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Extracts from Nandini Chemical Journal, Jun 2008

Green revolution|Peek|Ammonium Sulphate|Citric Acid
Highlights of Some of the Articles

TALK OF THE MONTH
FOCUS ON HELIUM
GLOBAL TREND IN CITRIC ACID INDUSTRY
AMMONIUM SULPHATE - INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITY
PEEK - PRODUCT PROFILE
INDIA NEEDS ANOTHER GREEN REVOLUTION
STATE OF ENGINEERING EDUCATION IN TAMIL NADU, INDIA ; AN INVESTIGATIVE STUDY
OTHER ARTICLES

Talk of the Month

STEEP PRICE INCREASE IN OIL PRICE NEED A FITTING RESPONSE

Two years back, nobody could have even imagined that the price of crude oil would touch 100 US$ per barrel. Now it has not only gone beyond 100 US$ but it
is speculated that the price could even touch 200 US$. This is an alarming scenario.

While number of explanations and forecast have been made for the price trend of crude oil by different agencies, any fully convincing explanation for the crude oil price behaviour have not been given so far by any quarter. All the governments in the world with little or nil crude oil deposits have been caught unaware by this condition and are groping in the dark not knowing how to tackle the situation.

Technologically advanced countries are certainly better placed, since they can sell technologies to the oil rich countries and participate in setting up massive petroleum / petrochemical projects in these countries,  so that they could “pay back oil rich countries in the same coin”. However, several developing countries in Asia are facing precarious conditions. India is no exception to this extremely difficult scenario.

What is particularly disquieting is that India has not been able to come out with any fitting response for this oil crisis. A panic situation is prevailing in India today due to the inability of the government to provide the industries any lead as to how to tackle the oil price hike.

There are certainly viable alternative options but that requires that the government of India, the industries and the research oriented academic bodies should have the vision and determination to forge ahead and put forth dynamic initiatives. The ball is certainly in the court of the engineers and technologies who have to develop alternative source of energy appropriate to India’s resources and requirements but they need clear policy guidelines and encouragement from the government of India.

India has exploitable potentials in solar power, wind power, ocean (wave) power etc. apart from large level of hydel resources which still remain unexploited particularly in northeastern region. Jatropha biofuel provides great opportunities but India has been only talking and discussing rather than taking any tangible measures at the required scale. The government of India has failed to come out with a comprehensive jatropha biofuel policy, that would provide incentives to encourage project promoters based on the requirements and the ground realities.

In any society, it would be possible for the industries and individual scientists to move ahead only if the government could give a lead and set priorities. Unfortunately, the Government of India has not risen up to the expectations in the oil and energy front.

It is now evident that the steep increase in oil prices would continue to be there for long time to come. There is no escape from the situation.The situation has to be met and managed.

The fitting response can come only by the adoption of innovative technologies and finding engineering solutions for the possible alternate energy options.

The private sector in India, unlike their counterparts in advanced countries, do not seem to have necessary wherewithal to work on innovative energy technologies that could identify new sources of energy and optmise the operating parameters for utilizing energy usage, which will have visible impact on overall national scenario

It is widely believed that the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) have the requisite engineering and technology expertise and skill , at their disposal with considerable infrastructure facilities, to take initiative in research and development front including energy options. Unfortunately, ,instead of building themselves as research and development oriented set ups on full scale and focusing exclusively on research and development programmes with long term national significance, IITs have simply become “graduate producing machines”. This could be logically termed as wastage of resources In recent times, hundreds of engineering colleges have come up all over India producing army of engineers and technologists . In such conditions, it is appropriate that the IITs should really lift themselves up and devote its entire energy and resources to conduct only post graduate courses, doctoral and post doctoral studies based on research progammes in a big way.

Major industries in India should come forward by setting up joint venture for research projects with IITs, where the fruits of research can be converted into working projects by the sponsoring industries.

FOCUS ON HELIUM

Helium is a non-renewable resource that accumulates in the atmosphere (5.2ppm by volume) through radioactive decay of heavy elements within the earth’s crust. It is extracted during natural gas refining.

