This 16 Year Old High School Girl From Egypt Created Cheaper Biofuel From Plastic Waste

Plastic is polluting our environment irreversibly. But that could change, thanks to Azza Abdel Hamid Faiad, a smart 16 year high school student from Egypt, who has created a cheaper biofuel from waste plastic. 

In 2011, 16 year old Azza was a student at Zahran Language School in Alexandria. One day, while travelling in a taxi, she ended up at an overcrowded petrol pump, because the taxi needed to refuel.

Being the curious girl that she is, Azza asked the taxi driver the magic question that is the starting point of every great discovery — Why?

She learnt then, from his rant about fuel prices, about the energy crisis which hit the world in 2008, and how oil prices soared to nearly $150 a barrel. She realized that as oil consumption keeps growing, and supplies remain limited, the prices would only continue to increase.

There was a great need then to find a sustainable alternative.

She began to research what scientists were doing to find new energy sources, and she found out that there were scientists who had converted plastic into biofuel using a catalyst — but that this catalyst was expensive. She resolved then to find a cheaper alternative. As a high school student, she didn’t have easy access to the kind of research facilities that a study of this scale required, so she approached the Egyptian Petroleum Research Institute in Cairo.

The rest, as they say, is history, or should we say herstory? “It was not about reinventing energy, but making it cheaper and more efficient,” she says in this highly entertaining presentation.

She goes on to add, “I can tell you this, the only way out of all our problems in the Arab world is to take scientific research as an approach to solving our problems.”

The new catalyst she discovered actually works more efficiently, under lower temperatures, breaking down plastic waste while producing gaseous products like methane, propane and ethane, which can then be converted into ethanol.

“The project can be safely implemented, as it doesn’t emit any toxic gases, as long as its implementation abides by the safety measures applied for similar projects,” said Nourwanda Sorour, a student at Alexandria University in Egypt and one of Faiad’s mentors.

Given that Egypt’s plastic consumption is estimated to total one million tons per year, Azza’s proposal could have a big impact on the country’s economy, allowing it to generate income from recycled plastic.

For this research, that has the potential to impact the world so greatly and positively, Azza won the European Fusion Development Agreement award at the 23rd European Union Contest for Young Scientists, in 2012, beating 130 competitors from 37 countries and was looking into patenting her idea through the Egyptian Patent Office. The world is looking forward to what this brilliant and confident young woman will come up with next, because, as she says in this CNN report (watch video below), “I know what I want to do. I know how to do it. I work with a team of professionals so they can help me with everything. So of course I will end up making this dream into a reality.”

We all know that plastic pollutes. We have all seen those heartrending pictures of marine animals with plastic strangling them. In fact, microplastics were found in 83% of samples of tap water from around the world, which means that waste plastic is now finding its way into our own body —all because we still cannot effectively deal with plastic waste. In fact, nearly every piece of plastic that has ever been made, still exists in some shape or form, except for the minor amount that has been burnt, and since 91% of plastic isn’t recycled, all that plastic could theoretically, continue to exist for thousands of years.

But this could change, thanks to the truly groundbreaking discovery of Azza Abdel Hamid Faiad, from Egypt.

The theme of International Women’s Day, 2019, which falls on March 8th, is “Think equal, build smart, innovate for change”. #IWD2019

With women still a minority in science, technology & related innovation, it’s time to shine a spotlight on female innovation champions! Enjoy our Women Innovators Around The World series, where we profile 19 inspiring women innovators, from 19 countries, whose work has a big social impact.

Azza Abdel Hamid Faiad’s story is the first in our series, for #IWD2019. 

Image source: YouTube

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Vijayalakshmi Harish is a book blogger and writer. To paraphrase her librarian, she is a

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