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How Tipolo, Pili Trees Inspired An Aeronautical Engineer To Invent Eco-Friendly Roof, Aircraft Sealants

How Tipolo, Pili Trees Inspired An Aeronautical Engineer To Invent Eco-Friendly Roof, Aircraft Sealants
Aeronautical engineering graduate Mark Kennedy Bantugon was recognized as this year's Philippine national winner of the James Dyson Award for his invention of the aircradt made from pili resin. Photo from Bantugon’s Facebook page

Growing up, Mark Kennedy Bantugon was exposed to agriculture, thanks to his father Dhanny, a local farmer. Little did he know that his background would help him invent a non-toxic, naturally-made sealant that would be very useful in the aviation industry – and even earn himself awards.

The 23-year-old aeronautical engineering graduate from the Philippine State College of Aeronautics was chosen as  national winner of the James Dyson Award last Aug. 25 with his invention – an aircraft sealant made from pili resin (dagtain Filipino). He received P125,000 in cash prize along with the award.

In an interview with “Agenda” on One Newson Wednesday, Sept. 22,  Bantugon said his pili sealant was a pioneering study in the field of aviation because of the use of waste material. Pili is a Philippine tree with edible seeds resembling almonds. It belongs to the Burseraceae, a tropical family of trees and shrubs having compound leaves and resin or balsam in their stems.

Kaya nga po lagi pong sinasabi safield po namin na(That’s they always say in our field that) it's really a revolutionary activity not only here in the Philippines but also in the world of aviation industry,” Bantugon said.

“Ang environment na kinalakihan kois bukid nga po,laging napapansin ko poyung iba’t ibang puno poDun ko na-encounteriyongpili tree (The environment I grew up in was a farm, and I always noticed the different trees. That’s where I encountered the pili tree),” he added.

The award, which was named after British inventor, billionaire entrepreneur and Dyson founder James Dyson, is an “international design award that celebrates, encourages and inspires the next generation of design engineers,” as per its official website. In this year’s competition, around 2,000 aspiring inventors from 28 different countries submitted their entries.

Bantugon’s award-winning invention, as described in the James Dyson Award website, can be used for specific aircraft parts, particularly “the integral fuel tank as well as other areas subject to contact with aircraft fuels, lubricants, oils, water and/or weathering.”

His sealant will represent the Philippines in the international round of the competition on Oct. 13. The winner, who gets to take home P1.9 million in cash prize, will be announced on Nov. 17. 

Bantugon’s inspiration

Bantugon credits his father and their family for his background in agriculture. He shared that when he was young, he and his siblings would help their father in his farm by planting and helping feed the livestock. 

Sa ganun po ang exposure namin in our daily life, dun ka po talaga makakakuha ng magandang training ground and knowledge,” he said in an interview with The Philippine STAR / OneNews.PH on Sept. 10.

Bantugon reiterated this during his Agenda interview, noting that his father was always curious and a keen observer of nature. “His love and passion for plants and animals are really there,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino.

The idea of using the pili resin as material for sealant production came from his parents. This idea was then developed through the help of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) where he saw the pili resin being used for essential oils, including for popular brands like Gucci and Chanel. The other materials from the pili resin are wasted so he thought of “playing” with them.

Level up

Bantugon first developed a sealant for the roof using resin from tipolo or antipolo tree when he was in third year to fourth year high school.

He was in fifth year college in 2019 and was doing on the job training in aviation companies when he started to develop the aircraft sealant.

Bantugon explained that he wanted a sealant that was sustainable and non-toxic because based on his conversations with aviation personnel, the sealant that is commonly used for aircraft is made of chemicals and are hazardous to health.

The aviation sealant was conceptualized by Bantugon himself, as it was his solo thesis study. The aeronautical engineering graduate shared that perfecting the formula for the sealant was time-consuming, noting that he would work on it right away after his classes in a chemical laboratory, even on weekends. It also took him 38 formulations for the optimization process for the sealant alone.

Bantugon said initially, he experimented with the tipolo resin and five other types, including that of the pili tree. But he chose the pili tree, explaining that it had essential oils and one unique component that would make his sealant effective.

This invention not only was recognized as the Philippine national winner of the James Dyson Award, but is also the grand winner of the Ambassador Alfredo M. Yao Intellectual Property Awards 2020, as well as the grand champion (cardinal innovator) of the Cardinal Challenge 2021, Mapua Design and Innovation Competition.

Bantugon said he was not endorsed by anyone but joined competitions, including the James Dyson Award, on his own.

He wanted to follow in the footsteps of Carvey Ehren Maigue, a 27-year-old, electrical engineering student from Mapua University, who bagged the first-ever global sustainability prize at the James Dyson Award last year for his invention.

Called the AuREUS system, the new material, derived from rotting fruits and vegetables, absorbs UV light from the sun and converts it to electricity. The system can be used for windows and walls of buildings, tapping it to become sources of renewable energy. Maigue said that he got inspiration from the auroras and polar lights for the science behind his invention.

No regrets

Bantugon’s parents made sure that their son will have a great future ahead despite their difficulties.

He shared that they decided to name him after then United States president John F. Kennedy, when he was born on Sept. 9, 1998.

However, Bantugon admitted that his family went through hardships, particularly experiencing financial constraints. While his father works on their farm,  his mother teaches in a public school. Due to their meager income, his parents had a hard time sending their five children to school, especially since their age gaps were not too far from one another.

He said his parents would sometimes get saddled with debt to provide for their needs.

Bantugon, who is the fourth child in the family, also admitted that it was his parents who chose what program he would take up in college.

He said he understood because his parents were concerned about their finances as he and his siblings were all in college at the time, so he let go of his dream to enter a course in the medical field.

“I decided kung ano po ‘yung gusto ngparents ko na sa tingin ko po makakatulong din po sa family naming,” Bantugon added.

Despite this, he said he’s grateful that he took the path that they wanted him to take. “I have no regrets of letting go of my dream as I always remind myself to always allow yourself to dream because it is valid and, on your journey, you are never denied but only redirected.”

Kumbaga siguro ‘yungdream kohindi po siyaright timing but redirected ako niLord for the greater plan niya(It’s as if my dream was not on the right timing but I was redirected by the Lord for his greater plan),” he added.

These days, Bantugon is focused on further enhancing his skills, as he recently started studying to obtain his master’s degree in Materials Science and Engineering by Research at the Mapua University in August through a scholarship from the DOST. He’s also set to take up his board examinations in aeronautical engineering in November.

Bantugon hopes his invention would serve as a gateway to build a manufacturing company of aviation sealants in the Philippines.

“And through that sealant, we can help our local farmers and our agriculture sector because we can provide them new job opportunities because they will play a vital role in manufacturing this aviation sealant including the plantation of pili trees and also the extraction of resin,” he said.

And if God willing, after he has obtained both his master’s degree and doctorate degree, Bantugon may take up law because inventions need intellectual property rights, among others, that he would like to know by himself.

“So it’s good if I am able to pursue it, it's really much connected,” he added.

Bantugon said the Ateneo de Manila University has been helping him protect the rights to his invention as well as its possible commercialization so it would become available in the market soon.