The Guardian newspaper profiled Professor Veena Sahajwalla as "the woman who loves garbage'. For Sahajwalla, ever since she can remember from her growing up days in Mumbai, there was something fascinating about waste because she saw it as a hidden resource waiting to be tapped into. Her pioneering work completely transformed the way the properties of carbon-bearing materials are understood, including discarded graphites, plastics and rubber tyres.
She has received international acclaim for inventing 'green steel' -- an environmentally friendly technology for recycling unusable rubber tyres to replace coal and coke in high quality steelmaking. The technology has already been put into use in the building construction industry in Australia. Green steel enjoys an Australian IP.
Where we see waste and rubbish, Sahajwalla sees locked-in resources and energy that need to be released. She calls this shift in thinking "the reform of waste".
A graduate of IIT-Kanpur, Sahajwalla is a Scientia Professor at the Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT) at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), Australia. The global impact of science can be felt, she says, when curiosity is combined with problem-driven research and the credibility that it can be done. She believes that international partnerships are the way to go, especially strong linkages with industry so that research can have a global impact and contribute to global good.
Sahajwalla is hoping for collaborations in India through a wide canvas. This includes getting PhD students in the area of materials research at SMaRT in UNSW Australia and collaborations with Indian institutions on joint research projects using cutting-edge technology. Additionally, she is hoping that Indian industry would see the benefits of green steel and "the reform of waste".
Excited at the significant opportunities India offers, especially through the recent programmes announced by Prime Narendra Minister Narendra Modi, Sahajwalla believes that her work and that of other researchers in world-class academic institutions, like UNSW Australia, need to be harnessed as they could positively impact India's core interests and concerns by offering sustainable solutions. Green steel could be a game changer for the Prime Minister's Smart Cities initiative. Winner of the prestigious Pravasi Samman Award in 2012, Sahajwalla is passionate about collaborating with Indian research institutions and industry.
Speaking recently at a meeting of the newly-constituted Niti Aayog, Modi emphasized the urgency in tackling India's mammoth developmental challenges. Globally acclaimed innovations like the one which Sahajwalla and her team have successfully brought about could make a significant contribution. Indeed, for India's huge infrastructure and building industry requirements, green steel could be the answer.
(Amit Dasgupta, a former Indian diplomat, is the inaugural India country director for the University of New South Wales. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at email@example.com)