Helium is a gas of strategic importance and is used in many applications including space technology, cryogenics, nuclear reactors and medical equipment. Helium is mainly used as a coolant in atomic reactors.

The entire requirement of helium (around 180000 cubic metres per annum) in India is currently met through imports at a cost of nearly $2 per cubic metre.

Global supply of helium is fast depleting and the the imbalance between supply and demand is growing at an alarming rate.

Product details

Helium is an inert, light gas with a range of unique properties that make it critical for science and engineering applications.

Helium is distributed either as compressed gas or cryogenic liquid.

Helium is non-renewable and irreplaceable. Its properties are unique and unlike hydrocarbon fuels (natural gas or oil), there are no biosynthetic ways to make an alternative to helium.

The primary commercial applications of gaseous helium are: welding, purging, pressurisation and generation of controlled atmospheres.

Other uses are  for leak detection, deep sea diving breathing mixtures and chromatography. Helium, therefore, turns to be a commodity with wide potential applications in modern technology and has assumed considerable strategic significance

It is widely employed in the gas discharge lasers for transfer of energy to lasing gases. Its low cross section for nuclear reactions under neutron bombardment and high thermal conductivity makes it suitable for use in nuclear power plants.

One of the most important applications of liquid helium is as refrigerant for superconducting magnets and is also used in diverse fields like magnetic resonance imaging, magneto hydro-dynamics studies etc.

Helium’s use in science is extremely broad, but its most important use is as a coolant

Looking ahead, helium is likely to play a special role in future energy and transport systems. For instance, it would be used as a heat transfer medium in many types of power stations, as a cryogen associated with the hydrogen economy or as a lift gas for more sustainable modes of air transport.

This article further discusses the following details :

  • Helium deposits
  • Process
  • Major producing countries
  • Global demand supply scenario
  • Price
  • Global players and facilities
  • India’s Technology efforts
GLOBAL TREND IN CITRIC ACID INDUSTRY

Citric acid, which is used mainly as an acidulant in foods and soft drinks became a competitive business globally, ever since scores of Chinese companies began production in the early 1990s.

China has been steadily building its presence in the world market since the early 1990s, when output from as many as 100 producers in the country was channeled into export sales. The number of exporters was later reduced to 30 and now consists of five large companies, including two Shandong-based producers, RZBC Group and TTCA Biochemistry, and BBCA Group in Anhui.

China is estimated to have a 50-60% share of worldwide sales of around 1.5 million tonnes per year.

The producers in China are now producing citric acid from modern plants, which have capacities large enough to make them highly competitive on the world market.

The top Chinese players have been investing heavily in fermentation, purification and water treatment equipment; much of which has been provided by Western companies.

In Europe, Chinese producers account for around 60 to 70% of sales.

This article contains the following details :

  • Global producers
  • Demand trend
  • Anti dumping measures
  • Price behaviour
  • Future of Citric acid project in China
AMMONIUM SULPHATE - INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITY

While the nitrogen and phosphorous content of fertilizers have been given subsidy, the sulphur content was out of the subsidy ambit till now. The present announcement of subsidy for sulphur content in fertilizers by Government of India has come not a day soon.

Apart from providing relief to FACT in Kerala, India,  which is an important producer of ammonium sulphate fertilizer,the government’s announcement of subsidy would help in encouraging the use of ammonium sulphate fertilizer in the country for agricultural operation.

As the soil is increasingly becoming sulphur deficient in several parts of the country, the increased usage of ammonium sulphate would do a lot of good to Indian agriculture in the medium and long term.

Ammonium sulphate,combining nitrogen and sulphur as nutrient, has considerable potential demand and represents attractive investment opportunity.

Product characteristics

Appearance   

White or grey crystal

Chemical formula

(NH4)2 SO4

CAS No   

7783-20-2

Specific gravity  

 1.78

Solubility in water at 20 deg C      

760 gm per litre

Specifications

Fertiliser Content

 Content in percentage

Nitrogen N  

21%

Sulphur trioxide SO3  

 60%

 

Content of micro nutrient    

Content in PPM

Copper

 0.5

Zinc    

0.33

Manganese

70

Boron   

 6

Molybdenum   

0.1

Fertilizer application

Ammonium sulphate is used as quick releasing nitrogenous fertilizer. The ammonia contributes essential nitrogen for plant growth.

