Newton Prize goes to PHL research on fertilizer from wastewater


British Ambassador to the Philippines Daniel Pruce (sixth from left) congratulates the winner of the Newton Prize, the Philippine team led Prof. Michael Angelo Promentilla (fifth from left) for their research, “Water-Energy-Nutrient Nexus in the Cities of the Future.” With them are Department of Science and Technology officials led by Undersecretary Rowena Guevara, PCIEERD Deputy Director Raul Sabularse, Science Assistant Secretary Leah Buendia, PCIEERD Executive Director Enrico Paringit, DLSU Vice Chancelor for Research and Innovation Raymond Tan, and Newton Prize executives British Embassy Manila

A FILIPINO-initiated study that seeks to help in achieving food security and creating a positive impact on the environment won the coveted United Kingdom-initiated Newton Prize last week in Makati City.

Dubbed “Water-Energy-Nutrient Nexus in the Cities of the Future,” the winning research on how to convert wastewater into a nutrient-rich fertilizer was led by Prof. Michael Angelo Promentilla from De La Salle University and Dr. Devendra Saroj from University of Surrey.

“It’s actually about phosphorus recovery from these wastewaters, such as septage and sewage. So we’re trying to recover this phosphorus because if it’s not recovered properly it will just be dumped into the water bodies and it will cause eutrophication, algal blooms, and so on,” Promentilla told the BusinessMirror in an interview after he received the award.

According to Promentilla, the study aims to protect the environment, address food security and improve water quality.

“I’m happy for winning the award,” he said. “But, at the same time, I’m a bit worried and anxious because there are still things that we need to do to really achieve our goal.”

The researchers’ team, including Prof. Aileen Huelgas-Orbecido, Dr. Arnel Beltran, Engr. Carla Mae Pausta and Prof. Luis Razon, has just come up with a proposal to test the idea of recovering the phosphorus from a septage system.

They will try to process the wastewater from a septic tank and recover phosphorus to convert into fertilizer that will be used by a farm within an agricultural school they are now partnered with.

“We are looking to produce a solid granular fertilizer to help the farm grow crops,” Promentilla said of the project funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST)-Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development (PCIEERD); and its counterpart in the United Kingdom, the UKRI Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

Using the grant of up to about £200,000, or roughly P13 million, their prize money for winning the Newton Prize Philippines 2019 award, Promentilla is hopeful this will enable them to scale up the project and apply it to their farm beneficiary.

The team bested the entries of three other finalists: “Ensure: Enhanced surveillance for control and elimination of malaria in the Philippines,” led by Dr. Fe Espino from the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine and Prof. Chris Drakely from London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine; and “Low-cost Portable Molecular Diagnostic Platform for Rapid Detection of Poultry Infectious Pathogens” by Dr. Dennis Umali from the University of the Philippines (UP)-Los Baños and Prof. Wamadeva Balachandran from Brunel University London.

The other finalist was the research, “Using genomics to trace salmonella transmission and antimicrobial resistance in the poultry, and swine food chains in Metropolitan Manila,” by Prof. Windell Rivera from the Natural Sciences Research Institute of the UP-Manila and Prof. Taane Clark from London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Meanwhile, Jopeth Ramis from the Technological Institute of the Philippines and Prof. Felicity Rose from the University of Nottingham, with their project, “Tissue engineering of bronchi in health and sickness: Assessing the effect of matrix stiffening on cellular changes in the airways,” were nominated for the Newton Chair’s Prize.

They are vying with other nominees from Indonesia and China to bag the award for the proposal that demonstrates knowledge, and working partnership with up to £500,000 as cash grant.

The winner will be announced in the Newton Prize London, on February 12.

The Philippines, together with its two Asian neighbors, was selected out of the 17 Newton nations for the Newton Prize 2019.

This was the first time for the Philippines to win the award.

