Newton Prize: Clean water project is fertile ground for UK-Philippines team

Image of Newton Prize 2019 Philippines winners at London event

The winner of the Newton Prize 2019 for the Philippines was announced at a reception in Manila, Philippines on Tuesday 28 January.

By converting wastewater into nutrient-rich fertiliser the winning Newton funded project is leading the way on improving the health and prosperity of rapidly urbanising areas in the Philippines and Southeast Asia.   

In the Metropolitan Manila region of the Philippines, around three quarters of all sewage flows untreated into the local rivers and lakes. This pollution creates major health risks and has a damaging effect on the local people and the economy.

By extracting the “nutrient pollutants” from waste water, Dr Devendra Saroj, University of Surrey, UK and Professor Michael Angelo Promentilla, De La Salle University, Philippines, and their cross UK-Philippines team, have created a solution to improve sanitation and convert wastewater into fertiliser.

Project team at sewage treatment plant, Manila, Philippines © Dr Devendra Saroj

Working with local industry partner, Maynilad Water Services Inc., the research team were able to show that almost 5,000 kilograms of phosphate from sewage was recovered from a single zone in the region for use as fertiliser. If extended to the whole of Metropolitan Manila this could result in increasing recovery to over 600,000 kilograms.

Agri-businesses have taken a keen interest in the project due to the global demand for phosphorous fertiliser. The team plan to use the prize money to work with a local farm in applying the new technology.

The researchers hope the success of this project will have both economic and social benefits, improving the health of the population, creating jobs and encouraging other cities in the Philippines to implement sanitation solutions.

Four projects were shortlisted for the Philippines category of the Newton Prize. These included:

  • A novel and simple-to-use approach to disease surveillance, doubling the detection and treatment of malaria
  • a simple diagnostic platform that can be used farm-side to test for viral and bacterial infections in poultry
  • pioneering genome sequencing to understand the genetic diversity of Salmonella across the swine and poultry food chains

UK-Philippines shortlist © Newton Fund 2019

British Ambassador to the Philippines Daniel Pruce said: "I think the [Newton-Agham] programme not only delivers great partnerships between British researchers, institutions and fantastic researchers in the Philippines, but it's helping us find solutions. When we find answers, we'll have a safer, sustainable future for us all."

On winning the Prize, Professor Michael Angelo Promentilla said: We're very happy...there are many things that we need to do, but hopefully this will be a challenge for us to achieve our dream to come up with a system that is useful for farmers."

Delivery Partners: Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation, Department of Science and Technology Philippine Council for Industry, Energy, and Emerging Technology Research and Development

Read the full case study in the Newton Prize 2019 booklet (PDF, 3Mb).

View images from the Newton Prize 2019 London event.


Newton Prize 2019

The Newton Prize is an annual £1 million fund developed to showcase how UK science and innovation partnerships are helping to solve global development challenges. The Newton Prize also incentivises researchers and innovators to participate in the Newton Fund as partners with the UK to work on the most important challenges facing developing countries such as poverty, gender equality and affordable and clean energy.

This year over 150 Newton funded projects, fellowships or other awards applied for the Newton Prize. Three prizes of up to £200,000 each will be awarded to winning projects with the eligible countries: China, Indonesia and the Philippines. An additional Chair’s Award of up to £500,000 will be presented to one project from across the three countries that best demonstrates knowledge exchange and partnership working.

The funding allows researchers to take their Newton projects to the next level, for example by translating their project from the lab into the field, through expansion and/or improvements to their original project, by bringing in more capacity or gaining higher profile; all increasing the likelihood of success.

Further announcements

During January the shortlisted projects will be celebrated at award events taking place in China, Indonesia and the Philippines, where the winning project for that country will be announced. These events will be followed by a UK reception in February, co-hosted by Professor John Loughhead, Chief Scientific Adviser, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and Penny Sarchet, Head of news at New Scientist magazine, to celebrate international and science innovation collaborations.

The Newton Fund

The Newton Prize is part of the Newton Fund. The Newton Fund builds research and innovation partnerships with 17 partner countries to support their economic development and social welfare, and to develop their research and innovation capacity for long-term sustainable growth. It has a total UK Government investment of £735 million up until 2021, with matched resources from the partner countries.