For more than 35 years, Professor Dato’ Ir Dr Wan Ramli Wan Daud FASc, has been working tirelessly on sustainable drying technology that extended his PhD work and on his major scientific fields, zero emission renewable hydrogen energy from biomass, wastewater, methanol and solar energy; and on fuel cells using hydrogen, methanol and wastewater as fuels, at a time when they were considered a novelty. He believes passionately that hydrogen energy and fuel cells that emit only water, would help Malaysia implement its commitment at the COP 21 2015 in Paris to reduce 45 percent of its carbon emission intensity by 2030, based on the 2005 level. “This could be done by replacing fossil fuels with hydrogen energy and using fuel cells in the power and automotive industries”, he says.
As a scholar and an indication of the global impact of his research work in the three fields, Professor Wan Ramli has authored and co-authored 263 articles published in reputed international and high-impact journals. His Web of Science Hirsch (H) index is 31 and his papers have been cited 3,526 times. To date, he has supervised 75 PhD and 46 MSc candidates.
His outstanding scholarly work has earned himself the highest scientific accolade as one of Thomson-Reuters’ The World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds 2016, that confirmed his leading position in the three fields in Malaysia, the region and the world. In recognition of his outstanding achievement in science and engineering, he was elected a fellow of the prestigious Academy of Sciences Malaysia in 2012. He has led several high-level projects with approximately RM54 million in grants received from the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI)and the Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) over 20 years.
Born in Bukit Mertajam, Pulau Pinang, in 1955, to a policeman and housewife parents, and growing up at a time of national turmoil during the Malayan Emergency, and frequent transfers of the family from one police station to another as duty called, Professor Wan Ramli’s early education at Sekolah Kebangsaan Jalan Connolly, Ipoh (1961-1965), was disrupted by the transfer to Sekolah Kebangsaan Taiping (1966-1967) following his father’s transfer there. Undaunted by the distractions, he won a place at the elite Sekolah Dato’ Abdul Razak (SDAR) in Tanjung Malim (1968-1971) and Seremban (1972-1973), thanks to the free tuition given by his teacher and role model, the late Cikgu Jaafar. He won the Gold Medal of the Institut Kimia Malaysia for best chemistry results in the 1973 Malaysian Certificate of Education (MCE).
He was selected by Majlis Amanah Rakyat (MARA) for pre-university study at Leederville Technical College, Perth, Australia, in 1974, and later won a Colombo Plan scholarship to read Chemical Engineering at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia (1975-1978) where he earned the BEng degree (First Class) in 1978. He won the Best Design Project Prize of IChemE Victoria Branch in 1978, and the Shell and Aluminium Council Prizes in 1975. After joining Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) as a tutor in 1979, he won a Public Service Department (JPA) scholarship for PhD study in chemical engineering at Churchill College at the prestigious University of Cambridge, UK, where he was awarded the PhD degree in 1984.
Professor Wan Ramli says of his early interest in science at secondary school, “Although my science teachers at Sekolah Dato' Abdul Razak (SDAR) were inspiring and taught science passionately, they could not go beyond the syllabus that would have made science even more interesting”. He was inspired by his physics teacher, K O Lim, who is now an Emeritus Professor at Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM). “My early interest in science began in the school library where the classical science fiction novels of Jules Verne and Edgar Rice Burrough, the McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology and the Time-Life Science books opened a marvelous new world of wonder,” he adds.
Professor Wan Ramli was active in the school’s Science Society and was its president in 1972-1973. The 1960’s and early 1970’s was the age of Big Science when the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)spent billions of dollars in a race with the then Soviet Union to put a man on the moon. He was so captivated by NASA’s rocket technology that he built tiny rockets out of fire crackers. His role model then was the late Dr Werner von Braun, the German rocket scientist who designed the rocket booster, Saturn V that brought man to the moon. It was then that he was first introduced to fuel cells used in the Gemini spacecraft. He built an electrolyser using carbon electrodes from discarded batteries to produce hydrogen. He wanted to be a rocket scientist or a physicist like his role models but MARA insisted that he took chemical engineering instead.
He started his scientific career in 1979 by working for his PhD at Cambridge University on the drum dryer in a food manufacturing company that has led to a better understanding of the non-ideal flow patterns and conductive drying in the dryer. After returning to UKM, he continued research on drying of agricultural products using hot air, steam, solar, microwave, fluidised bed and spray dryers and proposed new drying models for them. His role model is Professor Dr Arun S Mujumdar from McGill University and the National University of Singapore.
Professor Wan Ramli’s interest in fuel cells and hydrogen energy was rekindled in the mid 1990’s, when he built the first fuel cell in Malaysia using donated Nafion membranes and carbon papers in 1994. He has pioneered the proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFC) by developing cheaper anodes containing low Pt content, nitrogen doped CNT, PPy/CARRA and nitrogen doped graphene. He has developed non-Nafion and composite proton exchange membranes (PEM) like Nafion-SiO2-phosphotungstic acid, sulfonated PBI copolymer and PVDF/Nafion. He has also developed the direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC) using nanocatalysts on mesoporous carbon, porous carbon nanofiber and metal composite nanowire anodes, as well as Nafion/Pd–SiO2 nanofiber composite membranes.
