Azza Abdel Hamid Faiad was the winner of the 2011 European Union Contest for Young Scientists for finding a new way of turning plastic into biofuel.

A 16-year-old Egyptian student, Azza Abdel Hamid Faiad from the Zahran Language School in Alexandria has identified a new low-cost catalyst which can generate biofuel by breaking down plastic waste.

The idea of breaking down plastic polymers into fuel feedstocks, the bulk raw material used for producing biofuel , is not a new idea. But Faiad has found a high yield catalyst, aluminosilicate catalyst, that breaks down plastic waste producing gaseous products like methane, propane and ethane, which are then converted into ethanol to use as biofuel.

Faiad and her mentors propose using this discovery to exploit Egypt’s high plastic consumption, which is estimated to amount to one million tons per year, and make money from recycled plastic! She calculates that this technology “can provide an economically efficient method for production of hydrocarbon fuel namely: cracked naphtha of about 40,000 tons per year and hydrocarbon gases of about 138,000 tons per year equivalent to $78 million.”

As we know plastic waste is a huge problem in the Middle East and for our oceans, but hopefully this idea will help convert the problem into a solution.

For her findings, Faiad was presented with the European Fusion Development Agreement award at the 23rd European Union Contest for Young Scientists — involving 130 competitors from 37 countries — held in Finland last year from 23t o 28 September.

Faiad  is now looking to get her findings patented this year through the Egyptian Patent Office and scaling up the idea so that it can become a tangible project on the ground.

She has already garnered interests from the Egyptian Petroleum Research Institute.

Out of the six projects in the environmental section of the contest, three came from Egypt.

Digesting paper with termites?

Aside from Faiad, two other young Egyptian scientists Hassan Ahmed and Yomna Yasser Mohamed, proposed interesting solutions to environmental issues. Hassan Ahmed  looked at managing  paper product waste through termite digestion; the paper is digested by the termites which then enrich the soil with potassium, phosphor and nitrogen  and can be used as fertilizers, the termites also  produce  hydrogen which can be used as a renewable source of energy.

Yasser Mohamed’s project instead looked at producing a clean and green source of energy that could be manufactured locally in poor rural areas in Egypt. The project selected a plant which is not linked to the food chain , the jatropha plant, to investigate whether it’s oil, methanol, and KOH, which are blended to make bio-diesel, could be produced using different parts of the plant.

Will young Egyptian scientists continue to be at the forefront of environmental solutions? Let’s hope so.

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