Thursday, December 24, 2009


Traditionally in microbiology and biotechnology lectures and practicals, there seemed to be a slant towards pure culture practicals. In real life, microorganisms in nature do not often occur in pure culture communities. Microbial ecology generally involves the interactions of mixed cultures and their environment.
No amount of pure culture data studies will give the accurate picture what really happened to microorganisms in nature! At best, pure culture will perhaps help in giving understanding as to what really happened in nature
Mixed culture studies seem to be avoided by most microbiologists especially those involved in the studying of microbial physiology and biochemistry of microorganisms. Don’t believe me? Just read a few popular microbiological or biochemical textbooks!
Although the study of pure culture has its own strength especially in the production of fermentation products by single pure microorganism, its success is more attributed to the ability of microbiologists to generate pure cultures or aseptic techniques. To these microbiologists the presence of other microorganisms in the industrial process is more a minus minus factor and regarded as a microbial contaminant which will complicate the fermentation process and affect its productivity
In my personal experience it is far more difficult to understand and control a mixed culture fermentation compared to doing a pure culture fermentation!
There are many parameters which affect the mixed culture fermentation process and slight change in one operating parameter will result in the change in the components of the mixed culture population dynamics….. To put it simply, the process may easily run out of control.
In pure culture fermentation this is not the problem. Pure culture fermentation are more stable and the only goal is to obtain the optimum fermentation process to produce the best yield possible!
The principles of mixed culture fermentation are often complicated by:
1 Selection of steady environment
2 Ensuring stable substrate composition and delivery
Most that involve complex substrate will often see the formation of microbial succession which could be good or bad depending on the purpose of fermentation
Mixed culture metabolism too tend to change the environment that lead to microbial succession
This is one of the main reason in traditional mixed culture fermentation becomes further complicated when the scaling up is exercised!
Merry Christmas!

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In the first place let us get a few things straight. Fish sauce fermentation is the traditional fermentation of many countries, especially those in South East Asian countries. It is a grave error to regard the fish fermentation as the traditional right or heritage of a particular country or state.
According to Wikipedia the Romans have been known to produce fish sauce called garum as part of their Greco Roman cuisine!!. The famous Lea Perrin sauce in typical British culinary is a fish sauce. The ingredients of a traditional bottle of Worcestershire sauce sold in the UK as "The Original & Genuine Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce" are malt vinegar (from barley), spirit vinegar, molasses, sugar, salt, anchovies tamarind extract, onions, garlic, spice, and flavouring. The "spice, and flavouring" is believed to include cloves soy sauce, lemons, pickles and peppers.
I just can’t help laughing how emotional some readers are in claiming the “rights” to the fish sauce without doing research into the origin and diversity of fish sauce. Sometimes blind ignorance can have its place in this country!
While the use of fish sauce or budu is quite limited in Malaysia, this is not the case in Thailand or Vietnam where the fish sauce is almost in everything and regarded as the Magic elixir in their cooking. Fish sauce made in Thailand is easily available on the supermarket shelves that cater for Asian cooking. The bottled fish sauce looked very attractive especially with their golden brown colour, beautifully labeled and subjected to perfect advertising and marketing strategies that make the product successful.
When you buy a bottle of fish sauce in the market, the sauce looks golden brown and appealing. Everything is so hygienic and sanitary that you would not be able to appreciate how the fish sauce was manufactured. Gladly you will buy the bottle and use it frequently in cooking dishes to your family delight at the dinner table.
Little do you suspect that what you are enjoying is merely a rotting broth of decomposing fish with the added nutritional values contributed by flies and maggots!
There are certain things they will not tell or show you about fish sauce fermentation. Zimmerman of Bizarre Foods would probably faint or go into prolonged coma if he witness up close and personal how fish sauce are produced.
Coupled to this bottled product advertising approach the fish sauce companies make great effort to prove the sanitary quality of the production facilities especially in stressing:
1 The use of fresh fish or anchovies to be used as the fermentation substrate
2 Clean and hygienic bottling facilities
3 Use of scientific quality control such as GMP and HACCP and the use of advance analytical laboratories to monitor the production especially in downstream activities
What is not shown is the true facts of how the fish sauce is really fermented. They only show you the nice sanitized end products. They don’t show you the dirt and the grime of the fish sauce fermentation! (This is akin to the presentable chicken all clean and wrapped in the butchery area of the supermarket. You don’t see the slaughter! You don’t see the blood!)
Let us get the facts straight! Let us visit the “ground zero” of fish sauce fermentation!
1Fish sauce fermentation is a mixed culture fermentation which involves the action of multitudes of microorganisms
2 Fish sauce fermentation is still basically traditional fermentation even though it might be industrialized
3 The fermentation vats for fish sauce fermentation are often ceramic vats cement vats or even PVC vats operated in batch operations
4 The fermentation is natural and septic and occur over periods of months
5 There is poor quality or hygienic control during the fish sauce fermentation in the vats
6 The fish are left to rot and decompose over long periods of times under high concentrations of salts. At the end of the period the salt would have sucked out the water from the fish entrails or tissues
7 Periodically the vats are left open to expose it to air and sunlight to enhance fermentation or decomposition
8 Its not uncommon to see flies and maggots or larvae breeding in the vat while the fish sauce is fermenting. Urgghhh! It stinks! Its visually repulsive!
I often wonder how some of these fish sauce are GMP or HACCP compliance ?

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Sunday, November 15, 2009


I really loved to hear when politicians, ministers and even salesmen talked about exploiting energy or obtaining electrical from anaerobic digestion processes. It makes me wonder which end of their bodies are doing the thinking and talking. All of them have a very optimistic and simplistic view of exploiting the methane as the alternative energy source and to feed the electricity obtained into the national grid.
In any proposal it is very important that the economic and technical viability must first be established.
Let us look at the palm oil industries where there are talks about obtaining or trapping the methane generated. Mind you, the palm oil industries in Malaysia is not one or two years old. It is a very well established industry that has spanned several decades. Despite all these years they are still having problem of how to treat the palm oil mill effluent and exploit the methane gas generated.
I find it very hilarious despite having more than 400 palm oil mills, about 95% are still operating without methane trap.( (
What it implies here is that most of these palm oil mills are not having real modern anaerobic digestors to treat their wastes anaerobically but rely more on a series of stabilization ponds or anaerobic retention ponds.! Who can blame them? After all it is always cheaper and easier to let the wastes be collected in these ponds.
Now, the trouble with these anaerobic retention ponds are:
1 They are not operated or maintained efficiently
2 They are not equipped with methan trap such as methane hood to trap the methane
3 These retention ponds are not functioning optimally in terms of its various parameters such as ph, temperature, mixing, loading among others
4 I have my doubts if their desludging are carried out regularly….
A good anaerobic digestor producing methane efficiently would not give out that much offensive toxic smell generated by the hydrogen sulphides! Methane or even CO2 is odourless
Now we come to the second problem. It is not easy to generate electricity from methane gas. The methane gas has to be collected in substantial volume. It has to be scrubbed and removed of its water and sulphide content. It then need to be be compressed if they are going to use the gas directly. If they want to convert to electricity, the methane gas has to be used to drive the boiler and the steam generated used to turn the turbine to generate electricity! Electricity does not come from methane directly!
It requires so much investments and technical input, and if the process is not stable we have stucked anaerobic digestors!
This situation will even become worst for landfills. Please read my blog on the landfills…

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We can say that in the design of fermentors, the choice of impellers to execute the mixing regime has often been too over simplified. It is strange that despite the complex rheology of various fermentation broths, nost models of impellers are based on two main classes of mixings that is euther radial or axial.
Radial mixings are generated by impellers which are often based on simple flat blade design or variations of the Rushton turbine design. In radial flows all the mixing particles are brought out to the walls of the fermentor subject to tangentianal and centrifugal forces leading to formation of the common close loop pattern too commonly encountered in most standard text books in fermentation technology
On the other hand, the axial mixing are often brought about by the propeller design inpeller leading to the axial flow commonly visualised in ceiling fans
There are variations of mixings which integrate both the radial and axial flows io create a more effective hybrid flows
The important point here is that in the design of these main types of impellers, too much emphasis is given on the following:
1The fermentation broth subjected to mixing is Newtonian by nature
2 The properties of the fermentation broth do not change or remain constant
These kinds of conditions are not commonly found in the industrial fermentation industries. The fermentation broth is often more complex than expected to adhere to the Newtonian characteristics. Second, the volume of fermentation broth or fermentor is huge. This will make it very difficult for radial or even axial mixing to be efficient.
If we learn from blendings carried out in various chemical or even food industries, the type of mixers are often simpler. However in their cases their main requirements are just homogenization and that aseptic requirements are often not carried out during the mixing process itself
It is therefore very important that we need to come up with a very specific design for the mixing of specific fermentation broth and not have the “inbox mentality” of using the same standard impellers

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Saturday, November 14, 2009


The University Malaya Botanical Garden or Rimba Ilmu is treasure trove not often publicised to tourists and visitors. It is a unique Botanical garden which contain a diversity of plants from all over the country presented in an authentic forest atmosphere. A trip to the Rimba Ilmu is a wonderful experience into the types of plants which are of medicinal, economic and social importance to the nation

Who would have believed that just a few minutes from the Mid Valley Megamall and nestled within the campus of University Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, lies a secret garden. This secret garden or Rimba Ilmu has kept its secret for so long, and is only known to the very lucky few. It is a Botanical garden filled with a rich collection of plants and trees, some exotic and rare, and some you will commonly meet along the road journey in Malaysia.

