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CO2 capture and biomass production innovation of AURAK wins COP28 ExpoLive University Innovation Program competition

by Belinda Breeze

A three-student team from AURAK demonstrates how microalgae could be used to capture CO2 and the biomass harvest used in different sectors

A team from the American University of Ras Al Khaimah (AURAK) has won a Research Prize of AED 25,000 in the University Innovation Program at COP28, organized by ExpoLive. The winning project is BioCCS.ae, an innovation that uses microalgae to capture CO2 and put the biomass harvest to productive use.

The AURAK team’s innovation competed against 360 other projects submitted by 36 universities for the prestigious competition organised by the ExpoLive program in the run-up to COP28. The finals were held on December 10 at Expo City Dubai, against the backdrop of global leaders negotiating for effective solutions to climate change.

The proposed solution from the AURAK Chemical Engineering team involves the use of fast-growing microalgae to capture CO2 in flue gases using innovative tubular Photobioreactors.  The resulting biomass could then be used in Food Additives, Animal Feed, and Biofuels. The solution is tailored for hot climates, such as those in the UAE, as it uses an algae strain that can be grown in high temperatures and salt water conditions, thus eliminating the need for external cooling energy and nutrients expenditure. 

Dr. David A. Schmidt, President of AURAK, said: “At COP28, the world gathered to find solutions to climate change. It is thrilling to see that one of the innovations being developed at our university has won the research prize in the ExpoLive University Innovation Program of COP28. This represents a strong endorsement of AURAK’s research-centric approach to higher education. I congratulate the faculty lead and the students on this tremendous achievement.”

Prof. Stephen C. Wilhite, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Student Success/ Provost, AURAK, added: “AURAK believes that higher education must link the learning of theory to practical solutions. This approach is exemplified in our collaborative student-faculty research projects, including this CO2 capture innovation that won laurels at the Expo Live Innovation competition. We are proud of the work done by our team and we are confident when fully developed this innovation will contribute to the global fight against climate change.”

The student team worked under the supervision of Dr. Uday Kumar, Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering, School of Engineering, and Dr. Tahseen Arshi, Associate Provost, Research and Community Service, AURAK. The student team comprised Nadia El Balbissi, Harihar Mardaraj and Hafsa Alzeqri.

Student Lead Nadia said: “It was truly a transformative experience to learn about the importance of sustainability and climate change and to develop a shared passion with my teammates for the project. This journey encouraged us to explore the different ways we can mitigate the emissions problem and progress toward a greener future.  Winning the competition was an unforgettable moment and a true accomplishment for all of us.”

The contestants went through three rounds of evaluations and presentations. In the first screening, 48 teams out of 360 applications were shortlisted and two teams entered the Semi-Final stage where the students pitched the project to evaluators at ExpoCity’s Sustainability Pavilion. The two teams were then placed in the final 20 (out of the 48) to compete in the final round.

The benefits of the CO2 capture project will accrue to aquaculture farms which will be able to increase yield using dry biomass as fish feed. In addition, flue gas industries will be able to reduce their carbon footprint. The energy savings will result from using Nano coatings, geothermal cooling, and green (solar) energy, desalination brine as nutrient source, while avoiding the use of freshwater.

The industry partner of the project is Protium Technologies, a UAE-based company specialising in environmental innovations, focusing on advanced Microalgae cultivation technology using efficient Tubular Photobioreactors to combat the challenges of extreme climates. With the collaboration of Protium, the team will build a pilot scale innovative photobioreactor at RAK Research and Innovation Centre in the coming six months.