Creating bio plastic from wastewater

Date/Newspaper : The Star, 2 January 2022

Synopsis : A TEAM of Malaysian students had initially come together to create a sustainable way to manage wastewater using microalgae.

In the process, however, they decided to use byproducts from the wastewater system to create bioplastic – thus cleaning water and creating something useful at the same time.

The team that won the the first prize winner of the 2021 Young Scientists Network (YSN)-Academy of Sciences Malaysia (ASM) Chrysalis Award Final Pitch comprised Universiti Teknologi Petronas Doctor of philosophy (PhD) student Leong Wai Hong, Hi Ling Wei from International Medical University (IMU) and Aishah Mohd Marsin from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM).

They decided to use algae that have been genetically modified to boost their photosynthetic abilities. Leong explained that microalgae are unicellular photosynthetic microbes that can live in non-potable water, making it ideal for use in wastewater management.

He added that algae contain “highly valuable” compounds that can become food supplements, fertilizers and biofuels adding that Microalgae can extract the nutrients from wastewater, thereby providing a win-win solution for growing microalgae biomass while treating wastewater.

The genetically modified algae would attach themselves to a magnetic ball just like the Marimo moss ball to ease cultivation in a wastewater environment and the later harvesting stages which finally extracting the algal oil to be made into bio plastic materials.

The Malaysians according to Leong are still reliant on surface water as sole water supply be it for domestic, commercial and industrial usage and the time has come for the Malaysians people to practice sustainable water resource management, including treating wastewater for reuse.

The final pitch witnessed five proposals presented by 15 finalists from Universiti Malaya, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Universiti Putra Malaysia, Universiti Sains Malaysia, UTM, IMU, University of Nottingham Malaysia, UCSI University and Universiti Teknologi Petronas.

The second prize of the competition went to Teoh Ai Ni from UCSI University and the third place winner was Tan Yue Dian from UTM.

The top three winners won RM10,000 cash prizes in total for their professional development. Suitable candidates will also be recommended for fellowships or internships in reputable institutions and establishments.

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