So much effort, time, energy and expertise were invested over three decades in bringing and planting all these plants within the few hectares of land of the Rimba Ilmu. Now, many years later, the Rimba Ilmu has bloomed into a full and mature Botanical Garden which is one of the priceless assets of the University Malaya.
The secret and attraction of Rimba Ilmu is more than just maintaining a collection of tropical plants for research and teaching. The Rimba Ilmu is also a treasure and information trove about the rich culture of the people of this country and their dependence on all these plants from source of medicines, food, shelter and even economy.

Getting to the Rimba Ilmu or the University Malaya is easy. Take a taxi,or by Rapid KL buses or the Light Rail Transit train. If you are taking the LRT make sure you stop at the University Station and then find a taxi for the short distance into University Malaya

Entrance fees for the Rimba Ilmu is very cheap and its open working days.

It was the vision and the drive of the late Professor W R Stanton, who was then the Professor and Head of the Department of Botany, in the early seventies to see the wisdom of having a respectable Botanical Garden for future generations.

It was his driving force and persistence to see that the patch of old rubber plantation and secondary forest be successfully transformed into the Rimba Ilmu we have today
It is such a sad tragedy despite his priceless contributions to the University of Malaya, he is not even bestowed the honorific title of Emeritus Professor

During the early Seventies when University Malaya was the premier University it has large tracts of lands in the campus which remained unexploited. No one considered the importance of having a Botanical Garden until the idea of having a Botanical Garden was mooted by Professor Stanton.

At the Symposium held during the ceremonial opening of the Rimba Ilmu in August 1974, he said in his closing address:
"I suggest the golden age of botany is now and not in the 18th century, or some earlier era...we are beginning to find the raison d'etre for the great diversity of plant forms from the lowly algae and liverworts to the most stately trees of our tropical rainforest. The primary object of our new garden has been to provide the stage on which we may continue to act out the drama of Malaya's plant life for the benefit of the community. . ."

Professor Stanton is the millenium man with the foresight and vision to see the role and importance the Rimba Ilmu will play
The proposed design of the Rimba Ilmu was innovative. It would not look similar as any other Botanical Gardens. It is to be designed in such a way to reflect a rain forest garden rather than just any flower garden. It would not take the appearance of plants behind fences or in the pots, but as plants that occur authentically in nature.

Any visitor visiting the Rimba Ilmu will automatically feel the natural forest habitat as he appreciates the various plants and trees. This objectives will be faced with many challenges as the site of the proposed Rimba Ilmu was a secondary forest with rubber trees. And to make things worst, the success of the Rimba Ilmu then would only be seen in thirty or fourty years from then as the plants would have matured and acquired the feel of the real forest!

Now more than thirty years later, the dreams of Professor Stanton comes true and the value of bequithing his expertise to Univesrity Malaya in the form of one of the best natural Botanical Garden in the world
The Rimba Ilmu today is divided into a few specialized areas such as:
1Medicinal plants
2 Palms
4 Mixed forest species
5 Ferns
6 Fruit trees
There are at least a living collection of over 1600 species in the Rimba Ilmu with emphasis on Malaysian and Indonesian species. Important species of plants in the Rimba Ilmu are provided with valuable information on its taxonomic and importance for the benefit of visitors

The Rimba ilmu trail starts with a winding concrete slab pathway leading to the metallic gate that welcomes the visitors into the realm of the Rimba Ilmu. Even while still a few metres out of the Rimba Ilmu you will already be able to appreciate the diversity of plants that lie awaiting for you in the enclosure of the Rimba Ilmu

The narrow trail through the Rimba ilmu is a winding path which meanders though the terrain. Most times the path is shady due to the overhead dense leafy canopy of trees. Spotlights of sunlight that break through the canopy would regularly light up the path.
Sometimes the single path might split into two paths to give the choice to the visitors of areas in the Rimba Ilmu that excites them. There is no worry of getting lost as there are enough signs and maps ti guide the visitors through the adventurous journey of discovery
The realism of the forest habitat built into the Rimba Ilmu is even brought to more realism by the unending sounds of the forest insects such as cicadas and crickets as if trying to outso each other in getting your attention
The feel of the forest is even felt by the increase in humidity of the forests brought about bt plant transpirations which throws molecules of water into the environment.
For the visitors who have never visited a forest, the experience is exhilarating and more memorable by the presence of mosquitoes eager to taste their blood!
The forest trail within the Rimba ilmu is scenic throughout from beginning to the end. The trail often passes through small , shallow streams with crystal clear waters and even a stagnant sago swamp.
It is almost impossible to cover or describe all the plants kept at Rimba Ilmu. For discussion purposes we will cover a few important medicinal and economic species found in the Rimba Ilmu
Before there were modern medicine and hospitals, a lot of people depends on various types of plants for the medicinal purposes. Our tropical forests are a rich source of medicinal plants which are yet to be fully researched and exploited
Most of these medicinal plants contain secondary metabolites such as alkaloids which have strong pharmocologic activities. In the Rimba Ilmu we have examples of medicinal plants commonly used by the locals such:
1 Misai kuching or literally translated means Cat’s whiskers is a plant which is commonly used by traditional medicine to cure diabetes and high blood pressure among others. The scientific name is Orthosiphon aristatus (Lamiaceae)
1The serengan plant (Flemingia strobilifera), a species of the bean alliance (Leguminosae), commonly cultivated in villages throughout the Indian and Malaysian region. A decoction of its leaves is sometimes used in treating rheumatism.
2 Catharanthus roseus, the common Madagascar Periwinkle, contains alkaloids used to retard the progress of leukaemia.
3 Brucea javanica (Simaroubaceae), which finds medicinal use against dysentery and worms.
4 Baeckea frutescens (Myrtaceae) has essential oils used in health tonics and for scenting household preparations.
5 Andrographis paniculata (Acanthaceae), commonly known as hempedu bumi ("gall of the earth"), in the medicinal plant section. The leaves are useful in treating diabetes and high-blood pressure.
In this country palms have a very significant impact on the lives and economics of the people.
Sago plants rich source of sago,
Coconut trees for coconut oil, coconut milk used for Malay cooking,
Palm oil used extensively in cooking industries world wide
Now even more added values are attempted such as alcohol biofuel from sago, and from palm oil

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009


One of the main attractions that draws both foreign and local tourists to Kuala Lumpur is the rich diversity of our architectural heritage found within the city itself. Our architectural heritage buildings are those that we inherit from the past or defined as at least forty years old buildings.

The best part is that all these architectural heritage are within walking distance to each other!This is especially so in our heritage square where the buildings are mostly distributed around the Sultan Abdul Samad building and also around the Malayan Railway station area

However I cannot help being sad when I see all the tourists coming all the way to Kuala Lumpur just to look and appreciate at all these wondrous buildings without knowing the history of such buildings and the glory of times past. All these buildings are frozen footprints in the sand that marked the progress of the city to what it is today. Sadder still is to to see some of the famous heritage buildings being demolished and even left as derelicts. This is the fate of the Hotel Majestic and the Main Railway station. I doubt such things would have happened in United Kingdom where the society and even Prince Charles believe in the conservation of past heritage buildings. Sometimes I feel our government is not serious enough or is whole hearted in trying to conserve such heritage. There are many buildings in the University Malaya which holds so much history for the nation have been demolished to make way for poorly designed buildings. Gone are the classical concrete lamp posts which are replaced with cheap aluminum street lights, gone are the original Chemistry building,the Student Union building and even the classic bus stops of the past. Even the Great Hall or the Dewan Tunku Chancellor now looks more like a discotheque rather than the serious solemn hall where graduates of the past have lined up to earn their degrees.

Unless something is done properly it is a matter of time when all our heritage buildings will be gone and developed into shopping complexes, apartments and hotels.