Ammonium sulphate is largely used for alkaline soils. When it is used in the soil, the sulphate ion is released  and forms sulphuric acid, lowering the pH balance of the soil.

This article further discusses the following details :

  • Process route for ammonium sulphate
  • Important Indian producers and production level
  • Historical production trend for ammonium sulphate
  • Sulphur deficiency in the soil
  • Use in alkaline soil
  • Quick release of nitrogen
  • Use level of ammonium sulphate
  • Recommendations
PEEK - PRODUCT PROFILE

Alternate name: Polyketones

PEEK is high performance engineering plastic material with high temperature resistance, self lubrication and high mechanical strength.

The material has many applications in products like aircrafts, missiles, nuclear power and medical components for replacement and supplementing human organs. It is used in bearings, piston parts, pumps, compressor plate valves, and cable insulation applications.

Gharda Chemicals made remarkable process technology breakthrough in PEEK, that made the country proud. Subsequently, it’s facilities were acquired by Solvay.

PEEK exhibits good chemical resistance in many environments, including alkalis (i.e. sodium, potassium and ammonium hydroxides), aromatic hydrocarbons, alcohols (i.e. ethanol, propanol), greases, oils and halogenated hydrocarbons.

However, its performance in acids is dependent on the type of acid - PEEK shows poor resistance in concentrated sulfuric, nitric, hydrochloric, hydrobromic and other mineral acids (though performance may be adequate for short term use with these acids in very dilute form). Its resistance to hydrofluoric acid and oleum is very poor.

PEEK shows good resistance to phosphoric acid and organic acids (acetic, citric, oxalic, tartaric etc.), but varying resistance in the presence of halogens. PEEK is resistant to dissolution by some aldehydes and ketones such as acetone, but not (at higher temperature) methyl ethyl ketone

PEEK is used in medical implants, often in reinforced format using biocompatible fibre fillers such as carbon.

Also in carbon fibre reinforced form, PEEK has come under consideration as an aerospace structural material due to its high strength-to-weight ratio. Electronic circuitry also has a high demand for PEEK’s large temperature range.

Applications for PEEK materials include: Applications in chemical processing, medical sterilization and electronics. The product also has best of class fatigue resistance in aircraft and aerospace parts. 
This article discusses the following details :

  • Process
  • Global demand
  • Profile of major players
  • Joint ventures
INDIA NEEDS ANOTHER GREEN REVOLUTION

V. Madan, Singapore Email:v_swami@hotmail.com

There appears to be bottleneck everywhere in finding adequate foodgrains for feeding the people.

The charts provided on foodgrain production indicate that the situation is grim in India also.

Area under cultivation in the country is stagnant since 1960s, yield is poor, input costs of fertilizers are multiplying manifold due to worldwide soaring prices and India does not have enough domestic production to meet the demand.

I guess we know all this, but the magnitude of it has become stark in the last couple of years.

There is another green revolution required to get out of this situation, by boosting productivity to nearly worldwide levels, which is of course not an overnight solution.

But that means doing agriculture on an industrial scale which implies consolidation of land to start with, which has other social consequences for farmers. Not an easy solution.

I guess this is what Manmohan Singh is referring to by saying that the food prices issue should not be politicalised , because a radical long term solution needs to have consensus amongst all political parties. They may need to change their rigid stances. Petty diversions of the fundamental issue will not help solve the problem.

The government is doing a phenomenally poor job  in explaining the issue in simple terms to the people so that they can understand

This article also discusses the following details :

  • Stagnant food grain production at around 200 million tonnes per annum
  • Area under cultivation nearly stagnant
  • Fertiliser consumption growing at 7% per annum inspite of stagnant area of cultivation
  • Lowest fertilizer consumption compared to other regions
  • Fertiliser subsidy burden
  • Rising Imports of fertilizers (Product)
  • Joint venture investments abroad
  • Global Urea Scenario
  • Global urea production
  • Urea major importers
  • Urea major exporters
  • Rising global food grain demand
  • Global grain price
STATE OF ENGINEERING EDUCATION IN TAMIL NADU, INDIA ; AN INVESTIGATIVE STUDY

With the number of engineering colleges in Tamil Nadu multiplying, the output of fresh engineers is likely to exceed 95000 per annum.

