IFS Alumni Shortlisted for Driving Global Impact Award

Published: 2021-10-29

We at the IFS Secretariat congratulate Dr Muhammad Afzal, a two-time former IFS grantee, for being shortlisted for the 2021 Nature Research Awards for Driving Global Impact, through which the prestigious journal Nature champions researchers who address global challenges. For this month’s blog post, we have invited Dr Afzal to write about his career, and in particular the important research leading to his being shortlisted with seven other scientists for the award.

Dr Muhammad Afzal

I completed my PhD under the kind supervision of Angela Sessitsch at the Austrian Institute of Technology in December 2010 and joined the National Institute for Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering in Faisalabad, Pakistan, as a Senior Scientist in February 2011. During my PhD, we explored the potential of plant-bacterial synergism for the remediation of hydrocarbon-polluted soil. At the start of my career in 2011, I successfully submitted a research proposal to IFS to explore plant-endophyte partnerships in constructed wetlands for the treatment for textile wastewater. It was my first achievement after my PhD and helped me to develop my lab and research activities. IFS also provided a second grant in 2014 to extend the work on the development of constructed wetlands for the remediation of wastewater. After several lab and pilot scale studies, the IFS-funded technology was transferred from the lab to the field and industry. Later, the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan also provided two grants to enhance constructed wetlands application in Pakistan.

I am now working as a Principal Scientist leading the Wastewater Treatment and Phytoremediation Group, and in charge of the Environmental Monitoring Laboratory, in devising low-cost, self-sustaining and environment-friendly technologies for the remediation of polluted soil and wastewater. The Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources is concerned that Pakistan may run out of sufficient usable water by 2025. Next to extensive use of water, the discharge of wastewater into the environment is a main reason for the depletion of clean water resources in the country. In Pakistan, the main reasons for this discharge are the high capital, maintenance, and operational costs of conventional wastewater treatment systems. Therefore, there is a need to develop an indigenous low-cost and sustainable technology for wastewater treatment and its reuse.

After extensive research and development, an innovative indigenous technology “Floating Treatment Wetlands” was developed and successfully applied in the field, as well as in industry for wastewater treatment and reuse. Floating Treatment Wetlands (FTWs) are nature-based solutions aimed to provide low-cost wastewater treatment options for communities. Indigenous wetland plants were selected to develop FTWs and a buoyant mat locally designed and fabricated, which was 500 times less expensive than mats available on the international market. The technology has been applied in the wastewater stabilization ponds of Faisalabad, Akhuwat University Kasur, in the pits of Oil and Gas Development Company Limited (OGDCL), Toyota Car Wash Stations Faisalabad, and at other industries such as Interloop Limited and Haidari Beverages, and residential colonies. It helps local public and private organizations to treat their wastewater cost-effectively and sustainably, ultimately reducing soil and water pollution and improving the health of the people of Pakistan.

I have received several awards for my work, such as the Gold Medal by Pakistan Academy of Sciences, NIBGE Best Scientist of Year Gold Medal, HEC Best Publication Award, and Research Productivity Awards by Pakistan Council of Science and Technology. I have published 87 research articles in peer-reviewed journals with total impact factor 382 and citation 4500. Among them, two publications are in the journal Nature.

I am lucky that I was awarded two IFS grants at the start of my career which helped me to develop my scientific activities and get achievements. The constructed wetlands and floating treatment wetlands are all due to the IFS grants. The developed technologies are being used in Pakistan for the treatment and reuse of sewage and industrial wastewater, and it is hoped that it will be applied at large scale in Pakistan and other countries, especially low-income ones. I am highly thankful to IFS and the people of Sweden for contributing to the development of my research activities. Moreover, I always acknowledge IFS in my all presentations and meetings.

Floating Treatment Wetlands in sewage and industrial wastewater stabilization ponds
Floating Treatment Wetlands in sewage and industrial wastewater stabilization ponds


Floating Treatment Wetlands at oil exploration site for the remediation of crude oil polluted wastewater
Floating Treatment Wetlands at oil exploration site for the remediation of crude oil polluted wastewater



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