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Emirati student offers solution to combat global warming

Emirati PhD science student Ayesha Abdulla of Khalifa University is recognised for her research converting CO2 to fuel Supplied
Emirati PhD science student Ayesha Abdulla of Khalifa University is recognised for her research converting CO2 to fuel
  • Khalifa University student recognised by women in science programme
  • Research focused on development of catalysts converting CO2 to fuels
  • Middle East needs to reduce emissions by 42% to meet 2030 goals

An Emirati student is blazing a trail for female participation in science with her pioneering research that aims to offer a cost-effective way to help combat global warming.

Ayesha Abdulla Alkhoori, a PhD student of materials science and engineering at Khalifa University, was one of five women from across the GCC to be recognised by the L’Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science Middle East Regional Young Talents Program, in partnership with Khalifa University of Science and Technology.

The 30-year-old former pupil of Al Qadesya High School, Abu Dhabi, stood out for her research on converting carbon dioxide (CO2) into clean fuel to address global warming and provide a solution for the energy depletion crisis.

Alkhoori said: “I am extremely passionate about science that makes tangible impacts and improves the quality of life.”

A report by the World Government Summit, in conjunction with consultancy firm Oliver Wyman, revealed that, if the Middle East wants to meet the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2030, the region will need to reduce its emissions by 42 percent.

It said four energy intensive sectors combined account for 85 percent of the emissions gap: energy production (39 percent), industrial (21 percent), residential and public buildings (14 percent), and transportation (11 percent).

Alkhoori’s research is focused on the development of catalysts that convert CO2 to useful value-added chemicals and fuels, specifically methane (CH4) gas.

“The catalysts which I prepare in the lab are green and eco-friendly materials with high performance to cost ratio,” she said.

The UAE has pledged to achieve net zero by 2050 in the Gulf region, with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain committed to meeting this target by 2060.

Saudi Arabia took a significant step towards this with the “Saudi Green” initiative, which aims to reduce CO2 emissions 278 million tonnes per year by the year 2030.

Qatar has also committed to reducing CO2 emissions by 25 percent by the decade’s end.

Alkhoori said: “With the current catalytic performance, we can save the climate approximately 73,000 tonnes of CO2 per year and produce around 26,280 tonnes of CH4 (methane). The latter can be used to power engines and turbines in factories as well as to manufacture organic chemicals.”

She said the annual cost of the precursors used in the catalyst manufacturing and total amount of the feedstock is about AED700,000 ($190,605). 

The research has been a labour of love for Alkhoori, who admitted she always wanted to become a scientist, particularly looking at the environment, since she was a child at school, taking inspiration from her parents and various teachers and lecturers along the way.

Now in its ninth year, the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Middle East Regional Young Talents Program supports women who are playing a pivotal role in addressing critical global issues and paving the way forward for more young women to enter science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

UNESCO figures show up to 57 percent of STEM graduates in Arab countries are women, while in the UAE 61 percent of university STEM students are female.

Sarah Al Amiri, UAE Minister of State for Public Education and Advanced Technology and chairwoman of the UAE Space Agency, said: “Over the past few years we have seen a healthy increase in the representation of women in these fields, we know that there is a lot more work that needs to be done to foster career progression across organisations. 

“Creating opportunities such as this is the essential first step to encouraging more young women researchers to push ahead and make a mark in the science and technology fields.”