* QF Innovator of the Year 2020 says research seldom makes an impact by staying in lab
Research, no matter how promising, cannot make a real-world impact without support from the industrial sector. Academia and industry must walk hand-in-hand to move research from the lab to the industry – "that is the only way we can realise the true benefits of the immense research efforts being made across the country," says a professor at a Qatar Foundation (QF) partner university.
“Yes, making changes on the industrial scale requires a lot of courage. But it is also very necessary, we have to build on cutting-edge research to achieve demonstrable benefits to the wider economy and society,” says Dr Nimir Elbashir, professor of Chemical Engineering and Petroleum Engineering at Texas A&M University at Qatar.
Prof Elbashir was recently awarded Distinguished Innovator of the Year 2020 for his homegrown CARGEN reactor technology. The award was presented to him by the Industry Development and Knowledge Transfer division at Qatar Foundation Research, Development and Innovation.
The CARGEN reactor technology has been developed as a result of an exceptional proposal grant from the Qatar National Research Fund’s National Priorities Research and has already been awarded five patents.
“Developed within the technical premise of natural gas reforming, the CARGEN reactor technology converts two greenhouse gases (GHGs), methane and carbon dioxide, to high-value, multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs) and an important chemical precursor called Syngas,” says Prof Elbashir.
He explains that the process comprises two stages, wherein the first stage converts the GHGs to MWCNTs worth $1,000/kg. The second stage converts the remaining gases to Syngas, which directly meets the quality requirements of existing gas-to-liquid (GTL) process plants and others in Qatar.
“The novelty of CARGEN is it requires lower energy to operate than the commercial reformers currently in Qatar. More importantly, the CARGEN is 40% more efficient in terms of CO2 footprint, as well as the operational costs.”
This technology is of relevance to every country that is a producer of natural gas. It addresses the grave environmental concern of increased CO2 levels while also creating something of value, that is carbon nanotubes.
CARGEN, Qatar’s home-grown technology developed in Prof Elbashir’s lab at Texas A&M Qatar, has attracted interest from world-leading energy corporations. “They are interested in helping us scale it up to industrial level, through monetary investment as well as granting us access to some of their best scientists. I think, this is proof enough that what we have developed has the potential to be a game-changer,” said Prof Elbashir.
Earlier this month, Qatar Airways announced the launch of its carbon offset programme. Commenting on the relevance of CARGEN technology in the area, Prof Elbashir said: “If CARGEN is integrated into Qatar’s natural gas processing plant, it can sequestrate a large amount of CO2 – which is currently flared, from the gas processing plants This will effectively mean the fuel produced from Qatar’s natural gas via GTL technology will have a significantly lower carbon footprint.”
Despite having received attention from abroad, Prof Elbashir is determined to keep it local and scale it up in Qatar. “It is only fair that the country that invested in it is the first to be the one to reap its benefits. This project is a joint effort, yes — we as scientists are responsible for the intellectual efforts but the truth is this idea would have never become a reality if it wasn’t for the visionary leadership at Qatar Foundation that has catapulted the research ecosystem we see in Qatar today.”
Speaking about plans, Prof Elbashir said: “If you ask me, this project is only getting started. Until now, we were working on proof-of-concept. Now that we have successfully done that, taking this work from bench-scale to industry-scale, that is the real success and that is where the real work begins to commercialisation phase.
“We as scientists have played our part to the best of our ability, we designed and developed a technology that can be of great benefit to the industrial sector. It is now time to pass the baton to the industrial partners so they can lead the scaling up of this technology.”