In order to appreciate the existence of these beautiful architecture in Kuala Lumpur, we need to know important historical developments of Kuala Lumpur and how factors of history such influence of the colonizers influence the architecture of Kuala Lumpur itself. In this aspect we can divide the architectural heritage into three main phases:
1 British influence- Role of British architects
2 Early Chinese influence- Traditional Chinese architecture
3 Merdeka era buildings- the search for national identity

The selection of these three groups of influences are attributed to their significant contribution to the heritahe architecture of Kuala Lumpur and also these groups build buildings out of brick and concrete that can withstand the test of time compared to wooden buildings. In a way it is sad to admit that despite the country Malay population dominance, it never really leave any significant architectural heritage impact in terms of genuine Malay buildings to be appreciated in Kuala Lumpur.The best example of Malay architectural heritage is probably the Istana Lama in Seri Menanti in Negri Sembilan and not in Kuala Lumpur. Even that, requires the nod from the British architect :)

While it’s true that the Portuguese and the Dutch exert their influence earlier on Peninsular Malaya, but most of their architectural influence are just restricted to Malacca. They have no interest in exerting their influence beyond Malacca. The British have more interest in administering the whole nation as shown by their involvement in governing the country through their British resident advisers. This also explains why the British stayed long enough in the country until Malaya achieved her independence in 1957

It was the British that encouraged the migration of Chinese and Indian workers to run their business interests in Malaya. Historically that the development of Kuala Lumpur at the muddy confluence of the two main rivers; Sungai Klang and Sungai Gombak. The river confluence is the heart of the city and till today the point of meeting of the two rivers is still there, although now it looks more like a concrete monsoon drain.

It was at this confluence that led Yap Ah Loy to develop the area into a thriving business area which in years become the city as we know it today. The influence of the Chinese business community and their tradition could still be felt in the rows of two storey houses built by the Chinese all over Kuala Lumpur. It is a architectural sight to behold although not enough publicity is given to it except in the famous water colours of Victor Chin

Despite the contribution of Yap Ah Loy in the founding of Kuala Lumpur, we must show our gratitude and appreciation to the British who left their marks in the design and construction of the various buildings which lasts till today due to their use of mortar and bricks. Wooden buildings would not be able to withstand the ravages of time!

The British have a long traditional history of architecture as early as the Medieval ages in Britain. Throughout the time of their architectural evolution they have not only influenced their colonies but are also influenced by the nations they colonized.The British architects too are influenced by the knowledge of architecture established in other countries such as Roman and even Grecian influences

The impact of British architecture is seen by the rich varied tapestry of British architecture are still to be found in Kuala Lumpur. Typical of the British they will try to transplant their lifestyles and architecture into mini England in the lands they colonized

Why did the British colonisers built such fine architectural buildings in the first place. Definitely it was not for the gracious presentations to the locals or the countries colonized. The British in the first place were not keen to relinquish their empire or colonies. The main reason they came here in the first place was to exploit the wealth and economics of the nation. It was most probably the design of such fine buildings are for their own comfort and administration. They would probably were not keen to give this country her independence. It was never for the sake of bequeathing the buildings to the locals! In India the presence of the British and the design of such beautiful buildings are more symbolism of the British Masters to be regarded as the Great Rajahs

Some of the finest heritage buildings in Kuala Lumpur are the products of the design of British architects. These public buildings are constructed under the supervision of British architects who were attached with the Public Works Department or PWD. Among the most noted British architects were Arthur Charles Alfred Norman, Arthur Benison Hubback and Charles Edwin Spooner and RAJ Bidwell.It should be noted here that although Frank Swettenham is not an architect but he left significant impact on Kuala Lumpur architecture by insisting certain building rules be followed such as the compulsion to build brick shop houses and government buildings and the provisions for walkaways of at least a few feet to provide shelter against the sun and the rain

Norman was responsible for buildings such as Sultan Abdul Samad Building , St. Mary's Church, Selangor Club Building, Victoria Institution and Carcosa. The architectural style of Norman’s works are more of hybrids reflecting Moorish, Tudor, Neo Classical and Gothic influences

Two forms of pure British architecture; Tudorian and Victorian styles are easily found in Kuala Lumpur. While the Tudorian architecture showed distinctive styles and characteristics, the Victorian style is more representative of buildings built during the Victorian era

We have uniquely British architecture shown by the Tudorian style Selangor Club as well by St Mary’s Cathederal. The St Mary cathedral architecture includes Gothic infusion into the Tudorian design

It should be noted that the original Selangor Club was razed by fire in the 70’s. The existing Selangor club is a mocked Tudorian Selangor club of yester years. The original Selangor club was a unique place where British expatriates and planters retain their unique British lifestyle

The characteristics of Tudorian style shown by the Selangor club includes Tudorian features such as:
• Decorative half-timbering
• Steeply pitched roof
• Prominent cross gables
• Tall, narrow windows
• Small window panes
• Massive chimneys, often topped with decorative chimney pots

The St Mary's cathederal although is basically a Tudorian in style but is with the infusion of English Gothic elements such as its pointed arches, vaulted roofs, buttresses, large windows, and spires.A.C. Norman,was the government architect responsible for the design of the St Mary's cathederal

The other popular forms of buildings which are commonly found in Kuala Lumpur are those buildings which are beautifully Victorian. Examples of Victorian style buildings in Kuala Lumpur are famous school buildings such as Methodist Boys School, Convent Bukit Nanas, the Victorian Institution. Other Non school buildings exhibiting Victorian style includes Industrial Court Building and the old Coliseum Theater.

The British architects even went further in designing buildings which have inputs from India as well the Moorish architecture. This type often called as Indo Sarcenic influence could be seen in a group of beautiful buildings in Kuala Lumpur such as the Sultan Abdul Samad building, the Kuala Lumpur Railway station among others.
In choosing the Indo Sarcenic architecture in their buildings, the British have directly or indirectly pleased the majority of the Malay population of the country. The Malay population are mostly Islamic and easily accepts the Islamic form of architecture of the Arabs. The fact that the majority of the mosques in the country with minarets and domes is the proof of such architectural affinity
The buildings designed and built by the British which exhibit Indo Sarcenic sty;e are typified by the Sultan Abdul Samad Building and the Kuala Lumpur railway station. These beautiful designs are more like buildings that emanate from the Tales of 1001 nights where we have beautiful onion or bulbous domes coming complete with tall minarets that reach skywards. The buildings too often come with pointed arches, over hanging eaves and balconies.
Most tourists find it almost unbelievable that such beautiful palace like buildings are in fact a railway station. The Sultan Abdul Samad with its huge black dome and large round face clock is Kuala Lumpur’s equivalent to the Big Ben of Westminster Abbey in London. The Sultan Abdul Samad building was initially a town hall built in 1897. The Sultan Abdul Samad building inspired the design of other buildings in this heritage zone.


The importation of Chinese labour or workers to open and operate the tin mines not only develop the economy of the nation but also influence the architecture of Kuala Lumpur. As the Chinese are not only powerful economic dynamos, their culture and beliefs are brought to the fore front in the design of buildings in Kuala Lumpur.The role of Feng Shui and the accommodation to the hot and humid tropical climate influence the kind of buildings in Kuala Lumpur

The input of chinese architecture into the architecture of Kuala lumpur ranged from ornate mansions, clan houses, temples and the humble shop houses. This is especially seen in the early years of Kuala Lumpur where the streets are lined with shop houses which are uniquely Chinese in design, Some of these shops still exist especially around Petaling street.

These shop houses are often rows of two storey buildings lining the streets. The ground floor is used for conducting business and the first floor for residence. These shop houses are often with covered verandahs to provide protection against the rain and the sun

Most interesting about these Chinese shop houses are that they are built with fung shui in mind and they invest in ornamental appearance. Occasionally they even embed the date of the building was built.
Besides shop houses Chinese architecture are highlighted in the design of their temples and clan houses


After decades under various colonizers, the nation claimed its right to independence and sovereignty on 31 August 1957. In the haste to celebrate its independence the nation rapidly start in buildings that physically manifest the eight identities or symbolisms of the new nation.

While attempting to come up with the bona fide Malaysian design the architects are constrained too by the weather and climate. There are tendency to incorporate sunshades louvres and verandahs in all aspects of their Malaysian design

The buildings were Parliament as monument symbolising parliamentary democracy, the National Mosque symbolizing freedom of worship even though the mosque is Muslims to pray, University Malaya which symbolizes education , Stadiums Merdeka and Negara for healthy body and mind, the National Monument symbolizing the warriors' sacrifices for the nation, Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka for the national language and the National Museum for national culture.

In the search for the national identity perhaps only the National Museum passes the criteria. The design of the Museum based on the Malay house is simple, yet it possessed all the qualities of fine architecture.

