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Curtin Malaysia innovating solution to muddy rural roads

Miri – 13 March 2018 - Curtin University Malaysia (Curtin Malaysia), through the Curtin Malaysia Research Institute (CMRI) – its multi-disciplinary research arm, is determined to make significant breakthroughs in its current research into improving rural bare-earth roads via biosandstone surface coursing.

The objective of the joint collaboration with the Sarawak Public Works Department (JKR) is to develop pioneering new technology that could be an answer to Borneo’s perennial problem of bare-earth rural roads turning to mush to the extent where they are virtually impassable during the wet season.

According to Professor Clem Kuek, Director of the CMRI, a temporary solution widely practised now is to apply a surface course of emulsified asphalt but such surfaces are soon potholed with the torrential rains and continued heavy usage. The innovative new technology being developed by CMRI involves surface coursing bare-earth roads with a layer of biosandstone created using a bacterial agent, which will keep the roads dry and resilient to wear and tear.

He added that the innovation that will be a first for Borneo, and takes into account the unique characteristics of the region’s terrain, soil and climate, as well as the durable and weather-resistant characteristics of sandstone. The bacteria, which acts as the hardening agent through the natural process of ‘biocementing’, will be produced in large scale at the RM60 million Pilot Plant Facility funded by the Sarawak State Government on the Curtin Malaysia campus.

The Pilot Plant is fully equipped to carry out culture collection, biomass separation, and formulation of the biocementing bacteria for the road project. A test road will be built upon which repair technology and durability tests will be carried out with JKR before extending the findings to field tests in remote northern Sarawak.

The production of biocementing bacteria is only one example of the many projects which will be undertaken at the Pilot Plant Facility where Curtin Malaysia is assuming a key role in helping the state government develop Sarawak’s bioeconomy. Professor Kuek extended the CMRI’s thanks to the Chief Minister of Sarawak for his pledge of some RM1.22 million in funds to start off the biosandstone road project this year.

Professor Ir. Lau Hieng Ho, Dean of Curtin Malaysia’s Faculty of Engineering & Science, meanwhile, said that while the efficacy of such technology will be first tested on bare-earth rural roads, Curtin Malaysia will also try to develop it as a solution for other types of roads.

He also said that the biosandstone research is yet another milestone in Curtin Malaysia’s engineering related research, which focuses on three key areas: digital innovations, infrastructure development and bioprocess.

“Our research focus is on engineering solutions for sustainable and renewable development, in areas that are not only theoretically complex, but also important and relevant to local industry and communities. In particular, our research focuses on engineering problems persistent in the local community such as wastewater treatment and disposal, and utilising waste from the palm oil and coal power industries in construction materials,” he remarked.

“In view of the rapid development of Sarawak’s road infrastructure and focus on digital economy, our research is also moving increasingly into those areas,” Professor Lau added.

New research initiatives at the Faculty of Engineering and Science include establishment of the Curtin Highway Infrastructure Research and Innovation (CHIRI) Hub which works with industry to carry out research and provide technical services and innovative solutions to support the ongoing development of the multi-billion ringgit Pan Borneo Highway.   

Curtin Malaysia Pro Vice-Chancellor, President and Chief Executive Professor Jim Mienczakowski also commented that Curtin Malaysia is consistently building the quality, impact and volume of its research activity, delivering high-impact research outcomes aligned with state government initiatives and meeting the particular needs of Sarawak’s development.

He said that, as a result, Curtin Malaysia is well on its way to becoming the leading institution for applied research in Borneo and is proud to contribute to Curtin University’s international reputation for research excellence.

In 2017, Curtin climbed into the top 200 universities worldwide, placing the University in the top one per cent of tertiary institutions in the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU). This is the latest milestone in a remarkable rise up the ARWU rankings, a respectable ranking system that is heavily weighted in terms of research performance.

In the latest 2018 QS World University Rankings by Subject, Curtin is ranked second in the world for mineral and mining engineering and ranked as a top 100 university in seven other subjects. These results reflect Curtin’s long-standing reputation for innovation and high-quality research across all subjects.

Nationally, Curtin’s research excellence was reflected in its results in the most recent assessment, the Excellence in Research Australia 2015, in which more than 85 per cent of its assessed research areas (a total of 26 different fields of research) were ranked at, or above, world standard.

Curtin has also been ranked in the top 100 of the world’s leading institutions for growth in high-quality science, in the top three in Asia Pacific by the Nature Index 2016 Rising Stars supplement and in the top 10 in Australia and New Zealand supplement. The Nature Index identifies the countries and institutions showing the most significant growth in research publications, across more than 8,000 global institutions.

For more information about Curtin Malaysia, visit its website (, Facebook page (CurtinMalaysia), Twitter profile (curtinmalaysia), Google+ page (Curtin Malaysia), Instagram (curtinmalaysia) or YouTube channel (Curtin Malaysia).

CMRI’s biosandstone research team (L-R): Assoc. Prof Muhammad Ekhlasur Rahman, Dr Wong Kwong Soon, Prof Clem Kuek, Dr Seer Qiu Han.

Extremely poor conditions of bare-earth roads in northern Sarawak in wet season (photo credit: Sidney Wee).

Curtin Malaysia consistently building quality, impact and volume of its research activity, says Prof Jim Mienczakowski.

The Sarawak State Government-funded Pilot Plant Facility at Curtin Malaysia.

The CHIRI research team (L-R): Prof Ir Lau Hieng Ho, Dr Sharon Yee Jia Huey, Ir Dr Vera Loo Hui, Assoc Prof Muhammad Ekhlasur Rahman, Dr Jayakumar Muthuramalingam, Dr Wong Kwong Soon and Ir Meheron Selowara Joo (not in pic).