Ayesha Abdulla Alkhoori, the Emirati scientist who recently won the L’Oréal-Unesco For Women in Science award for her research on converting carbon dioxide into methane, says she is happy to do work that impacts people’s lives.
The PhD student is also hopeful that her design is not too far from being commercially available. “The results we have achieved are outstanding considering the cost of production and energy utilisation,” she said.
Alkhoori has designed a catalytic material used to convert carbon dioxide — a greenhouse gas — to methane, which is the cleanest burning fossil fuel. Methane provides a comparative environmental benefit, producing more heat and light energy by mass than other hydrocarbon, or fossil fuel, including coal and petroleum oils, while producing significantly less carbon dioxide and other pollutants that contribute to smog and unhealthy air.
Alkhoori is currently in the process of patenting her discovery. With a high cost-performance ratio, catalysts are green and eco-friendly and can be used to produce clean fuel to power rockets, turbines, car engines and even ovens in homes.
Driven by curiosity
According to Ayesha, her work has always been driven by curiosity and problem-solving. “As an Emirati PhD student of Materials Science and Engineering, I strive to come up with solutions to problems of global warming, energy shortage and environmental pollution worldwide,” she said. “My research is aligned with the global efforts in limiting the temperature rise below 2°C as well as the UAE’s Net Zero 2050 strategic initiative in cutting emissions as close to zero as possible.”
Finding her passion as an undergraduate student, Ayesha evaluated the properties of ceramic materials and then became a mechanical engineering graduate student, working on designing catalysts for fuel cells and teaching undergraduate students. The work inspired her to pursue a career in academic science and she applied for a PhD in Materials Science and Engineering at Khalifa University in 2019.
She said winning the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science award was a huge honour. “It is a testament to my dedication and hard work and an affirmation that I have chosen a career path I am truly passionate about,” she said. “With this prize, I will be able to develop new materials for CO2 capture and conversion to fuels and understand the underlying material’s properties.”on
The Emirati researcher says she is now working towards bigger goals. “The next steps are to focus on optimizing the current systems that I have designed and test them on a bigger scale approaching industrial conditions,” she said.
The L’Oréal-Unesco award
Instituted 24 years ago, the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science award recognises women scientists, who continue to be largely under represented in the research community representing only 33% of researchers globally.
In the GCC, the programme succeeded in championing the power of female Arab scientists, with five out of its 45 winners having won international recognition.
According to Laurent Duffier, Managing Director of L’Oréal Middle East, there is a rigorous process in place to pick the winner. “The selection process is led by a renowned jury of scientific experts from prestigious institutions in the Middle East,” he said.
“The jury takes into consideration certain criteria such as the candidate’s outstanding academic record, the quality of the project, the research innovative approach and expected outcome, and the abidance of the international ethical regulations, to name a few.”
This year, five female scientists were recognized for their research of which three are from the UAE. Hessa Ebrahim Ali Alfalahi was awarded for her research on the early detection and diagnosis of depression and Parkinson’s using AI while Dr. Raefa Abou Khouzam was felicitated for her research on investigating new treatment strategies in pancreatic cancer.