There are other modern day buildings which still attempt to reach for the Malaysia design such as Menara Telekom, Menara Maybank ,The National Library building and the Kuala Lumpur Istana Budaya . However in my opinion they do not succeed as the Malay buildings are restricted by size and materials of construction such as wood. Building massive concrete Malaysian roofs like Bank Bumiputra and even National Museuem is not really a success

The national mosque is the symbolism of Islam being the national religion of Malaysia. It is located in the proximity of the Kuala Lumpur railway station. In its search to reflect the Malaysian identity it tried not to align with the accepted traditional Moorish design of a mosque. The design of the mosque tries to take a bold and modern approach in modern reinforced concrete.
The unique feature of the Malaysian mosque is the use of close and open umbrella for the dome and the minaret. Sad to say this attempt resulted in futility as mosques which were built later in Shah Alam and Putrajaya still goes for the classical Moorish design.
The strength of the design of the building actually depends on the mural which depicts a Sikh, Indian, Malay, Chinese and Eurasian all united through one language
The Merdeka stadium was especially significant as it was where the national independence was officially declared witnessed by the Sultans of all the states in Malaya and thousands of cheering Malaysians.
The history of Merdeka stadium is quirky in itself. After its construction and over the years it was even renovated and then almost fall into disuse, it was resurrected in its original forms fifty years later by conservation architect to bring back the spirit of Merdeka.
The National Monument or Tugu Negara. was built to commemorate a symbolic victory over the communists guerrillas as the Emergency ended in 1960.
The monument is the work of an American sculptor Felix de Weldon based on Iwo Jima memorial. It is sad to note that the soldiers of the monument reflect a western built body and not the Malay soldier
The parliament building is the symbolism of democracy of the nation and is famous in the pineapple skin design

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Thursday, October 15, 2009


I seemed to feel that the concept of using immobilizing cells for fermentation technology has been over rated. In theory the idea of using immobilized cells in fermentation technology is good. The assumption is that there is higher number of microorganisms per unit volume compared to equivalent volume of the fermentation broth. This tends to give the feeling of advantage of stochiometry that is; more cells means more product and higher conversion of the substrate into the fermentation products.

What is not often taken into view is that:
1 There is the difference in the physiology and metabolism between suspended cells and attached cells. Immobilized cells tend to have higher metabolic rates
2 There are problems of mass transfer of nutrients, waste products in and out of the immobilized cells
3 The immobilized cells are under stress that might lead to different fermentation products being formed instead of the the main product we are interested
4 Most of the cells in the deeper part of the biofilm are not really functioning metabolically or even alive
5 Its difficult to apply the growth curve with fermentation product as function of the growth curve of suspended cells

There should not be a rush into this biotechnology but instead to carry further research in all aspects of the metabolism and physiology of the attached cells before rushing to apply it into the fermentor configuration

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009


For this one instance I am not going to write about fermentation technology. Instead I will be copying one of my daughters' essay. This essay describes her moment of her life before entering Seoul National University. Here goes...

It's snowing again today. And it's still snowing as I'm typing away this post.

There's just something very peaceful and serene about the falling snowflakes. The way they sometimes swirl around in random motion before finally settling down on the ground. And just as quickly, change their paths into a more direct motion. Falling straight in one direction. Then changing again, dictated by the whims of the wind.

It is a time for reflection. Especially since I feel like I can relate so well to the falling flakes.

Just like that period of time before it's going to snow. The sudden drop of temperature. A strong chill exists in the air. And no matter how strongly you turn on your heater, you just can't get completely warm. In that moment, you just know that it's gonna snow soon.

It's the anticipation.

You feel it in the air. Something big is going to happen. Something you have no control over. And just like how when you're finally greeted by the sight of snow, it is an amazing experience. Because suddenly your world is coloured differently.

Of course, it brings with it its own set of implications. But for the moment when the change is taking place, the only thing that matters at the moment is that change is happening.

You're well aware, hidden in that corner in your mind, that something else would come. That a few hours later when the snow melts away and hardens into ice, the ground would be slippery. You could slip. And you could fall and be bruised.

That's exactly how I feel right now. I can feel that something big is going to happen. Yet another chapter of my life is closing. And as I lift the corner of the last page, I can see random exposed words of the next page. You just can't help but read whatever was visible in that shortest flash of time. The words give you a clue. Random hints.

And your heart skips a little. In that moment, so many things could happen at the same time. In one second, your mind reviews the past, and skips right ahead to the future. You then go on to realize that the past was so cleverly crafted to bring you to where you are right now. That whatever that's happening at this time, may it be good or bad, plays the role of laying down the bricks for the road of what's to come.

It's going to snow soon in my life.

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Thursday, October 8, 2009


Investing into a wastewater treatment system is not really a very attractive option for factories and manufacturing plants. In most cases they have to have the WWTP in order to get the license to operate the manufacturing facility. In other cases they are forced into getting a WWTP due to legislative action and non compliance of environmental regulations

It is a fact that choosing the right WWTP is not an easy matter as it means that the factory have to invest money to buy construct operate and maintain the WWTP

One of the main criteria in deciding the right WWTP is that the WWTP must be able to treat the wastewater to reach the mandatory level of effluent treatment. There is nothing to negotiate on this point.

However most factories would like to cut costs and cut corners to reduce the amount of investment. Most regard investing in WWTP is a non profitable activity which brings no financial returns.

They will call for tenders for contractors that are able or promise to achieve the effluent standards. However, in most cases after the WWTP is completed it only works in the first few months. Then the problem starts……

In many cases these companies do not ask for independent reviews from other consultants to ensure that they are not taking chances. Even their own engineers cannot provide valuable input into the choice of the best WWTP because most times these engineers they employ work on the production floor but not the WWTP

The key aspect they are looking for are:
1 Cheap cost of the WWTP
2 Low utilization of energy

Cheap does not mean it is always good. It just give the contractor a lower profit margin and that their tender have a stronger chance of being accepted

Choosing WWTP that will not use much energy. The factories do not like to pay for high utility bills. This is understandable. However they will end up very disappointed when in the end the WWTP does not live up to their requirements. Then who is to be blamed?

WWTP is not a simple system. It is in fact a very complex bioreactor or fermentor. Anything can go wrong! It is far easier to operate a normal fermentor than a WWTP!

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Sunday, October 4, 2009


Everybody knows why we carry out sampling. We carry out samplings or obtaining samples so that we can have information or data of the system being sampled. The samples obtained are analyzed and the data obtained are used by us so that we can “extrapolate” or “guess” about the composition status of the system being studied.

In certain systems being studied such as fermenters, they are even equipped with specific purpose built sampling ports where samples can be obtained for analyses.

The sampling ports are often designed more for the ease of sampling or aseptic integrity rather than for the purpose of a truly representative sample!

It is very important in any sampling that the samples obtained are truly representative of the system so as to truly reflect the composition of the system. A non truly representative sample will have the tendency to give inaccurate reading. As they often say, the results obtained are as good as the sample itself. Analyses of the sample is only valid for the sample itself and will not truly reflect the status of the system.

Many users of fermentors when using the samplers do not often reflect the weak links in the process of sampling and to put complete trust that the samples they obtained are very accurate and reflecting the real composition of the fermentation process.

It is important that since a lot depend on the samples and sampling process itself that a proper sampling plan be properly prepared to take into account the weaknesses of such samplings.

They need to carry out preliminary studies and validate their sampling procedures so that their data is acceptable and trust worthy. One of the key areas they must look into is the homogeneity of the fermentor content and statistical validity of their sampling

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Friday, August 28, 2009


Generally, under most situations nobody would like to call for the consultant. Calling for the support of the Consultant would mean that you have problems in your hands and that your company or the staff is unable to solve it. Either they lack the expertise or that the problems are too complex. As mentioned earlier the charges demanded by the consultants are often not cheap

In a way it is similar to seeing the specialist for your medical problems when your GP is not so sire or confident how to solve the problem. In certain cases where litigation issues are involved each parties involved do not really trust each other and the a number of consultants would be called to give their opinion

In the above case we seem to call the consultant as the last resort in finding solution to the problem. In reality the roles of the consultant are many and could be positively applied at various stages of the project. This will be an asset to the company that employ the consultant because for the relatively small amount of the total cost they can be assured everything would be fine

You can call the services right up from the proposed of the planning stage until the end of the project. Various consultants are needed for different stage of the project

Consultants can give their view even from the point of viability both technical and economical aspects of the project. They can also be asked in choosing the proper tender for the benefit of the company.
They can also be ask to act as independent monitor on the progress and development of the project and many more.

In my opinion when the investments in a fermentation plants is considerable and involve millions of dollars setting a percentage pf the cost for the fees of consultation is really nothing. Do not be penny wise and pound foolish

What is most important is to choose the right consultant. His track record and ability to identify and solve the problems given should be prioritized. He must also submit technical report in detail at scheduled time agreed

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009


It is generally the common aim of most academics or scientists to be regarded as a CONSULTANT. This in itself does not mean other people cannot become a consultant.

If we analyse the term “consultant” it is the person to whom you consult or refer to. This often refers usually where the knowledge of a specialist or an expert is required. Meaning the consultant must himself have extra knowledge or experience than most of the rest in his field so his opinion will make a difference.

