Sarawak Biovalley Pilot Plant bridging lab scale studies and commercial production in the bioeconomy

Miri – 15 November 2021 – The Sarawak Biovalley Pilot Plant (SBPP), the purpose-built biotechnology research facility at Curtin University Malaysia (Curtin Malaysia), is inviting interested industry players to explore research and development (R&D) partnerships with it.

The SBPP, completed in 2019 at a cost of RM60.6 million and owned by the Sarawak state government, is managed, operated and maintained by Curtin Biovalley Sendirian Berhad (CBV), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Curtin Malaysia.

The facility provides the opportunity for researchers from academia and industry to capitalise on Malaysia’s rich potential in valuable products from indigenous plants and planted crops by harnessing the biosynthetic capabilities of microorganisms for products such as chemicals, inocula and biological control agents.

“While there has been considerable research and development in this area in Malaysia, they have largely achieved only bench scale results. The SBPP allows researchers to scale up using industry-relevant processes and equipment and produce quantitative data to evaluate whether commercial production will be justifiable against the investment which will be needed to go into production,” said Professor Simon Leunig, Curtin Malaysia’s Pro Vice-Chancellor, President and Chief Executive.

He added that innovation cannot stand in isolation, and to solve real-world problems, CBV and the SBPP need to work with real-world partners and are actively engaged with industry to ensure that research at the SBPP can be turned into commercially viable products that benefit individuals and whole communities at national and global levels.

“Whether we’re developing new renewal energy technologies or exploring research opportunities in the ecosystem, strong academic and industry partnerships lie at the heart of our research endeavours. Our ability to forge collaborations and share knowledge have enabled us to transform complex problems into innovative solutions that have a far reaching impact,” he said.

Sharing Professor Leunig’s sentiments, Interim Director of CBV, Ir. Pieter Pottas, said the SBPP is readily available to industry partners for development and high quality testing of new bio-based products and processes. It has comprehensive facilities for product analysis, product enhancement and quality assurance, as well as infrastructure and facilities for incubators. In addition to ultra-modern phyto-process and bioprocess floors, equipment at the SBPP is of a scale and type appropriate for assessing economic viability for commercial production.

According to Ir. Pottas, inaugural projects conducted by researchers at the SBPP have included the processing of extractables from planted crops for the production of nutraceuticals, microalgae cultivation for protein and antioxidant production, and extraction of oil and oleoresin from Sarawak black pepper and Dabai.

Future projects aligned with Sarawak’s developmental thrusts include research on the repurposing of drugs as potent inhibitors of pseudomonal quorum sensing, utilising quorum sensing inhibitors for antibiotic-resistant vibrios to improve shrimp production, and developing a probiotic strain with quorum quenching activity to improve conditions in fish hatcheries.

The SBPP is also the test centre for Spiropak, a new 3D-printed structured packing technology that offers cleaner and more efficient gas separation and chemical processing across various industries. Testing of the new technology at operational scale at the SBPP is made possible by the support of the Australian federal government through its Accelerating Commercialisation programme.

The technology, developed by a team of Curtin researchers in Australia, enables greater efficiencies in the material separation of large-scale chemical processing industries such as chemicals manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, LNG and food. Using 3D-printed technology, SpiroPak’s unique helicoidal flow path sets it apart from other structured packing, enabling a smoother flow and more efficient separation of many different gases and liquids.

According to Ir. Pottas, the full-scale testing of Spiropak is the SBPP’s most significant project to date and proves that the SBPP is of world standard and capable of carrying out world-class research and development in Sarawak.

Curtin Malaysia was Curtin University’s first international campus when it opened in 1999 and is currently its largest global campus and hub in ASEAN. Located in Miri, it offers students a unique cross-cultural learning experience with students and teaching staff from more than 50 different countries. It also houses a number of multidisciplinary research networks within its faculties and the Curtin Malaysia Research Institute, in addition to the SBPP.

The Sarawak Biovalley Pilot Plant at Curtin Malaysia.

World-class facility for development and high quality testing of new bio-based products and processes.

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