While many fresh engineers land on lucrative jobs, many others in several disciplines remain unemployed or under employed. It appears that such unemployment/under employment scenario have not been well understood, particularly by those aspiring to get into the engineering colleges in the forthcoming academic
year.

Under the circumstances, it has become necessary to conduct a study on the job scenario for fresh engineers and appraise the students and their parents.

As the conditions in most of the states are similar, detailed study has been conducted taking Tamil Nadu as a case study. Highlights of the study is provided in this article.

Methodology of study

The study was conducted on the basis of desk research and survey. Cross section of recently passed out engineers, engineering colleges and potential employers were contacted for informal discussions to ascertain the details and evolve recommendations.

The study was conducted by team of engineers and analysts with long years of experience in industries. The study team was led by N.S.Venkataraman, a practicing Chemical Engineer and Trustee, Nandini Voice for the Deprived, Chennai.


Statistics for the academic year 2007-2008

*           Number of engineering colleges in the state covering Anna University (Chennai, Trichy, 
Coimbatore and Tirunelveli):                                                           272
*           Total number of seats in engineering colleges                     09784

Pattern of seats/students admitted (branchwise )

Name of branch

Number of seats

Number of  students admitted in

Number of seats left unfilled

Percentage of seats left unfilled

 

 

 

 

 

Civil Engineering

4295

3115

1180

27.47

Mechanical Engineering

11720

10435

1285

11

Electronic and Electrical Engineering

16025

12721

3304

20

Computer Science

22815

21116

1699

7.44

Electronic Communication

24509

22532

1977

8.06

Information Technology

17015

15089

1926

11

Architecture

300

182

118

39.33

Electronic & Instrumentation

2610

2139

471

18.05

Automobile Engineering

2790

1968

822

29.46

Biotechnology

1855

1259

596

32.13

Chemical Engineering

795

462

333

41.89

Biomedical Engineering

1020

576

444

43.53

Other branches*

4035

2752

1283

31.8

Total

109784

94346

15438

14.06

* Instrumentation and Control engg., Power electronics, Rubber technology, etc.
Source: Details provided by Govt. of Tamil Nadu, when requested under the Right to Information Act

Pattern of branchwise seats available
Proportion of computer software related courses vis-à-vis other disciplines

Other branches*

3.7%

Electronic & Instrumentation

2.4%

Automobile Engineering

2.5%

Biotechnology

1.7%

Biomedical Engineering

0.9%

Chemical Engineering

0.7%

Civil Engineering

3.9%

Architecture

0.3%

Information Technology

15.5%

Electronic Communication

22.3%

Computer Science

20.8%

Mechanical Engineering

10.7%

Electronic and Electrical Engineering

14.6%

 

Information technology related disciplines

59%

Others

11%

Electronic and Electrical Engineering

15%

Civil Engineering

4%

Mechanical Engineering

11%

OBSERVATIONS DURING THE STUDY

Growth profile of engineering education

While there have been rapid increase in the engineering seats in recent years, such increase have happened largely due to the expansion of capacity for computer software and information technology related disciplines.

Of the 109784 engineering seats in Tamil Nadu, around 59% of the seats are offered in software and information technology related disciplines.

However, in the traditional disciplines like mechanical, civil etc., the expansion have not been high or disproportional to the requirement.

Merits aspects of passed out engineers

Of the passed out engineers, those who had arrears in subjects and then passed with more than one examination sitting and those with less than 60% aggregate marks constitutes 30% to 35%.

Most of the students with average performance are from the rural colleges, who have several disadvantages such as inadequate faculty, lack of opportunities to listen to talks from guest speakers and lack of exposure to developments elsewhere.

Employment profile

Unemployment/under employment level amongst engineers in the traditional disciplines like mechanical, civil, etc are well within reasonable limits. But, the unemployment/under employment level amongst engineers in software/IT related disciplines is high and is causing concern for the passed out engineers.

