Yanuar Philip Wijaya

Dr. Kevin Smith, Dr. Chang Soo Kim, Dr. Elod Gyenge

Research Topic

Electrocatalytic hydrogenation-hydrodeoxygenation of lignin-derived aromatics for the production of valuable chemicals and fuels

Research Group

KIST-UBC on-site laboratory

Research Description

In the scheme of a sustainable biorefinery, the valorization of lignin is a key factor to improve the economic feasibility of the overall process. Lignin, being a valuable by-product in the cellulosic ethanol industry, is a highly complex natural polymer that constitutes the cell walls of plant biomass, especially lignocelluloses. As the earth’s most plentiful source of organic carbon after cellulose and the only large-scale biomass source of aromatic compounds, lignin has been regarded as a promising renewable feedstock for the production of higher value chemicals, fuels, and materials. Phenol and guaiacol are the most representative monomers of lignin-derived aromatics. The former is the hydrogenation-hydrodeoxygenation product of the latter, and both can be converted further into cyclohexanol and cyclohexane, which have versatile applications in the industry. This upgrading process is carried out via a catalytic hydrogenation-hydrodeoxygenation reaction, either thermochemically or electrochemically. The electrochemical process, known as electrocatalytic hydrogenation-hydrodeoxygenation (ECH), can be performed without the external supply of hydrogen molecular gas at the milder conditions. In ECH, hydrogen must be adsorbed on the electrocatalyst surface in order to hydrogenate the organic compounds. The reduction of protons to hydrogen gas would be the undesirable reaction that decreases the current efficiency. In this work, we develop strategies to design a process with the active and stable electrocatalysts that is capable of producing high product yields at the optimum current efficiency. This research will contribute to the development of electrochemical process for sustainable energy production from renewable resources.

What was the best surprise about UBC or life in Vancouver?

In general, people here are more concerned with the work-life balance and very respectful to other people’s space and time. However, I admit that sometimes it takes more time for one to complete a task. The thing I like most about Vancouver is the weather in spring and summer seasons. I feel like the air is so pure and refreshing and the natural environment offers a lot of beautiful scenery. And the most surprising thing was the intense snowfalls during winter in my first year. I felt like I was living in a winter wonderland.

Why did you decide to study at UBC?

My decision to study at UBC was very much influenced by the available opportunity suggested by my former supervisor (when I was in the M. Eng. program in Seoul, Korea), who is also part of my supervisory committee here. I would like to continue working with him and the other UBC professors on the research topics that interest me, such as catalytic transformation of biomass to fuels and valuable chemicals. At UBC, I can earn valuable experience and knowledge by doing research and study simultaneously with all the supporting facilities and instrumentation.


Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

Becoming a university professor as well as professional researcher has been one of my dreams in life. It was not until I completed my master study that I realized my passion for writing. Given the opportunities, I would like to write and share as many stories as possible, especially those that are related to my experiences, findings, and insights during my study here, which hopefully can inspire others and bring tangible impact to society. I believe that being impressive is not enough, we should strive to become impactful. In addition, studying on graduate level is truly a rewarding experience that will broaden my mind and help me recognize the importance of humility and curiosity in our active search for wisdom and truth in this vast, diverse, and rapidly growing world.

What do you see as your biggest challenge(s) in your future career?

I have been interested in too many subjects, such as science, engineering, music, sports, religion, psychology, and even politics. Of course, having broad knowledge is important and can be helpful, especially for those who are working in the managerial positions. However, this situation can bring distractions and lower productivity and efficiency in work. I keep trying to overcome this lack of focus and discipline by making sort of a list of goals (things to accomplish) in my mind for the work I do and monitoring the progress every day. The good thing about this kind of multidisciplinary interest is that sometimes I could discover some insights from a particular subject which seemed relevant to the others, for instance a correlation between chemical engineering and psychology.

How do you feel your program is preparing you for those challenges?

Doing research on graduate level demands focus, vision, and determination. I feel that this program has been so far helping me to be able to work independently, have a big vision, aim high, and develop my critical and creative thinking. It is important to understand what, why, and how we are doing things and not just rely on the guidelines or direction from our supervisors. In addition to understanding, I believe that memorizing things is also very crucial. Sometimes I could understand a theory, but I could not remember it after years. Through this program, I have been developing a good habit of making more organized records in the experiments which helps in the data analysis. Hopefully, things will turn out fine and I can contribute enough fruitful works and significant outcomes by the end of my study here.

What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?

I enjoy doing sports, watching a soccer game online, listening to music, playing guitar or piano, singing, and reading inspiring books. I also like outdoor activities, such as hiking, jogging, and travelling.

What advice do you have for new graduate students?

Be patient with the process, enjoy the journey, be intentional in making progress every day, and always be hopeful.


Studying on graduate level is truly a rewarding experience that will broaden my mind and help me recognize the importance of humility and curiosity in our active search for wisdom and truth in this vast, diverse, and rapidly growing world.