UM Basks In The ‘Electrifying’ Green Glow Generated by Algae

SUSTAINABLE INNOVATION

UM Basks In The ‘Electrifying’ Green Glow Generated by Algae

University of Malaya has successfully harnessed the potential of tropical algae collected from waste water to generate sustainable electricity. That ground-breaking breakthrough undertaken by a collaborative Malaysia-UK team earned them the coveted Newton Prize. UM’s Professor Phang Siew Moi, the project’s lead researcher speaks to AWANI Review Editor Razak Chik on the team’s eureka moment.

PROBLEM: What to do with tropical algae found in wastewater especially those generated by palm oil mills in remote rural locations found in Sabah and Sarawak.

SOLUTION: Develop an integrated microbial fuel cell prototype that can power a small device and at the same time lower CO2 emissions and treat wastewater.

RESEARCH PROJECT: Integrating Algal Biophotovoltaics For Bioelectricity Production.

GRANT: Newton-Ungku Omar Fund with the Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology (MIGHT) and the British Council.

RESEARCH CO-LEADERS: Professor Phang Siew Moi (University of Malaya) and Dr Adrian Fisher (Cambridge University), Associate Professor Dr Vengadesh Periasamy, Dr Ng Fong Lee and Muhammad Musoddiq Jaafar made up the rest of the UM team.

PROJECT DURATION: 2015 - 2016

AWARD SUM: RM635,000 (112,000 Sterling Pounds)

Professor Phang tells AWANI Review the project at its most basic level makes use of the process of algae photosynthesis harnessing on the power of the sun.

Apart from harnessing electricity from photosynthesis, this process also contributes towards arresting CO2 emission that contributes to global warming. It also utilises by-products from palm oil manufacturing that would otherwise go to waste.

Now that the concept has been proven to work – the Newton Prize being the manifestation – what next?

Professor Phang’s association with UM began as a student, graduating in Microbiology in 1976, earning a Masters in Botany in 1979 and a PhD in Applied Phycology in 1985. She has headed UM’s Institute of Ocean and Earth Sciences for the last 17 years.

At a time of funding cuts that are biting into the research efforts of local universities, academic grants offered by the Newton Prize are vital lifelines that help research into sustainable energy generation and waste management continue unabated.

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