Meet Stephen Doliente, Newton Fund grant awardee.
Research topic: Biomass value chains and the environment-food-energy-water nexus: whole-systems analysis and optimisation
Host institution / UK university: University of Bath
Home institution: University of the Philippines Los Baños
Degree programme: PhD Chemical Engineering
August 2020

Describe your PhD research in simple terms.

Recent research confirm the highly interconnected resources of environment, food, energy and water in a given region or country with rapid population growth, rise of megacities and climate change.  A holistic-thinking approach is required in managing the interconnection of resources as a silo-thinking managing approach will not be effective in accounting and mitigating the impacts on the other resources.  

With the emerging importance of biomass as a decarbonising solution in several tropical developing countries like the Philippines, the balance of resources may be further disrupted and could collapse as many activities along the value chain require land, water and energy. Hence, there is a need to understand and manage the interactions of biomass with the nexus for its sustainable implementation.  

Using mapping tools and mathematical optimisation techniques developed in our research group, I generate scenarios and suggest strategies that would maximise benefits and minimise the impacts of the interaction of biomass with the country’s nexus of resources. To date, I have applied the whole-systems analyses and/or optimisation approach on rice, jatropha, oil palm and bio-aviation fuel.

What is the relevance of your study to the economic development, welfare and poverty issues in the Philippines?

Unlike most laboratory-based research in our department, my laboratory is our country.  In fact, the Philippine setting fits the description of environment-food-energy-water nexus well, which has a strong relevance to economic development, welfare and poverty issues in the country.  The Philippines is experiencing exponential population growth: from 20 million in the 1960s to 110 million in 2020, which is a 450% increase. 

The country currently has 12 metropolitan areas, with Metro Manila included in the top 30 megacities of the world.  We are highly vulnerable to climate change-related impacts such as drier dry seasons and wetter wet seasons. All these drivers put pressure on the Philippines’ environment, food, energy and water resources.  

Considering the interactions of biomass to the Philippines’ environment-food-energy-water nexus, there is a need to be strategic in implementing biomass to truly contribute in equitable economic growth and improving the lives of the Filipino people. 

Through the PhD project, scenarios can be developed to show profitable and sustainable food systems that can accommodate biomass production for fuel, energy and chemicals. Scenarios can also be developed for the implementation of energy crops to produce electricity, road fuels and aviation fuels that could avoid the use of forest lands and protected areas and sustainable bio-aviation fuel. 

The tools and insights gained from the project would be of high interest to various stakeholders in the country from the government, academic and private sectors.

How can your UK education contribute to your future career as a researcher?

I envision becoming an expert on whole-systems analysis and optimisation in my research career. My UK education has significantly contributed to this vision, which is a crucial niche to fill in the Philippines considering the multi-disciplinary and multi-scalar problems the country is facing. 

I have learned to use mapping tools, build databases and utilise mathematical optimisation techniques. In 2018, we presented our results to the American Institute of Chemical Engineers in Pittsburgh, USA, where I was fortunate to win first prize for my poster presentation. 

I have learned the importance of collaboration in doing research. My supervisor, Dr Sheila Samsatli, has been very hands-on and supportive. I am very grateful for the collaborative opportunities and endeavours of engagement. I would also like to acknowledge my colleagues in our research group for their technical support and advise.

Motivated by this experience, I would like to establish my own research group when I return to my Sending Higher Education Institution (SHEI) in the Philippines and continue this cooperative and collaborative research culture. Aside from my research group in the University of Bath, I have also built a research network through their Department of Chemical Engineering and through conferences. Having these research contacts, I will maintain and build more international collaborations.  

Overall, I hope that in my future research career, I would be able to tackle and propose innovative solutions to problems both at the national and global levels.

How has the commitment of the UK in science and technology influenced your decision in choosing the Newton Fund?

The UK is world-renowned for contributing to many advances, both theory and application, in food security, energy solutions, primary healthcare, urban development and climate protection. The UK shows great respect and importance to research as shown by the management and operations of their public and private sectors. UK universities lead in many science and technology discoveries wherein collaboration and internationalisation can be attributed to their success.

I am truly grateful to have been a recipient of the CHED-Newton Agham PhD Scholarship so I can achieve a world-class education, build international collaborations and contribute to my country’s national progress.