Traditional disciplines better placed

In the job market, it appears that compared to the engineers in software/IT related disciplines, the engineers in the traditional disciplines such as mechanical, civil, chemical, etc. fare better.

This is due to the following reasons:

  • The number of engineering seats in traditional disciplines in engineering colleges are not high compared to the market requirement.

Since a number of students passing out in traditional disciplines such as chemical, mechanical and civil engineering, etc. opt for software/IT related jobs, the employment prospects in traditional disciplines remain good enough.

  • In the case of engineers in software/IT related disciplines, they have to compete with the engineers from traditional disciplines such as civil, mechanical, etc. as well as MCAs and science graduates, even for the employment in software/IT related sector.

Whereas the engineers passing out in traditional disciplines such as civil, mechanical, electrical, chemical, biotechnology, aeronautical engineering and textile technology get absorbed in the computer/software/IT jobs also apart from their own core fields, it is not 
possible for engineers passing in software/IT related subjects to get jobs in chemical industries, textile units, biotechnology organizations, mechanical work shops etc.

Unemployment amongst engineers in IT related disciplines

While the IT sector have grown enormously in recent times providing massive job opportunities, the fact is that some of the jobs carried out in the IT sector/ BPO functions may not need persons with engineering or technology background. Several of the functions can be competently carried out by MCAs, science and even arts graduates with a little training.

The job opportunities in software/IT sector are therefore not the exclusive preserve of the software/ IT engineers alone and they have to share the opportunities with other disciplines of engineering as well as MCAs and even science/arts graduates.

As a result of this situation, there is unemployment / under employment existing amongst engineers passing out in software and IT related disciplines.

Opportunities for above average engineers

There is still substantial unmet demand for engineers with above average academic performance in all disciplines for employment, even as there is some level of unemployment/under employment amongst the fresh engineers.

Several engineering firms and industries say that they have vacancies for several engineering jobs, which are not being filled, in view of their inability to find quality engineers meeting their requirement. This is particularly so in the case of highly skill oriented design, estimation, detailed engineering and installation functions.

Woes of the average IT engineers

Whatever unemployment or under employment exists amongst the IT engineers, they are largely confined to average engineers or who can be termed as second class engineers with lower academic record.

Whereas the persons with above average academic performance readily get into top IT firms with good salary level, several others who get lower marks or second class or have passed after having arrears in subjects find it extremely difficult to get jobs in top or medium companies and most of them have to enter into smaller BPO firms or take up even data entry jobs.

Such second class engineers are now being described as suffering from unemployability factor.

The industry often complains that quite a number of them are not adequately talented to be trained to take up specialist jobs, for which considerable demand
exists in the country in the rapidly developing technology intensive scenario.

There are number of such IT engineers who work in several BPO/Data processing units today getting a salary of just around Rs.5,000/- per month or even less.

Such persons read with high frustration and disbelieve the stories appearing in the media about high salary jobs for information technology engineers. They know that it is only for a few and not for all.

Reasons for mass production of average engineers

With the seats in the engineering colleges now abundantly available, any one who seeks engineering education can get admission in one engineering college or the other, provided the candidate would have minimum qualification and adequate resources.

In the earlier days, when the seats were limited, only the best of the candidates could get into the engineering colleges and become engineers. The present pattern of mass production of engineers, in the absence of any admission barriers, have resulted in a situation leading to considerable difference in the quality of engineers turned-out from engineering colleges.

While the lack of filtration of students for admission on the basis of merits is one reason for the so-called unemployability, several students complain that the lack of experienced faculty members, particularly in recently started engineering colleges leave much to be desired.

Due to the sharp increase in the number of engineering colleges in various disciplines in recent times, severe shortage of experienced and competent faculty members have become conspicuous. Several colleges have retained super annuated professors in view of their reputation and in spite of their physical and health conditions. Many of the senior professors work really part time!

In number of institutions, young people are posted as teachers who have no experience whatsoever and the voluntarily retired engineers from industries are given the teaching assignments, even though they have no teaching experience at all.

Many students say that classes are frequently cancelled due to want of faculty members. The lack of quality teachers could be one major reason for the unemployability factors amongst the passed out engineers.

