Richardson Travel Bursary Recipient, Bhavish Patel, Reports from Gwangju

13 May 2015

Bhavish Patel was awarded a Richardson Travel Bursary in 2014. Here, he reports on his attendance at the International Symposium on Alcohol Fuels (ISAF 2015), which took place in Gwangju South Korea, 10-14 March 2015.

‘I am a final year Chemical Engineering PhD student at Imperial College London. I was a recipient of the Richardson Bursary which provided financial support towards attending and sharing part of my PhD research at the International Symposium on Alcohol Fuels (ISAF 2015) organised in Gwangju, South Korea. The focus of my doctoral research is on investigating wet processing routes for algal biomass conversion. I have a huge passion for all things renewable with specific emphasis on biomass related processing technologies for bioenergy and biochemical production. Having worked on several biomass conversion/extraction technologies using different feedstock, I was looking forward to exchanging ideas at the symposium.

‘Departing from Heathrow on a warm sunny day is always a difficult choice, but the conference destination and programme made the decision easy. After landing in Seoul, I was greeted by typical British weather to make me feel right at home; cold, wet and windy. Exploring the eclectic mix of old buildings nestled amongst numerous skyscraper laden streets gave some respite from the unfavourable weather. Having overindulged on Korean BBQ and kimchi, it was now time to attend the symposium.

‘The conference in Gwangju was organised to run simultaneously with the Solar, Wind and Earth Energy Trade (SWEET 2015) fair to give participants the opportunity to network and dwell into commercial technology on offer for all things renewable. Initiated in 1976, ISAF is one of the oldest symposiums in the biomass field. It was particularly interesting to learn more about its history during the welcome message, which was followed by a keynote speech by the subject area expert who highlighted the importance, challenges and future of alcohol based and emerging alternative fuels. Having focused mostly on 3rd generation feedstock during my (PhD) research, ISAF had an excellent mixture of presentations related to 1st and 2nd generation energy crops which are currently utilised commercially.

‘I found the presentations on thermochemical processing and catalytic transformation most interesting as they complement my research area.  An important take-home message regarding biorefineries of the future iterated the importance of value biochemicals production as a by-product to ensure cost competitiveness with fossil fuels. Some presentations also focused on non traditional alternative fuels which appeared to be environmentally sound, but due to lack of (commercial) demand stemming from strict policy of road worthy fuels (and engines), these were not being implemented or promoted appropriately. This clearly highlighted the broad gap between academia and governments.

‘In addition to absorbing information, it is always a pleasure to interact with peers who were very interested in learning more about my work and had many questions and suggestions, thus providing reassurance on my investigation. It is very humbling to know when colleagues appreciate your research and confirm that it is in fact addressing and answering specific scientific questions in the research field.  Most importantly, it is worth mentioning that there was a very diverse group of attendees from different sectors (and countries) with whom I was able to interact and get a sense for my future career path. I made several key contacts that will certainly be very useful once I have completed my doctorate. Lastly, the presentation of my work culminated in an invitation for a review paper in a leading subject matter journal that will without fail compound my expertise in algal biomass processing. This is in addition to the manuscript prepared based on the presented work. Thus, two manuscripts from one conference is not a bad deal. Both manuscripts are expected to be published within the next few months.

‘The gala dinner once again included over indulgence of local Korean cuisine along with a Korean traditional show that appeared to be a fusion of Chinese and Japanese culture. The last day of the symposium involved a historic tour around Gwangju, but due to the weather catching up on my health, I had to give it a miss to get some much needed rest.

‘Overall I found the symposium to be of tremendous interest which greatly added to my knowledge and broadened my thinking regarding biofuels. The ideas exchanged and contacts made will absolutely yield a fruitful result in the future.  It is always nice to know that hours spent in the laboratory to make minute contribution in research has a profound importance on the other side of the world. I am very grateful to SCI for offering me the bursary which provided the financial support necessary for my attendance.’

Bhavish Patel
PhD Student at Imperial College London

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