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Malaysia Award winners creating sustainable solutions for our Earth – #ichemeawards #EarthDay

Across the globe today, scores of people will be marking Earth Day (22 April) under this year’s theme, Restore our Earth.

While there is so much more to be done to help tackle climate change and prevent further environmental disasters, it’s also important to recognise the achievements of those who are working on extremely important regeneration and restoration initiatives, as well as creating sustainable processes and educational programmes to enhance the life of our planet and all living things upon it.

So, we caught up with three of our winners from the IChemE Malaysia Awards 2020 to learn more about how their award-winning projects are helping to do this.

Name: Dr Chew Kit Wayne

Job title and organisation: Lecturer, School of Energy and Chemical Engineering, Xiamen University Malaysia

Winner of the IChemE Malaysia and Global Awards 2020: Young Researcher Award

Bio: I am a Lecturer at Xiamen University Malaysia and I completed my PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of Nottingham Malaysia. My research involves sustainable bioseparation processes, bioprocess engineering and design, as well as utilizing renewable sources like microalgae.

Tell us briefly about your research project in developing a biorefinery for algae? How are you working with other international leaders in the field to develop this as a sustainable energy source?

My research focuses on utilizing algae for biomolecules extraction including lipids, proteins, pigments and carbohydrates. These are done using sustainable multiphase partitioning and liquid biphasic techniques. These methods are low cost and time efficient, making them effective to manufacture health and nutritional supplement tablets or medicines for people/animals. I am engaging with leaders in my field, including experts in microalgal-bacterial consortia, industrial wastewaters bioremediation and artificial intelligence implementation for the algae biorefinery towards a more sustainable development.

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How is bioprocess engineering and design beneficial to our earth – the environment, our communities and animals?

Bioprocess engineering employs biological materials for the manufacturing of various products, mainly to improve the yield and quality of the end product. Taking algae as an example, they consume carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing biofuels and food supplements which are useful for humans and animals. Developing and designing bioprocesses that apply microalgae-bacterial consortia can treat wastewater while taking up carbon dioxide, and produce natural proteins and lipids.

In your four-year academic career so far, you’ve had more than 50 journal papers and three books published, not to mention presenting at many conferences. Why do you feel it’s important for chemical engineers to advocate for sustainable practices?

The industrial revolution evolves quickly and many natural resources face a risk of depletion while the global population is expected to reach 8 billion by 2023. I believe that the younger generation is the key for next Green Industrial Revolution. By nurturing sustainable practices among engineers, resources can be well managed with enhanced protection to the environment, health and safety. This corresponds to the goal of sustainability for our Earth.

You won the Young Researcher category in the Malaysia Award and then at the Global Awards – how did that feel? And how will these awards help you in your career?

This award has given me a greater sense of pride in my research work, as it is well acknowledged by professionals in the field. A big thanks to my collaborators for their contributions in making our work impactful. I plan to develop the processes in pilot scale and have them commercialized in industry. I also want to support the next generation of engineers towards achieving a greener, brighter and sustainable future.

Name: Muhammad Huzaimi bin Tahir

Job title and organisation: Executive (Health, Safety & Environment), PETRONAS Penapisan (Terengganu) Sdn Bhd (PP(T)SB)

Winner of the IChemE Malaysia Awards 2020: Training and Development Award

Project title: Redefining Health, Safety, Security and Environment (HSSE) Education through Centre of HSE Excellence (CoHEx)

Bio: I’m a chemical engineering graduate from Universiti Teknologi PETRONAS. I have been working in PETRONAS for more than three years as a Health, Safety & Environment (HSE) engineer. Currently I’m part of the Process Safety Management team for PETRONAS Penapisan (Terengganu) Sdn Bhd, based in Kerteh, Terengganu.

Tell us briefly about some of the activities within your award-winning interactive educational centre?

CoHEx consists of an auditorium, an interactive gallery of HSSE elements in the style of a museum walkway and a mini-setup that provides participants an opportunity for a practical application of knowledge. The gallery consists of 19 segments that are related to different scopes of HSSE, filled with informative displays of information and interactive features for participants. 

The three main activities in CoHEx are the Contractor Best Practice Sharing, HSSE Lunch Box and Real Plant Experience.

Contractor Best Practice Sharing provides a platform for contractors to share their respective best practices that can be replicated, and to discuss on HSSE-related concerns in a transparent medium.

HSSE Lunch Box are forum-style engagements with the actual respondents of incidents sharing their insights and first-hand experiences.

Real Plant Experience is an event that provides opportunities for university students to engage subject matter experts and interact with the interactive gallery.

Through all these activities the participants are presented with an opportunity to interact with the interactive gallery, which includes the Tunnel of Lessons Learnt that displays the lessons learnt of major incidents within the industry, offering a moment of reflection to all visitors in the importance of conserving our planet and prioritising our safety.