Strictly speaking, we can call someone is a consultant if he:

1 Have a greater in depth knowledge of a subject or a field
2 Have many years teaching and research experience in the field
3 Recognised as an authority in the field by his peers
4 Have advanced academic degrees especially at post graduate level
5 Have peer reviewed research papers in eminent journals in that field
6 Have membership of the learned society in his field
7 Have undergone all sorts of experience especially in his field such as the industries

From the above we can see the number of hurdles a consultant need to pass through before one can consider him a true consultant.
Nowadays it seems strange even a young graduate barely with a first degree and a few years experience will unashamedly called himself a consultant. Then there is the joke that a person is a consultant not because of his expertise but more to the fact he could not find a job!

The problem is what you learn in the University is not the same with what you learn in the industries. In the Universities it is a well known fact that two plus two makes four. Not so in industries

So the consultant talks with authority. It is not the amount of words or time he spent talking but the recommendations that he can give or the solutions to the problems. This does not mean that the consultant is always guaranteed right, but chances are he knows his field and will probably giving the best advice or opinion in a particular situation

As being said earlier there is no law saying that prevent anyone from claiming he is a consultant. But the true recognition if he is the true consultant depends on the above criteria.

What is common occurrence here is that the moment a person gets his PhD he is regarded as a consultant. Or if he is the head of the department then he is the consultant.

Anyone who will regard or employ these “consultants” is putting everything at risk and end up with a lousy piece of work. So please choose your consultant properly. Talk with him, interview him of his expertise and track record and then determine yourself if he is truly the consultant you want. Remember you are taking your own risks by taking this people. If anything goes wrong you are left to fend yourself!

It is strange these days that there are so called consultants who are almost willing to work for free. The whole idea is to create his own track record and “impress” the other customers of the future.

The fees of a consultant are definitely high. It reflect the amount of time money energy he has invested to be come a consultant. A good consultant is a professional!

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Thursday, August 20, 2009


That is the trouble with this world. They love hype sounding word, even though it is just describing old and established processes. They just love putting the old wine into new bottle! Yet it is the same old process only being remarketed under new bottles. Guess there are so many fools out there who are mesmerized by these new words and thinking that they are exposed to new technological processes.
Why cant they just settle with the old words! The old words are there even before the term biotechnology was proposed? They could have said it as applied biology, horticulture, agriculture or even food technology.

This crazy turn of event was started in 70s when the real biotechnology was taking its form. Suddenly everyone wants a piece of the pie or its glorious popularity. Everybody want to ride the rich gravy train.

Yes! It is true that if we analyse the term biotechnology it refers generally to the application and manipulation of biology. But in the real context when the term biotechnology was initially introduced it refers to the exploitation of microorganisms using bioreactor technology. It refers to the genetic manipulation of these microorganisms and single cells to produce valuable products.

At no time did it really refer to plant or animal breeding involving crops or farm animals. They already have the field for that plant or animal breeding, important components of agriculture

To make things worst, unpopular subjects such as botany and zoology are given a new finishing and given a new title of “biodiversity”. Wow!!! It is the same old crap of taxonomy…..adoihhhhh!

That is the trouble with most of us. Rather than trying to improve the wine we are so busy trying to improve the bottles. The wine remains as stale as before…hehe. We must stop kidding ourselves and start to face the truth realistically

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Although the structure and function of fermentors are rigid, that doesn’t mean that you cannot modify or adapt your existing fermentors to suit a particular condition. A good fermentation technologist should be able to reconfigure the fermentor system to suit specifically to his needs. If you know or are confident in your fermentation technology you need not always rely on the expensive fermentors. You will choose, retrofit or adaot what ever fermentors you have.

One of the most common methods used by industries, even traditional fermentation industries is to use the concept of staggered fermentation. In traditional fermentation process because of the self protected nature of the fermentation and often the septic fermentation carried out you can substitute for cheaper fermentors.

Aseptic fermentation are for mono culture fermentation and where stringent control is necessary.

One of the techniques in fermentation that is often less understood is the use of staggered fermentation. In staggered fermentation you usually use a number of smaller fermentors and not a single or few large ones.

These fermentors are usually operated in batch mode. These batch mode fermentors are started a few days after one another to give a continuous flow or production. So as one fermentor terminated the previous one in mid fermentation and another one started

There are advantages and disadvantages using staggered fermention. It depends on the situation. It is very suitable in traditional fermentation where the fermentation substrate is seasonal with lows and peaks. During extra harvest the excess substrate could be held in large cold rooms and need not be processed immediately.

Staggered fermentation will be allowed to operate at a steady low flow of substrate

During staggered fermentation the use of minimal labour is possible. There is no need to sustain high labour when there is not enough substrate. The workers are also assured of continuous employment.

To be applicable in staggered fermentation, you have to have a higher number but smaller fermentors. You really need to know the fermentation dynamics when to start the series of fermentation. Thus close monitoring is a must for it to operate well.

Should anything went wrong you will only lose one fermentor’s content 

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The evolution in the design of fermentors over several decades not only reflect the change in understanding of the process of fermentation itself, but also reflect the challenges in the technology of producing new and novel products using the fermentor.

The earliest design of the fermentor as exemplified by the fermentation of penicillin showed how simple the design and function of the fermentor in the forties. Today’s fermentors are more sophisticated as reflected by the various monitoring and control facilities with computer interface for a more efficient fermentation process. In reality, the fermentors have not really underwent a radical design of yester years, only that the monitoring and control get more sophisticated. The basic fermentor hardware still basically remains the same.

However, in the past few years we have seen novel designs in the fermentors it selves. This trend towards a customized and functionally built fermentors are in response to the “new” kind of bioproducts that were not even imagined years ago. The new fermentors of today have to produce such as biopharmaceuticals, enzyme and other biotechnology-derived compounds.

The limitation of specific conditions imposed by such products has resulted in the paradigm shift in the design of fermentors. The engineers who built the fermentors of the past now have to wrestled to find out solutions in the design of new breed of fermentors
As it is now we are beginning to see fermentors whose design is dedicated to a single product, or changed out frequently to process many different ones.


We cannot design the fermentor alone detached from the supporting fermentor system. For a successful fermentation process to occur we must match for compatibility the design of the fermentor with the design of its ancillary support equipment

In the design of modern fermentation system great emphasis are placed upon the role of the fermentor either for multipurpose operation or whether the fermentors will be used for scale ups.

The critical areas that will have to be considered strongly are vessel design, process piping, jacket service piping, agitation and mixing and instrumentation and control.

Thus in planning a custom built fermentor various options must be considered to ensure what ever features are necessary or needs to be added and whether they are beneficial or cost effective. We simply just can’t buy fermentors off the rack! (Although, many do!)

The first consideration in the design of fermentor or retro fitting is to define properly the system that is needed. Are we using bacteria, mammalian cells or fungi? Each type of cell has its own specific requirements or limitations. Even within one particular cell type such as in the case of cell cultivation there is the option of using pneumatically mixed air lift fermentors or by mechanical stirring.


The importance of vessel geometry and volume cannot be understated. While the geometry more refers to the shape of the vessel the volume refer to the capacity of the fermentor. Both geometry and volume of the fermentor will affect the performance of the fermentor

The most popular range of ratios of height-to-tank diameter ratios of 1:1 to 3:1 are common for stirred tanks.

The expected range of the vessel working volume, typically 60-85% of the fermentor total volume. However this must be adjusted with consideration to any expected fed batch additions. It is important that so that the impellers can be spaced appropriately.

The level and type of tank polish is selected based on the acceptability of irregularities in the tank surface. The most popular method of finishing is by mechanical and electropolishing and passivation. The choice depends on the quality requirements of the product

The number, location and type of tank nozzles and ports influences the ability to add materials to the vessel and insert instrumentation probes. It does gives flexibility but at the expense of increase in fabrication costs, setup time and the risk of damage associated with repeated disassembly for cleaning.

There are so many things that enter and leave the fermentor, that in a way the fermentor can’t afford to accommodate all the requirements. It simply does not have the areas to accommodate it. Thus prioritization of usage of ports is essential

Location of the port is important to ensure no damages incurred during insertion and withdrawal.

The weld procedure used to attach these fittings must be reviewed carefully to ensure a sturdy design and to maintain roundness. A compromise has to be achieved between minimizing dead legs and room for sturdy attachment.

The consumables such as gaskets and O rings must be evaluated based on the expected frequency and expense associated with each change. Sometimes it is more efficient, practical and economical to use less expensive, single-use approach.

Factors such as compressibility and memory of the material should be evaluated to ensure that leaks will not develop when the vessel is heated and cooled repeatedly. All materials in product contact must be suitable for sanitary use.

Materials should be selected that are resistant to high temperatures depending upon the specific application.

For improved sterility, steam tracing should be carried out in pipings and equipments. A tube or small-diameter pipe attached to the pipe and carrying a heating medium for the addition of heat all along the process pipe is commonly referred to as “heat tracing.” If the system of heat tracing utilizes steam in the heat delivery process, it is then termed “a steam-tracing system.” Steam tracing requires a highly thermally resistant gasket or O-ring material, due to the constant steam exposure.

