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QUADRAT DTP: Authentication of Sustainable Oil Palm Production for Protection of Tropical Biodiversity

School of Biological Sciences

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Dr T Koidis , Prof D Burslem , Dr P Williams No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The Southeast Asian region is estimated to have 27.1 million hectares of peatlands, or 6% of the global total, while also producing nearly half of global crude palm oil. The main challenges for sustainability of oil palm cultivation are to identify and prevent planting on newly deforested land and particularly on peatlands. The conversion of newly deforested tropical forests and any forested peatlands to oil palm plantations contravenes the criteria and principles of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a non-profit membership organisation of commercial oil palm growers supporting the move towards greater sustainability of oil palm through the development of an industry-wide certification standard. In order to be certified, growers have to commit to a set of environmental and social principles and criteria, which includes avoidance of new planting on recently deforested land and on organic soils such as peat. Currently the verification of conformity to these standards is conducted using a records-based system of checks through the PalmTrace tool, which verifies the supply chain. However, this system currently lacks any mechanism of external authentication of the origin of the oil palm in certified products. An accepted authentication and tracking system for oil palm grown under the sustainability principles of the RSPO would significantly enhance the protection of biodiversity on existing oil palm plantations and reduce the profitability of new planting on recently deforested lands and peatlands.

The main objective of this project is to develop a novel analytical method that could determine the geographical origin of processed palm oil in order to differentiate end-products derived from newly deforested lands vs second rotation or older plantations, and between end products from oil grown on peat and mineral soils. The guiding hypothesis is that the origin of a plant-derived product can be detected as a unique chemical signature in the plant material in terms of elemental or stable isotope composition, or through its metabolomics profile. This will be tested through precise mapping of soil chemistry across environmental gradients and analyses of the polar and non-polar metabolites of plant tissues, including dried leaves, oil and processed end-products This project will be conducted in partnership with the Southeast Asia Rainforest Research Partnership (SEARRP) and the RSPO using field sites within commercial oil palm plantations across Southeast Asia.

The PhD candidate will gain a range of critical skills, including (i) an advanced conceptual understanding of environmental chemistry, climate change and conservation sciences for competitive progression in a career spanning these fields; (ii) experience in liaising with overseas stakeholders of global importance ;(iii) expertise in the analysis of fats and oils using state-of-the-art omics and especially lipidomics platforms; (iv) expertise in trace elemental analysis using ICP-MS and other systems; (v) advanced expertise in multivariate modelling and large-scale datasets using specialised open source software; (vi) experience in analytical method validation; and (vii) advanced expertise in scientific writing gained through leadership/participation in the preparation of publications for leading peer reviewed journals.

More project details are available here:

How to apply:

Note that applications should NOT be submitted directly to Queen’s.

Funding Notes

QUADRAT studentships are open to UK and international candidates (EU and non-EU). Funding will cover UK tuition fees/stipend/research & training support grant only.

Before applying please check full funding and eligibility information:


Afriyanti, D., Kroeze, C., & Saad, A. (2016). Indonesia palm oil production without deforestation and peat conversion by 2050. Science of the Total Environment, 557, 562-570.

Alaswad, F., Mohamat-Yusuff, F., Ismail, A., Kusin, F. M., Zulkifli, S. Z., & Awang, M. Tracing carbon and nitrogen fluxes in soil of log-over forest and highly degraded area of oil palm plantations using stable isotope analysis.

Tan, K. T., Lee, K. T., Mohamed, A. R., & Bhatia, S. (2009). Palm oil: addressing issues and towards sustainable development. Renewable and sustainable energy reviews, 13(2), 420-427.
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