Postgraduate students at Universiti Teknologi PETRONAS’ Institute of Self-Sustainable Building for Smart Living are part of a leading research and innovation ecosystem for clean and green solutions for buildings and the community
AS the world continues to grapple with the Covid-19 pandemic and its far-reaching consequences on health, the economy and society, as well as the increasingly grave impact of climate change, there is a greater urgency now more than ever to seek sustainable development solutions for every aspect of life.
If you have wondered how you can play a role in coming up with solutions and innovations for a sustainable future, then the answers may well lie at Universiti Teknologi PETRONAS’ (UTP) Institute of Self-Sustainable Building for Smart Living (ISB).
Whether it’s green and clean technologies for buildings or the aspects of energy, materials, water and waste and their social and community impact, researchers at the ISB are leading the way in research, innovation and commercialisation of solutions that will ultimately lead to a more sustainable future for people and planet.
The institute is one of UTP’s multi-disciplinary research institutions categorised under the theme of smart communities. UTP’s postgraduate degree programmes are broadly categorised under two themes, the other being energy sustainability. Each of the themes supports the various postgraduate research topics offered at UTP.
ISB director Dr Noor Amila Wan Abdullah Zawawi says the research undertaken at the institute is aligned to the buzzword of smart buildings. But more than a buzzword, the institute’s emphasis is on resource optimisation and an overall green and sustainable approach to solutions.
“Here at ISB, we are focused on buildings and people and how people interact with the former, ” she says.
She adds that the multi-disciplinary research institute focuses on four priority areas: green and clean energy, water and waste management, materials, and social and community wellbeing.
Noor Amila, an associate professor at UTP’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, says that ISB’s current research in energy security includes solar thermal energy harvesting and utilisation, and other thermal energy to complement solar thermal energy for a self-sustainable community; technologies to convert biomass-plant matter to fuels and energy materials; and the technologies for the production of affordable clean energy.
“The institute hosts the first and only National High Centre of Excellence which is the Centre for Biofuel and Biochemical Research (CBBR) headed by Prof Ir Dr Suzana Yusup, a leading global researcher, ” says Noor Amila.
CBBR’s niche area is biomass thermochemical conversion technologies for solid, liquid and gaseous fuel under the national priority area of energy security.
In water security and waste, researchers are delving into the broader area of sustainable solutions and management of resources in an urban setting; the technologies for producing affordable, clean water; as well as technologies that monetise waste.
Advanced materials researchers prioritise innovations that pave the way towards lighter, stronger and more durable materials.
On the education and social innovation front, the institute seeks impactful and innovative approaches that address social challenges and add value to the society. Through the Centre of Social Innovation (CoSI) for example, researchers are undertaking socioeconomic impact studies for different communities where oil and gas is a primary contributor to the economy, such as in Sabah and Sarawak.
The institute is also noteworthy for having received the award for Best Institute in UTP for Quality Day 2019 – the first research institute to be accorded such recognition.
Postgraduate students at the institute will also be exposed to sophisticated R&D equipment and lab facilities. For instance, the CBBR is equipped with various analytical equipment for biomass and biofuel quality testing and analysis, including gas-chromatography, high performance liquid chromatography, fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, table-top scanning electron microscope, thermogravimetric analyser, element analyser (EA), and UV-VIS spectrophotometer, to name a few.
The Centre of Urban Resource Sustainability (CUReS) also has the distinction of owning a dynamic shear rheometer, which is used to optimise bitumen performance and tyre-track interaction for different applications, including coping with extreme conditions in airports and racetracks.
The oscillatory testing device assesses the elastic and viscous nature of bituminous binders within a linear viscoelastic region across a range of temperature, frequency, and stress and strain levels.
In highlighting some of the milestone research undertaken, Noor Amila says many of these are collaborative projects with industry, state and local authorities.
These include key industry players such as PETRONAS, Transwater, UZMA, UEM, AECOM, IJM, Malayan Flour Mills (MFM) group, and Sarawak Energy to name a few.
Government partners include the Department of Orang Asli Development (JAKOA), Public Works Department, FELCRA, and Air Selangor as well as the Perak, Terengganu and Kelantan state governments.
For example, ISB’s research on coastal erosion in Pangkor Island and mangrove rehabilitation in Manjung, Perak, is supported by the Manjung Municipal Council and the Department of Irrigation and Drainage.
“From the civil engineering faculty, we also have professors in areas like geopolymer, a very green material for buildings, as well as applications in well cementing for the oil and gas industry, ” she says.
One key advantage of undertaking a postgraduate research at UTP is that almost all the university’s 300-strong academic staff are principal investigators with projects that are largely industry-funded.
These funds, ranging from a few hundred thousand to a few million ringgit, allow postgraduate students to secure financial assistance to undertake research contributing to the various projects.
“They will be part of a research ecosystem that ensures they graduate with more than a scroll, and are instead equipped with knowledge to become a researcher through acquired skills in research, quality publication, collaborative networking and the brand name of a leading private university.
“When postgraduates come on board, we want them to acquire and develop additional skills as a trainer. So whenever the researcher is offering a short course, I encourage them to bring on board their postgraduate student to take at least one topic, ” she adds.
Noor Amila, who is currently leading a research on the decommissioning of offshore platforms and their potential adaptive reuse for the national oil corporation, also encourages postgraduate students on her team to present their portion of the work when possible, thus allowing them to hone their communication and presentation skills.
“There are abundant opportunities for research, innovation and commercialisation at ISB. For young people looking for a place in this world, postgraduate study is a great start to develop logical thinking, knowledge and skillsets that will guarantee the future of a nation, ” she says.
UTP which is ranked 70th in the QS Asia University Rankings 2021 also has a high percentage of international community among the staff and students. This offers students a global intellectual and cultural experience.
For more information on UTP’s postgraduate programmes, go to www.utp.edu.my.