The cleanability of the fermentor component is important, thus the number, location and mode of attachment of internals are also important to define. Welded internals improve cleanability by eliminating crevices,

The choice of valves is important. Complete drainability is often a criterion for bottom-valve installation


For very large fermentors there must be allocation on the head plate for cleaning and repair .While this size is sufficient for a person to enter the tank, impellers often need to be designed with a split hub to permit their entry.

Removable headplates introduce the design feature of a headplate O-ring seal. Smaller head plates can be hinged and easily removed by hand; larger ones are often bolted and may go several years without disassembly. Consequently, sealing gaskets and groove locations must seal well for extended periods and be constructed for sanitary, high-temperature service.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009


It is ever doubtful that the development of the fermentation industries could have reached the level of sophistication today if not for
the contribution of stainless steel. Stainless steel is in fact the most popular material used extensively in the fermentation industries. Stainless steel are used not only in the design and building of fermentors but are also used in the various ancillary piping, valves and other equipments such as the blender and stirrer.

Even in dairy processing , sanitary grade stainless steel tanks, pipings and pumps are used to ensure high standards of sanitary cleanliness. This is also the reason why in big restaurants stainless steel kitchen utensils and furniture are made up of stainless steel right up from the sinks to the food warmers

Sanitary cleanliness are possible using stainless steel as its sanitary finish are achievable with electro polishing. Electro polishing is superior to mechanical cleaning as the outer surface of metal is completely removed with the kind of precision that can only be achieved through electrolytic processes. Sub-microscopic peaks and valleys on the surface of the stainless steel are removed, and the stainless steel regenerates a surface layer of passivised chromium oxide to protect it against rust and corrosion.

This is crucial for proper beer fermentation as well as for sanitation standards, for without the removal of these molecular-level gutters and valleys, particles of yeast, sugar and other ingredients would be trapped within the wall of the tank long after scouring. Sugar and yeast would remain and flourish in non-sanitary finishes, growing bacteria and yeast the brewmaster had not counted on. Yeast trapped within brewery tank walls could change the chemistry of the beer’s fermentation, and we don’t want to think about what the bonus bacteria would do.

The downside using stainless steel is the initial cost! But think of the advantages, convenience and lifetime benefits of the stainless steel fermentors!
Stainless steel is essentially a low carbon steel which contains chromium at 10% or more by weight. It is the addition of chromium that gives the steel its unique stainless, corrosion resisting properties.
The chromium content of the steel allows the formation of a tough, adherent, invisible, corrosion-resisting chromium oxide film on the steel surface. If damaged mechanically or chemically, this film is self-healing, provided that oxygen, even in very small amounts, is present. The corrosion resistance and other useful properties of the steel are enhanced by increased chromium content and the addition of other elements such as molybdenum, nickel and nitrogen.
Stainless steel can be divided into four classes. Each is identified by the alloying elements which affect their microstructure and for which each is named.
1)400 Series Martensitic consisting of straight chromium (12 - 18%);

2) 400 Series Ferritic consisting of straight chromium (12 - 18%);

3) 300 Series Austenitic consisting of chromium (17 - 25%), Nickel (8 - 25%);

4) Precipitation Hardening consisting of chromium (12 - 28%), Nickel (4 - 7%);

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To most of us we only see or appreciate the fermentation process qualitatively, just like admiring the beauty of fishes in the aquarium. Such observations don’t tell us more about the fermentation process. May be a whiff of the gas coming out of the fermentor tell us about the presence of alcohol or volatile organic products.

In the fermentation industries such qualitative data are almost of no use. The observation port is of limited use as the data are just visual.

The management of the fermentation industry wants to know much more in depth of the fermentation process. They want reliable numerical data that will allow them to operate the fermentation process in the most efficient and economic way possible.

They need to know the fermentation process in numbers, data and graphs, so that they understand what is going on in the fermentation vat. The data will provide them to make decisions in improving, optimizing or even in trouble shooting the fermentation process. They need to make the decision in comparing and choosing between one substrate and the other for the fermentation process in terms of the yield and productivity,

It is for these reasons that mathematical equations and mathematical models of the process are of utmost importance. It is the tool for decision making and optimized fermentation

It is sad that most people detest the use of equations in fermentation or technology OR that they are unable to exploit fully the data obtained from the equations. Equations in fermentation technology has been most times regarded as an unnecessary evil for you to take if you want to take fermentation technology

For most times the hatred or poor understanding towards the needs of the mathematical equations arises more due to the inability of the teacher to demonstrate is importance and application in fermentation technology. Equations are just regarded more as just a boring mathematical exercise

In any attempt to describe the fermentation technological process will usually involve the understanding of the various data generated by the process

In order to show the relationship between the change in one parameter will only be possible by making sense of the data produced and then to execute the necessary changes

In order to find the optimum conditions for a particular fermentation process we will have to analyze data obtained through various studies and experiments

Only mathematical data will allow us the ability to compare and decide to change the set parameters or not

The trouble is most teachers do not try to stress the importance and application of such equation… maybe because they are just pure mathematicians and do not see the applied implications of the equation

The most important thing, fermentation process is a very complex system which involves the idiosyncrasies of the fermentation microorganisms. It is not that straight forward and direct.

Now let us try to look at the significance of the Monod equation in fermentation technology. Monod equation is in fact one of the most important equation in biology especially in fermentation technology.


We use the Monod equation in calculating the growth of cells or microbes. This equation is then related to the substrate consumption rate equation for the purposes of the fermentation reactor design or analysis The Monod equation is empirical having been developed to describe experimental data; nonetheless, it works fairly well.
The Monod equation is represented as the following:

dX/dt = KmXS/(Ke + S)

where r (or dX/dt) is the rate of microbe growth,
X is the quantity of the microbes,
S is the concentration of the substrates, and
Km and Ke are constants.

What the equation is trying to sum up in the simplest terms is that the number of microorganisms is directly affected by the concentration of substrate over time. And that irrespective there are two constants that occur in the equation. Once we know the value of these constants we can extrapolate a lot of things if we adjust the other values such as time, substrate
We can try to relate the equation to the characteristics of fermentation reaction. The reaction has been determined to require additional supplement for cellular growth in order for the fermentation to proceed significantly. These substances probably vary for fermentation by different microbes.
However we should not see the fermentation process as simple as the Monod equation. There are cautions to be taken in applying it. The Monod equation is not as simple as the various complex parameters and diversity of microbial reactions could affect it.

A more expansive discussion of this material could be found at the GB-Analysts Reports site.

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Thursday, August 13, 2009


The overflow device is an important component in any bioreactor design to ensure that the desired volume of the broth or medium in the working volume remain constant. This is especially required in continuous culture or chemostat and even in activated sludge system. Overflow devices too are required in fed batch culture systems.

Although the primary aim of the overflow device is to maintain the constant volume of the reaction tank, considerations must be taken that the composition of the reaction tank and the wastewater overflow remains homogenous or with the same composition of the media in the reaction tank. In many over flow devices this aspect is not often considered as a very simple attitude is taken just to retain the constant volume in the reaction tank.

In most wastewater bioreactor such as activated sludge and sedimentation tank or even clarifier the over flow device are often too simple in design and function and are located at the interphase of the surface of the water and the air. This would inevitabily resulted in drastic changes in the composition of the wastewater overflows and errors in the sampling procedures.

Having such simple over flow devices in fact help in the enrichment of solids and large particles being retained in the tank.

This characteristic is very crucial if involved in continuous cell cultures as we really need the over flow spent liquour to be truly representative of what really occur in the chemostat.

The overflow device must be located in the truly homogenous zone of the fermentor and where it is continuosly mixed. The design of the overflow device must not in any way changes the physical, chemical and microbiological composition of the sample as it pass through the overflow device

Samplings taken through the overflow device must ensure that dead space samples existing in the overflow device must be completely removed before the real sample taken

The overflow device must be specially designed to ensure aseptic procedures

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Saturday, August 8, 2009


Malaysia is a nice country to live in. It doesn’t cost a lot to get drunk. Nether do you have to patronize pubs to enjoy the expensive alcoholic drinks. (Mind you the tax levied on alcohol is high!).

The simple and alternative way to get drunk is to enjoy the poor man’s Chivaz Regal or Toddy. Its cheap and its powerful! Making Toddy is easy. The problem is getting the sap high up on the palm tree!

Toddy is an alcoholic drink made by fermentation of the coconut or palm sap. The fermentation of the palm sap is carried out by yeasts which occur naturally.

Historically it is generally believed that the knowledge of making Toddy was brought by the South Indian workers. And Toddy is also consumed mainly by Indians in the estate plantations.

Toddy drinking has been blamed for a lot of social problems especially among the poor. It was not uncommon years ago to see drunken Toddy drinkers walking wobbly or sleeping on the road in drunken stupor. However at the same time there are those that will swear by it for its nutritional and health values.