Campus interviews and rural colleges

While the campus interview details are much publicized in the media, the number of engineering colleges being visited by industries for campus recruitment are not many. Many colleges in the rural areas have reported that their request to the industries to conduct campus interviews have not received any positive response at all.

The campus interviews are largely conducted by IT companies and some leading engineering organizations.

For eligibility to appear for the campus interview, it is insisted that the students should have scored consistently 70% marks and should not have failed in any subjects during the course of the study.

In such circumstances, only the above average students get calls for the campus interviews and in any case, they would have landed on plum jobs even otherwise.

The software/BPO companies insist on excellent communication skill and students from rural colleges appear to have big disadvantage on this aspect.

Excessive media campaign

With the promoters of the private engineering college being business houses and capacity utilization of the facilities being provided high importance to ensure profitability, marketing of the engineering seats has become a vital function for the managements of engineering colleges.

Apart from massive advertisement campaign and efforts to link themselves with overseas institutions, several engineering colleges also make tall claims about the facilities and the staffs, some of which are not found to be entirely factual.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Recommendations for students aspiring for engineering education

With the massive expansion of engineering education, several students from poor families have aspired to study engineering subjects and occupy high positions in life. In many cases, the poor families have borrowed heavily and sold away the properties to find resources for financing engineering education of the sons and daughters.

In the case of the students from poor families with average academic performance, who have problems in securing good jobs after passing out, the economy of the families often irretrievably suffer with enormous debt burden.

Under the circumstances, it is important that those students with the average performance capability particularly from the lower income group, should exercise caution and take adequate counseling before getting themselves admitted in the engineering colleges.

Recommendation on engineering disciplines

The disciplines in engineering education are now well diversified, though there is slant towards software/ IT related discipline to some extent. This calls for marginal correction. There is considerable opportunity for further diversifying the engineering disciplines and this calls for coordinated efforts between the industries and universities.

One aspect that was pointed out by several persons during the survey was that several of the faculty members lack industrial exposure. It was suggested that an exchange programme between the industries and universities would go a long way in not only enhancing the quality of engineering education provided but would also enable better research and technological cooperation between the industries and universities, which would give considerable opportunities for skill enhancement for the students.

Indian wages are still lower compared to the US and if more number of engineers would acquire greater skills, more jobs can easily be created in India for operating in the global market.

Need for career counseling for +2 students

There is visible lack of career counseling for +2 students and the school managements have failed to pay adequate attention to this task.

The completion of +2 education is a decisive stage in one’s educational and career planning. Any mistakes made in the choice of the course for further study could lead to disastrous results, as it is already happening in several cases.

Getting into engineering colleges without ascertaining one’s capability and financial clout should well be avoided. Certainly the schools can provide some counseling support to the students in this regard.

Recommendation to the Government

Several recently passed engineers pointed out that their lack of communication skills and fluency in English language have considerably hampered them in getting good jobs.

With lack of fluency in English language, several persons said that they find it difficult to get jobs in other states in India and abroad. This problem persists particularly for those who have passed out from the rural colleges.

The Government should consider introducing some schemes for promoting communication skills amongst the engineering students, particularly for those studying in the engineering colleges located in rural areas.

OTHER ARTICLES
  • Let the Country go Full Blast on Jatropha Biofuel
  • Coal Sector Reforms in India
  • Anti Dumping Page
  • Safety and Accident Page
  •  ONGC’s Performance
  • Waste Immobilisation Project at IGCAR, Kalpakkam
  • Impressive Growing of Wind Farm Projects in USA
  • India Exporting Diesel and Importing it too
  • Update on Biofuel
  • Refined Boron Products - Profile
  • Update on Carbon Trading
  • China News
  • News Round Up – International & India
  • Technology Development – International & India
  • Ask for the Chemical Facts Free
  • Agro Chemical Page
  • Environmental Page
  • Pharma Page
  • Energy Page
  • Tender
  • New Projects - International
  • Directory of International Biotechnology Organisations
  • Chemicals Imported at Chennai Port during the month of January 2008
  • Chemicals Imported at Visakhapatnam Port during the month of April 2008
  • Chemicals Exported at Visakhapatnam Port during the month of April 2008
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