British Ambassador to the Philippines Daniel Pruce lauded the enormous contribution made by each of the chosen Filipino researchers and scientists in their preferred areas to address global challenges in sectors, including health, food security and waste management.

“Our five individuals represent the very best examples of the combination of quality of research, and innovation with outcomes and impacts. Outcomes and impacts, which are relevant not only in the Philippines but also globally. And, it’s also a great demonstration of exchange in knowledge and expertise between the United Kingdom and the Philippines,” Pruce said.

A celebration of PHL-UK partnership

Launched in 2014, the Newton Prize is a £1-milion fund that recognizes excellent research and innovations the Newton Fund has invested in.

Its local counterpart, the Newton Prize Philippines, celebrates the partnership between the UK and the Philippines, as well as the successes of the Newton Agham Programme, which has backed up British and Filipino researchers, and institutions to work together to develop science and innovation solutions that promote the economic development and social welfare of the Philippines.

Over the last five years, the governments of both countries have jointly supported large-scale research grants, workshops, PhD scholarships, innovation fellowships, and many other activities.

“Together, we have built mutual capacity, we have strengthened those science partnerships, and most important, we’ve fostered lasting friendships among research and innovation communities in both countries,” Pruce said.

The Newton Agham Programme’s partners include the DOST, the Department of Agriculture, and the Commission on Higher Education.

“We, at the DOST, feel very fortunate to be in partnership with the UK government in implementing programs that create solutions to the development problems in the Philippines,” said DOST Undersecretary Rowena Guevara.

She noted that the agency is similarly committed to this partnership as evident in the funding given from 2014 to 2018, by providing an allocation amounting to P344 million.

For the 2019 Calls, Guevara cited that DOST recently signed the Operational Alliance Agreement with the British Council for several activities, such as Institutional Links, Researcher Links Workshop, and PhD scholarships for a total budget of P41 million, as well as the memorandum of agreement for LIF 6 with a total appropriation of P7 million.

Since 2016, she said that there are already 10 PhD scholars, with one withdrawal, and another six scholars who will start this year.

“It is every scientist’s dream to live in a supportive society—to be given importance and the opportunity to change the world through research and the discovery of the new,” Guevara said.

She added: “The Newton Fund answers this dream as it provides ample funding and the type of network that flourishes only through collaborations with experts from universities, research and development institutes, and benefit from the amalgamation of insights from different fields of study.”

Given the milestones achieved so far by such government-to-government cooperation, the British envoy is confident of their more fruitful collaborations in the coming years.

“I think the Newton Programme also demonstrates our commitment to the Philippines, and the enhanced partnership that lies ahead of us in the months, years and decades ahead,” Pruce said. “We look forward to continue to reinforce science partnership between the United Kingdom and the Philippines, and to supporting science and innovation to its translation into practical and real-world solutions that deliver benefits to all of humanity.”


Other News from NCR

Cebuano inventor develops sustainable armchair for schools
Posted: Friday, March 13, 2020
Pedro Delantar of Nature’s Legacy of Cebu explains the features of the armchair for schools made from bamboo at the National Invention Contest and Exhibit 2020 held earlier this month at the SMX Con...   read full story

DOST postpones 'Handa Pilipinas' expo
Posted: Wednesday, March 11, 2020
MANILA – Amid concerns on the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19), the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) will postpone "Handa Pilipinas", a showcase of innovation in disaster risk reductio...   read full story

PH-made nanosatellites, tech-infused thunderstorm project now underway
Posted: Wednesday, March 11, 2020
High-impact technologies — from understanding lightning and thunderstorms to the first Filipino-made nanosatellites – are expected to be launched and deployed this year, according to the Department of...   read full story

DOST urges inventors to turn works to innovation
Posted: Monday, March 09, 2020
INVENTION TO INNOVATION. Science and Technology Secretary Fortunato dela Peña checks one of the entries in the National Invention Contest & Exhibits (NICE), held in SMX Aura, BGC, Taguig City on Ma...   read full story