He has developed sound engineering models of PEMFC system to improve their design. He has designed and built prototype 50W, 200W and 1.5kW air-cooled open cathode PEMFC stacks and used them to power motorcycles, portable power packs and a golf cart. He is currently designing and constructing a new prototype water-cooled 5kW PEMFC stack that will be used in a PROTON fuel cell vehicle prototype.
Professor Wan Ramli has pioneered the microbial fuel cell (MFC) that simultaneously treats palm oil mill effluent (POME) and generates electricity using mixed and pure cultures of various anaerobic microbes. He has developed MFC separators from earthen ware and various Nafion- and AgGO-SPEEK nano-composite PEMs and MFC anodes from metal oxide doped CNF and CNT, PPy-CNT and CARRA composites and biocathodes. He has jointly proposed that biocathode processes in microbial electrolysis cells (MEC are similar to microbially-influenced corrosion. His role model in this field is Professor Byung Hong Kim from the Korea Institute of Science and Technology.
In the field of hydrogen energy, Professor Wan Ramli has developed methanol and glycerol steam reforming catalysts from transition metal oxide mixtures, compact membrane reactors using Pd and PTFE-Nafion membranes on ceramic tubes for methanol reforming and compact multi-bed pressure swing adsorber. He has developed hydrogen storage materials from transition metal oxides doped on CNF, BN and ZnO nanofibers and photoanodes in photoelectrochemical cells from metal oxides mixtures and Ru-W bimetallic dye on TiO2 nanotubes. He has built solar hydrogen production systems using hybrid photovoltaic-wind turbine electrolyzer in the solar hydrogen eco-houses at UKM and University Malaysia Terengganu (UMT).
As a teacher of more than 30 years, Professor Wan Ramli has taught many generations of chemical engineers at UKM in both Bahasa Malaysia and English. He is very proud of his PhD and MSc students from Malaysia and Indonesia who have written and successfully defended their thesis and published papers in Bahasa Malaysia, proving that Bahasa Malaysia too could become a language of science since their English papers containing the same results were published by high impact journals.
On the national stage, Professor Wan Ramli was invited by the Ministry of Energy, Green Technology and Water in 2005 to chair the Fuel Cell Sub committee, charged with the task of creating the Roadmap for Solar, Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Research and Development Directions and Markets in Malaysia. Some of its recommendations were included in the Ninth Malaysia Plan. In 2014, he was invited by the Academy of Science Malaysia to chair the National Task Force on Fuel Cell and update the roadmap by taking into account of the latest technology developments and commercialisation in Malaysia. He was also honored with invitations to deliver nine national keynote papers.
Internationally, Professor Wan Ramli was invited by the United Nation Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) and the Government of Iceland in 2006, to present a keynote paper on fuel cells and hydrogen energy. He was honored with invitations to present 21 keynote and 10 invited papers in China, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Malaysia, Netherlands, Philippines, Russia, Singapore and Thailand. He was appointed member of the international advisory and scientific panels of the International Association of Hydrogen Energy (IAHE), International Drying Symposium, World Congress of Particle Technology, International Conference on Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Energy Technology, Asian Particle Technology Symposium, Regional Symposium of Chemical Engineering and Asia-Pacific Drying Conference. He was invited a Guess Editor of the International Journal of Hydrogen Energy twice.
In recognition of his scientific work, Professor Wan Ramli was honored with more than 92 awards, both international and local. They include the ASEAN Energy Awards, Singapore (2007), ASEAN Energy Award, Phnom Phen (2005), IChemE Highly Commended Shell Energy Award UK (2008), Outstanding Contribution to the Drying Community 2009 Award in Bangkok, Thailand and the Award for Excellence in Research in Drying of Agricultural Products and Outstanding Contribution to the Development of Drying Technology Malaysia (2011). Additionally, for his outstanding achievements in invention and innovations, he won two Gold medals at the 29th and 33rd Salon International Des Inventions Geneve (2001, 2005), the Environmental award from the Swiss Society for the Protection of the Environment (2001), two Gold medals at World Exhibition of Innovation, Research and New Technologies, Brussels (2007), one Silver medal at 34th Salon International Des Inventions Geneve (2006) and Special Award of the Union des Innovateurs de la Croatie (2006).
Professor Wan Ramli is currently writing a book on “Engineering: an Art or Science?” in Bahasa Malaysia and in the English language. “It is an enlarged edition of my Inaugural Lecture on the nature of engineering and of science, based on my nearly 40 years of working as an engineer, scientist and teacher,” he says.
He is also working on several books on chemical engineering based on his lectures over the years. “There is a dire need for chemical engineering books used for educating young engineers to incorporate new ideas and results from both scientific and educational research,” he adds.
As a scholar, engineer and teacher, Professor Wan Ramli has consistently been at the forefront of science and engineering research in the country and his relentless pursuit of excellence exemplifies the Spirit of Merdeka.