By Hwaa Irfan
It was some years ago under Mubarak rule, that one recalls watching with intrigue how a local inventor had found a solution to a problem that plagued Egypt during the summer months, that of burned rice straw. For every summer during the harvest, the air would be polluted causing upper respiratory tract and eye infections. This man, whose name one cannot recall, had turned rice straw into cheap, but durable building material and demonstrated its durability and how functional it was. That was the last one heard of this invention, which probably in real terms would have posed a threat to the magnates who controlled the building materials and the pricing, making them richer and building materials more expensive.
It is with hope, that within the ups and downs of the transitory governance of Egypt after the January 25th protest of 2011 that transpired into an uprising, that the Egyptian Patent Office issued a patent to the Egyptian National Research Centre in 2010.
Rice paper is nothing new, and has been used for centuries in Vietnam, Korea, China and Japan for writing and artwork. Current methods only extracts 30% of pulp for conversion, but the method to be adopted is able to extract 65% of the pulp to be converted into paper and cardboard. This innovation is expected to lead to US$85 million in profits for one million tonnes of rice straw recycled per year instead of the 85,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emitted into the air. It would also create an estimated 100,000 new jobs to boot!
The outcome of this initiative would not have been possible without the support of the European-funded Research Development and Innovation Program aimed at boosting innovation and technology transfer in Egypt. The first industrial unit is scheduled for December 2011, and will be located near the farms of Noubariya, 120 kilometres north of Cairo.
A by-product of the above process is a natural insecticide, derived from the purification of phenols in the rice straw. This insecticide to date has been found to be effective against the mosquito Culex pipiens which transmits a roundworm infection.
For the whole process to be integrated, a reliable transport system needs to be in place allowing for the farmers to ready the raw materials for transportation, for this was a problem that the farmers complained about in the past, and one which left them with no choice but to burn the rice straw. In addition, the importance of this project should be documented and made known to the Egyptian public who are unaware of all the developments that have been taking place under the transitional government.
In 2007, 78% of Egypt’s paper was imported from Europe, Canada, USA and the Far East with a market estimated at $1.4 billion, Egypt was only self sufficient in the production of tissue and toilet paper. The process of turning rice straw into paper would not only serve the environment and employment, but would also be a step towards self sufficiency.
Badr, H. “Egyptian Tech Turns Rice Straw into Paper, Insecticide.” http://www.scidev.net/en/middle-east-and-north-africa/news/egyptian-tech-turns-rice-straw-into-paper-insecticide.html
“Paper and Paperboard Industry in Egypt.” http://www.globaltrade.net/international-trade-import-exports/f/market-research/text/Egypt/Forestry-Logging-Wood-Work-Furniture-Paper-Paper-and-Paperboard-Paper-and-Paperboard-Industry-in-Egypt.html