Category Archives: Design for the Majority

Thailand’s Vision on R&D

Just outside of Bangkok, I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Pramote Dechaumphai, Deputy Executive Director of Thailand’s National Metal and Materials Technology Center (MTEC) along with U-sarat Bunnag, the Senior Division Director of the Thailand Science Park (TSP), both of which are under the National Science and Technology Development Agency NSTDA. These two people were able to relate some of the most interesting aspects of research & development happening on the scientific frontier of Thailand.

Thailand’s Science Park is a huge complex that includes more than  sixty companiesfour research institutesthree universities, one medical school and two nearby universities. The facility supports 2500 full-time researchers, of which around 1000 are Ph.D. scientists. This facility is really ground-zero for Thailand’s R&D efforts. When you hear the deal they offer, it quickly becomes apparent why.

If you join the TSP, you enjoy the following incredible benefits from the Thailand Board of Investment:
• Import tax exemption for machinery
• Corporate income tax exemption for 8 Years
• 50% Corp. income tax reduction for 5 more years after tax exemption period ends (a total of 13 years of tax breaks)
• Work permit and visa facilitation for foreign specialists and researchers

The Thailand Revenue Department further sweetens the deal by offering:
• Accelerated depreciation rate for R&D machinery and equipment
• 200% tax deduction for R&D expense

The 320,000 sqft facility is modern, well-outfitted and includes:
• Wet Laboratories
• Dry Laboratories
• Pilot Plant
• Retailing Area for projects
• Land for special-build premises
• Seminar rooms
• Auditorium with 380 seats
• Outdoor meeting spaces
• Food courts, restaurants and retail shopping

One of the aspects I really enjoyed was an R&D Gallery which showed off successfully commercialized projects. One of the examples was how sludge from water treatment is now pelletized and turned into filler aggregate for construction concrete which reduces costs and eliminates a significant waste product.

In fact as you walk into the facility you are greeted with a touchscreen presentation that not only gives the visitor a view of what is there, but actually promotes the local network, knowledge and capital resources available.

I was also interested in a project that Dr. Dechaumphai had spearheaded for the Small Medium Enterprise (SME) market. His group identified a transportation need for small trucks in rural Thailand. Beyond this need, they focused on being able to make the truck with local resources and to run on local fuel. The result is a small biodiesel truck that works for passengers or freight. It features:
• being able to run on locally-produced palm oil biodiesel
• chassis, steering, braking, suspension and powertrain all made in Thailand
• only the engine is imported due to significant missing infrastructure

They then created 10 vehicles and sent them to villages around Thailand to study how they are used, and what improvements will be needed. Not only does this have merit in meeting needs, but developing the precursor to a domestic car industry.

Certainly the Computer Hard Drive industry in Thailand dominates the global scene. In fact, a recent flood in Thailand affected worldwide computer supply. What was shocking was that when I asked how the rest of R&D was going in Thailand, I was given a mediocre response. Despite all of this financial support and intra-agency efforts, they are not yet happy with the state of R&D in Thailand and think it has a long way to go. But if I look at the incentives and structure of their offering, I don’t think this situation will last very long.

In fact U-sarat’s marketing background is a great asset for the TSP, not only to fill it with great tenants and talent, but then to assist colleagues in rolling our multiple versions of the TSP all over Thailand. That’s when I realized, this was not a cool concept, but a massive federal commitment.

Lessons from the visit:
1. It has become increasingly apparent that R&D has been identified as a key sector for many developing economies.
2. R&D is part of the global marketplace, and world-class facilities with tantalizing incentives are becoming the ante to play.
3. However facilities and incentives are not enough. As we’ve learned at home, the key to success is developing a vibrant community, and this gets into thinking about the bigger ecosystem of complementary factors surrounding R&D, and why workers prefer to work at one place versus another. Frequently this gets into cultural influences like the arts, independent business and inclusivity.
4. Too often, our R&D efforts in the USA are so locked up in proprietary secrecy, that we fail to share our achievements with the greater community. NSP’s exhibits and information sharing was an inspiration on connecting R&D to the community.
5. I was inspired by MTEC’s desire to connect community needs to community resources with a special focus on SME development. This was a dominant theme expressed in Thailand, and consistently neglected in the USA.
6. And from U-sarat: try the mango with sticky rice!

Special thanks to Dr. Chadamas Thuvasethakul, Executive Vice President of NSTDA, for arranging this visit – and for ultimately helping me take U-sarat’s advice!

This is Not a Solar Panel

When John Hardy and I discussed “base of pyramid” projects I was pursuing, he was kind enough to refer me to Greg Hinchliffe of F Cubed. A former Quiksilver surfing pioneer in Indonesia, his work led hime to be a caretaker of the environment with initiatives including the acclaimed Kuta Beach Sea Turtle Conservation. Now Greg’s work has turned to filtering water, using another of Indonesia’s basic assets: the sun.

F Cubed was established in 2004 by Peter Johnstone, with their premier product being the Carocell. The concept is surprisingly simple: dirty water is heated by the sun and only clean water evaporates and condenses onto the clear polycarbonate film above. Clean water runs down the inside of the film and collects into containers. The process is further described on their site.

The product costs about US$500 each and from 40 liters of dirty water, generates 20 liters of clean water per day. At typical Indonesian pricing of $1.50 per 20 liter container, the payback is 1 year. Research from IDE’s Paul Polak points to a 3-4 month payback for most dollar-a-day farmers to make an investment, so they may still have some cost-cutting to get wide acceptance, but partnered with a sponsor, this could achieve wide acceptance quite quickly. Test sites are already underway, with the first Balinese installation being at Kesayan Ikang Papa Orphanage in Gianyar City. This site economized space and doubled its function by becoming a car-port roof as well.

A byproduct of the water purification is that the 20 or so liters of un-evaporated fluid is sterilized by the heat. If salt water is used as the input fluid, the resulting fluid is sterilized and concentrated, which can be used to make pickling brines or other byproducts that may have additional commercial value.

Greg also mentioned that this same technology could be used to treat industrial waste. In fact there are already looking at huge arrays of these to be deployed in parallel for such purposes.

My thought would be to simply couple this on the back side of a urinal. He said it would work. In fact, the applications seem quite endless. The beauty of it is to have a simple modular system that can be deployed as single units or massive arrays. Matching utility with simplicity and economy is exactly the type of innovation that can change the world.