Toddy are commonly sold in Toddy shacks. There are a few Toddy shacks in around Kuala Lumpur where you can get yourself a glass or two of Toddy. In fact just around Brickfields at Jalan Berhala is a licensed Toddy shack. Toddy is often sell by the litre for about RM2, whereas for the same amount beer costs RM12.

The only problem with Toddy drinking it seems it lacks class. It is the poor man’s drink. Public city also do not help with problems of the Toddy drinkers who often go over board. All the drunkards and brawls are too often associated with Toddy

I guess the drunkenness is not because of the significant higher concentration of alcohol as its alcohol content is equivalent to beer. Wine got a much higher alcohol content. It must be the volume of Toddy taken over the long time spent drinking Toddy. After all Toddy is cheap!

Have you tried Toddy with curry???. I heard it is a fantastic combination

Palm sap begins fermenting immediately after collection, due to natural yeasts in the air (often spurred by residual yeast left in the collecting container). Within two hours, fermentation yields an aromatic wine of up to 4% alcohol content, mildly intoxicating and sweet. The wine may be allowed to ferment longer, up to a day, to yield a stronger, more sour and acidic taste containing about 5% alcohol, which some people prefer.

As I see it Toddy will always remain a traditional fermentation which has great potential if the whole process of Toddy fermentation undergoes the modern fermentation technology process. Repackaging it and good marketing would put the modern brewers to shame! ( Eat your heart out Guinness and Carlsberg!)

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Sunday, June 28, 2009


In the business of fermentation, simple solutions are often the answers to some of the major fermentation problems. The answers do not lie in complicated apparatus or academic research papers in eminent journals. A good example is the use of air locks!

The success or failures of many fermentation processes depends often on:
1 Releasing the pressure of fermentation gases to prevent excessive in built pressure
2 The maintenance of anaerobic conditions or excessive exposure to oxygen.

But in most cases these factors are often over looked!

A good example of the airlock is found in the design of toilet bowl. The water seal is sort of airlock but more towards the prevention of odours and the crawlies from crawling up as you are doing your job.

The use of airlocks is only practicable for mixed culture fermentations such as those in food fermentations, wine fermentation

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Thursday, June 18, 2009


In aerobic biological wastewater treatment, the supply of oxygen is of great critical importance. It is one of the parameters that is mandatory and heavily relied upon to assess the efficiency of wastewater treatment. However it is one of the parameters that must be approached with the greatest caution as many wrong conclusions could be reached by wrong interpretation.

The importance of oxygen could not be denied as it is the indicator for the ability of the system to support life or whether the treatment system is properly functioning. The values of 2mg/litre have generally been accepted as the minimum concentration to support aerobic life. Below which the system is anaerobic.

I can always see how many engineers, chemists and even consultants are very excited prematurely to see if their WWTP registered a dissolved oxygen (DO) of about 4 mg/lit and declaring “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!”

If only they stop the * Drum rolls!* *Applause!* Thunderous claps! * * Cheers!* and * Confettis!*

There is the possibility that something could be wrong if you register too high DO. You can only reach definite conclusions in conjunction with other observations or studies to support you

A high DO could be the result of various factors such as:
1 System too toxic to support life
2 The absence of microorganisms
3 Low number of microorganisms
And a few other causes

So before celebrating, and making hasty conclusions please analyse the other parameters or at least observe the situation over a few weeks analyses

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009


It is very exciting when you are called to determine what causes a wastewater treatment plant to malfunction. Sometimes the reasons are too obvious, but sometimes the cause may be complex and require some sort of detective work such as in the popular television series “Criminal Scene Investigation” or CSI. There are evidences every where and it is up to us the wastewater forensic team to determine the cause and put it right!

When a wastewater treatment plant fails it is providing us with various valuable clues to why the process fails. Analyses of the evidences from physical, chemical and microbiological observations will be able to inform us why the WWTP fails.

To repair the WWTP without doing proper clinical studies of the stuck WWTP is not scientific, time and money wasting and would not lead to the proper solution.( Unless chances in a million you are lucky enough!)

WWTP failures do not occur just like that. There must be a reason for the failures to occur. Usually failures take time to occur, and if the WWTP is monitored closely you will see signs of the impending failure. To this purpose records or data of the WWTP are very important.

Biological WWTP is a very complex system. Almost anything could go wrong, so proper approach in determining the cause of failure is important to treat the WWTP

The approach to determine the cause of malfunction must be approached with an open mind.

The first step in the investigation often involved digging into the background and history of the WWTP, discussions with the production and engineering staff.

Water audit and process flow in and out of the WWTP are essential

Site visits are very important to determine the real situation. Only a trained eye or experience will allow you to detect the anomalies that could have contributed to the failure.

Analyses of the past and present water treatment operation data are essential

Sometimes not only in situ or separate analyses are required, experiments or laboratory studies are needed to confirm the cause.

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At the end of the construction of the WWTP, and before officially handing over from the contractors to the company, the WWTP is usually subjected to the commissioning of the plant.

In most cases it involves the easier part of civil, electrical and mechanical engineering to see that the plant follows the specifications laid, and that the various equipments are functioning such as the pumps, blowers, motors.

This is usually the easiest part of commissioning and easy to see if there are any defects or replacements needed.

The most challenging part of the commissioning process is to see whether the built WWTP can function and treat the wastewaters to the standards of effluent required.

The period of commissioning can be short or even a few months to achieve depending on whether the process is complicated or the process of commissioning are properly carried out.

If the commissioning fails or take a long time to carry out then the handover will be delayed and so will be the stages of payment to the contractor. If it is carried out fast and successful the payment will be fast and a lot of money will be saved for labour and time. As for the owner it would mean that the WWTP could enter the service faster.

There are a few objectives in carrying out the commissioning procedure:

1 It will ensure the owner that the WWTP built is in compliance and can achieve the standards set
2 The process will allow detecting any possible errors
3To fine tune the process of the WWTP to be process efficient
4 To subject the WWTP to stress test to see its safety factor and range it can tolerate to treat wastes. This acts like guarantee!

Commissioning of biological WWTP is not as simple as just pushing the power supply button and let it the WWTP operates. It is a process where data needs to be monitored and collected for the duration of commissioning. These data will act as evidences that the commissioning of the WWTP is successful or not.

In most cases the WWTP designed might not function as expected from the blueprints. So experts are needed to commission the WWTP and suggest ways of overcoming the obstacles from which the engineers will take the necessary recuperative actions

Commissioning of WWTPs require long periods on site monitoring and adjustments. In most cases the failure to commission the WWTP is not so much due to the fault of the WWTP design but poor understanding of the process of commissioning and the process of wastewater treatment

Commissioning WWTP is a scientific operation which should be able to identify the steps of process failure taking steps to make it right. One of the most biggest and frequent blunder carried out by engineers or plant operators during commissioning is to pump the raw wastewaters as if the treatment plant is already 100% functional. No wonder most times it is not because the WWTP do not worked as designed but more due to failure of start up procedures and commissioning

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Sunday, June 14, 2009


It was recently reported in The Star (Saturday June 6, 2009) that according to Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister Datuk Peter Chin Fah Kui
“On a related matter, he said the ministry was drafting a working paper on its suggestion to close the 4,394 small sewage treatment plants and replace them with larger regional plants.
Chin said small plants were uneconomical as IWK would have to send maintenance teams periodically to oversee them.
He said he would discuss this with the Housing and Local Government Ministry, Department of Environment, Economic Planning Unit and Kuala Lumpur City Hall.”
So before we go rushing into projects where even angels fear to tread, let us study the consequences involved and choose the right option. Wastewater plants are not cheap to build and operate. They are a source of myriad of problems if not properly designed or operated.
There are the advantages and disadvantages of both options. It all really depends on various factors such:
1 Location of the population
2 Size of population to be served
3 Composition and complexity if the wastewaters
The trend is however nowadays building small wastewater treatment plants, decentralizing and serving up stream.
The problem with our existing wastewater treatment plants is not whether it is centralized or decentralized, but poor servicing and monitoring of the process. A refurbished and reserviced wastewater treatment plants can improve by 40% in efficiency compared to before servicing.
Through my experience, I have always found out that waste treatment plants are not properly cared for. Their performance not monitored, to make things worst their aerators are either not working or purposely switched off to save costs. Wastewater treatment plant operators only try to work their treatment plants if the environmental officers are after them.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009


My love for fermentation technology or more specifically fermentors, start with my disillusionment with biology. I have studied biology for a substantial amount of my school and undergraduate days in the sixties and seventies. The biology syllabus both in schools and universities never really did change or keep up with times. It has always been taxonomy, biodiversity, anatomy etc etc.

Right from lower secondary schools to preuniversity and even university it is always the repeating chants of..”xylem, phloem, antipodal cells…………..” Repeating the Latin names of flowers and plants and insects… Yughhhhhh!!!

