UK-Malaysia project generating bioelectricity from wastewater wins RM635,000 Newton Prize

A ground-breaking project that generates sustainable electricity from effluent waste processing has been awarded the Newton Prize worth £112,000 (approximately RM 635,000). This project, spearheaded by lead researchers from Malaysia and the United Kingdom, paves the way for greater access to energy supply particularly for the rural population in Malaysia.

British High Commissioner to Malaysia, Her Excellency Vicki Treadell and Malaysia’s Science Advisor to the Prime Minister, Prof. Emeritus Tan Sri Zakri Abdul Hamid yesterday presented the award to the winning project’s lead researcher, Professor Phang Siew Moi from University of Malaya who also accepted the award on behalf of the project’s UK co-lead researcher, Dr. Adrian Fisher from University of Cambridge.

Winner Prof Phang Siew Moi (with flower bouquet) from University of Malaya and her team pictured here with Vicki Treadell (British High Commissioner to Malaysia) and Tan Sri Zakri Abdul Hamid (Science Advisor to the Prime Minister of Malaysia).

Their winning project, titled ‘Integrating Algal Biophotovoltaics for Bioelectricity Production with Agro-industrial Wastewater Remediation using Tropical Algae’ is a project under the Newton-Ungku Omar Fund programme, with co-funding provided by Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology (MiGHT) and British Council. The project successfully developed an integrated microbial fuel cell prototype using tropical algae from wastewater. This new innovation represents a blueprint that aims to meet the demands for sustainable energy and cleaner wastewater in rural areas such as Sabah and Sarawak.

The Newton Prize recognises excellent Newton Fund research and innovation projects in support of economic development and social welfare in partnering countries, including Malaysia (branded as Newton-Ungku Omar Fund in the country). The winning project was chosen through an evaluation process of Newton-Ungku Omar Fund projects launched since 2014 to early 2017, with the Prize funding awarded to the winner for use in advancing their research.

At the award presentation yesterday, Her Excellency Vicki Treadell lauded the diversity of the Newton Prize finalists’ projects, which seeks to tackle a range of global challenges such as renewable energy, sustainable urbanisation, hazard and disaster monitoring, medical cybersecurity, as well as health and healthcare policy. “It is wonderful that researchers are looking at everyday issues and finding solutions based on collaborative endeavour, expertise and experience. All the Newton Prize finalists’ projects are great examples of UK-Malaysia joint research in action, leading to practical solutions which can be used in Malaysia and even more widely around the world”, she said.

Winner Prof Phang Siew Moi (right) and Vicki Treadell, British High Commissioner to Malaysia (left).

Upon receiving the Newton Prize, Professor Phang said, “With this Newton Prize, we are going to see part of our dream realised. We are going to come up with a working prototype. After that we hope to get an industry partner to join us in bringing this technology to palm oil mills and remote villages in Malaysia.

“This success is a result of a joint research with a team led by Dr Adrian Fisher from the University of Cambridge. I am grateful to the Newton-Ungku Omar Fund which is an excellent partnership programme that has brought two groups of like-minded scientists from the UK and Malaysia to work on an idea and to bring it to fruition,” she added.

Academic researchers, small-medium enterprises, and current Fund recipients amongst others attended the event and heard from the top five Newton Prize finalists who presented about their projects and shared best practices.

The Newton Prize is one of its kind with each of the 18 Newton Fund partner countries receiving the award only once within their Newton Fund programme lifetime. In its inaugural year in 2017, up to £1million worth of Prize funding have been awarded to deserving winning Newton Fund projects from India, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.

Press release provided by the British High Commission Kuala Lumpur.