Why did you decide to create this project?

PP(T)SB has always been passionate about enriching the lives of our stakeholders, which extends beyond its employees. Realizing that CoHEx is a prime medium to enhance the capability of our staff, contractors and community via impactful and educational programmes, PP(T)SB decided to conduct more projects and incorporate it as part of five main projects for the company.

Since 2019, the team in PP(T)SB intensified the organization of activities and events that align with CoHEx being a HSE Competency Center. In 2020, we decided to showcase what we had done in the IChemE platform, and we were humbled by the recognition.

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How have employees, contractors, students and members of the public reacted to, and benefitted from, your interactive educational centre?

The reception from all parties have been resoundingly positive across the board, and we are motivated to continue innovating and creating more enriching experiences for everyone.

The activities in CoHEx allowed for a more effective collaboration between PP(T)SB and our contractors, a more competent workforce through the culture of knowledge sharing and a more empowered future generation with industry-based knowledge.

What does this award recognition from your peers in Malaysia mean to you? Would you encourage others to enter the IChemE Malaysia Awards, and if so, why?

It is very humbling for our team to receive this award. More importantly, this award is a testament to the amazing commitment shown by the team in PP(T)SB in realizing the many activities and ensuring that each activity is brimmed with enriching and interactive content.

I highly encourage others to enter the IChemE Malaysia Awards as it allows for you to benchmark your projects with those in the industry, and the exposure is an opportunity to learn from others as well.

Name: Unnikrishnan Unnithan

Job title and organisation: Founder and CEO, Sumwin Solutions Malaysia

Winner of the IChemE Malaysia Awards 2020: Palm Oil Award

Project title: Patented 3MCPDE and GE Mitigation Technology for Vegetable Oils

Bio: I graduated with a Master’s degree in Chemical Engineering and gained a Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Institute of Chemical Technology (ICT), India’s premier chemical technology institute. Following this, I was the gold medal winner of the Master of Business Administration (MBA) programme at the National University of Singapore (NUS). I also studied Advanced Management Program (AMP) at Harvard Business School, US. I am a Fellow of IChemE and of the Malaysian Institute of Management with 36 years of corporate experience, including five patents in the field of oil and fats.

Tell us briefly what your patented process is and how it is a sustainable and an environmentally friendly way to remove harmful chemicals within palm oil for the food industry?

The purpose of this technology is to remove the 3 monochloropropane 1-2 diol esters (3MCPDE) and glycidyl esters (GE) in vegetable oils, including palm oil, as they are harmful for human consumption. It is a three-step process of liquid-liquid extraction of crude palm oil and water. It involves adsorption with our proprietary adsorbent, REDGEM, followed by GE post-stripping. It is 100% better than the European Food Standard Agency (EFSA)’s current standard at an operational expenditure (OPEX) of only US$2 per metric tonne and is the most environmentally friendly and sustainable process.

How do people and communities across Malaysia, Europe and other parts of the world benefit from this new process?

Vegetable oil is an essential nutrient for mankind and elimination of harmful food contaminants like 3MCPDE and GE is a top priority. Sumwin’s technology enables industry to mitigate these contaminants in the most economic and environmentally friendly way. The world produces over 200 million tonnes of vegetable oils and fats worth over US$200bn. This solution allows consumers worldwide to consume oils and fats safely with negligible cost increase.

Earth Day 2021 is about bringing nations together to find ways to restore the earth and tackle climate change. How do you feel chemical engineers in the palm oil processing sector, such as yourselves, are helping to create processes to help tackle climate change?

Developing processes that are less energy intensive and polluting is the best way chemical engineers can help tackle climate change. Sumwin has developed several such technologies in the vegetable oil sector by converting waste to wealth (continuous glycerolysis of waste oils), higher bio-gas generation (vortex-based cavitation) and mitigation of 3MCPDE and GE in vegetable oils. Design thinking towards lowest energy consumption and environmental pollution is an integral part of how Sumwin looks at process solutions.

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How does it feel to be recognised by your peers in winning this IChemE Malaysia Award? What might you say to anyone considering entering the 2021 Awards?

Winning the IChemE award is a great testimonial. It is heartening to see that technology start-ups like Sumwin are able to compete with giant engineering companies and win. This is a big motivation for us to continue developing break-through technologies using research and development (R&D) as the engine of growth. I would strongly urge companies to participate in the IChemE awards as it is the “Oscars” for us chemical engineers.

If you’re feeling inspired by these winners and have a fantastic initiative or know a young researcher or industrialist you feel is worthy of an award, enter the IChemE Malaysia Awards 2021 now. The deadline for submissions is 20 June 2021.  

As well as entering, you can support the excellence of your peers in industry and academia by sponsoring an award category.  

For more details, visit www.icheme.org/malaysiaawards

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