The point of crossing in my life came accidentally. ( Or was it destiny??) It was the day when my science teacher told me about the wonders of microbes or germs!. (Guess he didn’t know much what he was talking about then!!!..hehehe) . But he did arouse my curiosity! I just cant avoid wondering how something so small and cant be seen got so much power to cause diseases and make beer?. Wow!! That was really something and mind blowing!

During my final or Honours year, I recalled being taken on an industrial visit to a monosodium glutamate factory, brewery and even a conventional wastewater treatment plant! Wow! Was I impressed by the scale of the stainless steel fermentors and the capacity of microorganisms to produce the fermentation products. From that moment in time I was smitten in love with fermentors!. You can never realized how a simple field trip can leave you with a lasting impression more than the hours spent in lecture halls and laboratories

By the end of my undergraduate years I was very sure that Industrial microbiology or more precisely fermentation technology will be the obsession of my life.

I decided to pursue Industrial microbiology at the Wolfson Laboratory for Industrial Microbiology at the Department of Microbiology. During that circa, the Department of microbiology was in the era that has become to many la belle epoque of Cardiff microbiology . There were the giants of industrial microbiology at the department such as Prof DE Hughes who headed the department with illustrious staff such as EC Hill, DA Stafford, JWT Wimpenny, AG Callely, strong names in industrial microbiology.

Activities of the Wolfson Laboratory for industrial microbiology, including with Mr Ted Hill, some of the earliest work on bioremediation of oil spillage in coastal waters (Torrey Canyon Disaster, off the Cornish coast in 1967). Over the next decade this group pioneered the scientific study of large scale anaerobic digestion treatment plants for the treatment of farm and domestic wastes and the recovery and use of methane.

The department have strong contacts and research grants with various industries ranging from wastewater treatment to even petroleum microbiology.

Fermentors were the in thing in the department then. Wimpenny studied oxygen metabolism, cellulose production and gradstat using the fermentors. Stafford was using fermentors to study anaerobic digestion. Hughes was studying Sphaerotilus natans using fermentors. Hill was studing oil degradation with fermentors

Till today fermentors still fascinate me as it did years ago…..!!!

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Sunday, June 7, 2009


Most people often have the idea of commercialization of the fish sauce fermentation from the level of a small cottage industry to a large manufacturing concern. They seem to think that the whole process of translation from a cottage to a large fermentation industry is smooth sailing. In reality it is more complex not only at the level of increasing the scale of manufacturing the budu fermentation but to the level of increasing the market demand and successful marketing.

I always feel very sad when I see some new ventures or projects failed. Such failures will leave very devastating impacts on the investors or entrepreneurs. Lots of investments in terms of money, energy and hope will be thrown into the wind. At the same time I just can’t help feeling very angry and disappointed with these entrepreneurs. Had they done proper studies on the technical and economic viability of the projects, such catastrophes could have been avoided. Maybe they do not listen to advice or worst they listened to the ‘wrong advice’.

They should have their business plan on paper first. Business plans are decision-making tools. There is no fixed content for a business plan. Rather the content and format of the business plan is determined by the goals and audience. A business plan should contain whatever information is needed to decide whether or not to pursue a goal. They should not be rushing into the projects without doing proper studies and background research.

There are many questions that need to be answered before embarking on such projects. It is very important at this early stage to be critical of the project and to find what possibly could go wrong rather than dreaming that the project will be smooth sailing and guaranteed to succeed.

During this stage of planning ‘allowances’ must be made for contingencies or unexpected changes.

Preparing a business plan draws on a wide range of knowledge from many different business disciplines: finance, human resource management, intellectual property management, supply chain management, operations management and marketing among others..

It can be helpful to view the business plan as a collection of sub-plans, one for each of the main business disciplines.[

If the proposed project failed on paper then high chances are that the business will fail in reality. At least failing on paper would not incur much collateral damages such as costs of investments.


Fish sauce fermentation is a traditional food fermentation industry. It is often carried out on small scale or the backyard industry. Very few of the fish sauce industries are carried out at industrial scale in Thailand. Thailand is the major global producer for fish sauce.

The key element in this industry is the availability of fishes which are used as the substrate for fermentation. Different countries or manufacturers use different type of fish for the fish sauce fermentation

With the stock of fish dwindling down, it is risky at present to carry out fish sauce fermentation, unless you are willing to go for alternative supply of cheaper fishes. There was a time years ago when anchovies used for fish sauce fermentation is plenty and cheap. During those days the anchovies are the poor man’s diet. But not now!. Anchovies are expensive and even the poor man can’t afford it

In the economics of fish sauce fermentation it is important that the industry is run continuously and efficiently to be viable. We cannot have most of the times workers and machines being idle.

In Malaysia making fish sauce is mainly in the realms of small scale cottage industries. Production is viable to service local or regional demands. The method of fish sauce produced by these small cottage industries is often not geared for high volume production.

1 Fermentation Technology is passive
2 Non mechanized or automated
3 More of free time industries
4 Fermentation is too long from six months to more than a year

One of the hallmarks of business of manufacturing is to produce the products at the lowest cost while still making profits. Lowering the price will make it attractive to consumers and reduce or eliminate competitors of the same products. This can only be achieved if the volume of production is higher thus the cost of producing the unit price will be lowered. In fermentation this would mean involving bigger fermentation capacity which is not normally achieved in small cottage industries

Just how popular are the fish sauce? In Malaysia, fish sauce or budu are only highly regarded by people in the East coast or originating from East coast. Will their number be sufficient to make the business of fish sauce fermentation economically viable?

As fish sauce is an acquired taste it might be difficult to penetrate the European countries or United States. These countries too are very stringent regarding the standards and quality of how the sauce is manufactured. I doubt many will pass through the stringent barriers of GMP, HACCP and QC control. It should be clean and free of possible pathogens


Yes! Fish sauce is an excellent product and has potential to succeed in global market. However, in order to succeed there need to be visible improvements in the production process, packaging and marketing

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Thursday, June 4, 2009


There are many fermentation technology workshops being carried out here and around the world. Since fermentation technology workshop is basically a academic business venture, profitability and viability of the fermentation technology workshops are important consideration to determine if the workshop is a success or failure as a business project. (Unless we consider the fermentation technology as a free public service, then it is a different story!)

Conducting of fermentation workshops could initially be seen as a business transaction between the “seller” and “buyer”. The seller is the party conducting the workshop and the buyer is the customer or client of the workshops

The seller will provide:
1 Laboratory facilities such:
Laboratories working space, laboratory facilities and equipments
inclusive of the various services

2 Laboratory consumables such as chemicals, media, laboratory
coats, protective mask, goggles and safety helmets

3 Array of fermentation equipments and ancillaries from upstream to
downstream depending on the type and specificity of costs

4 Arrangement for site visits inclusive of transportation if included

5 Teaching staff that include lecturers, consultants, facilitators and
support technical staff

6 Lecture halls and tutorial rooms plus all facilities for teaching such
as notes, stationeries

All these items must be itemized for costing. That includes:
1 Capital cost of equipments
2 Salaries and allowances

With regard to lodging and accommodation these are other factors which must be considered, usually the organizers will provide a list of hotels for the participants to choose and make their own arrangement

The critical points to be considered are:
1 Number of days of the course
2 Number of participants
3 Break point of profitability

It is not cheap to conduct such courses, unless you are willing to forgo profits or get the courses heavily subsidized or sponsored by the government or university for public relations exercise.

Fermentation technology workshops are not like the business, motivational, how to pass examination or even Feng Shui talks. These talks, workshops or seminars are conducted to large masses in hotels and are really pricey! Yet people are willing to come to these talks hoping for new ideas and they are willing to pay thousands of dollars for the privilege of attending such talks. Fermentation technology workshops are different. They are usually few registrants to the workshops. The investment in capital equipment for the fermentation technology workshop is high. So what is the right price to charge participants at fermentation technology workshops?

Even though there is a low number of participants for fermentation technology workshops, one should come up with a very reasonable charge or fees for the very expensive equipments used. Fermentors are very expensive equipments and are easily damaged by improper use or little care. The electrodes themselves are easily damaged by improper use or accidents. Some of the damages are cumulative and will not be detected immediately after the workshops. In the end the Department has to bear for the expensive repair and maintenance of the equipment. If you don’t take these factors into considerations the organizers themselves will end up paying more for the meager charges obtained in attending the workshops. In business this is called a losing venture. There must be business acumen in running these courses

It is simply ridiculous to rent or use the expensive fermentors at RM200 or RM300 daily. Car rentals are easily obtained at that price. Mind you the cars are cheaper!

I guess the clients of the workshops are happy and laughing their way to the bank! Its dirt cheap to pay at that price to attend the fermentation workshops!. (The organizers are happy too because they can proudly show their list of clients. He he he !!!)

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