incorporate everybody while making jute policy to bring maximum outcome.

If anyone has any feedback or input regarding the published news, please contact: info@textiletoday.com.bd

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