Dr. Nesrin Ozalp: Generating cleaner energy with solar power

Dr. Nesrin Ozalp

Dr. Nesrin Ozalp

Dr. Nesrin Ozalp is assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering and Director of the Sustainable Energy Research Laboratory at Texas A&M University at Qatar. She is the principal investigator of a number of research projects concerning cutting edge research on solar hydrogen production with zero emissions.

During her academic career, Dr. Ozalp has received many honors, including invitations to join special projects, give invited talks, write papers and chair sessions at many conferences. Her activities include roles in energy and environmental policy, such as serving as a board member of Washington State Governor's State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) board in 2004-2005.

Currently, Dr. Ozalp is serving as the Guest Associate Editor of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Journal of Energy Resources Technology and as the Technical Program Co‐Chair of ASME's 4th International Conference on Energy Sustainability. Prior to joining Texas A&M University at Qatar, Dr. Ozalp was working as a Visiting Professor at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich) on a European Union-funded project on emission-free generation of hydrogen and carbon black.

Dr Ozalp in her lab at Texas A&M University at Qatar

Dr Ozalp in her lab at Texas A&M University at Qatar

Dr. Ozalp's specific interests are in:

  • thermodynamic analysis of energy conversion processes for efficient and clean energy technologies
  • utilization of concentrated solar power for the production of hydrogen through thermal decarbonization of fossil fuels via cracking and reforming
  • characterization, modeling, and simulation of energy usage, material flow and emissions patterns for the major manufacturing industries in the US
  • energy and environmental policy

Dr. Ozalp gained her B.Sc at Ege University in Turkey. She received her MS and PhD in mechanical engineering at Stanford University and the University of Washington, respectively.

QNRF recently met with Nesrin Ozalp to discuss her research and to find out more about the impact of QNRF on her research.

Q: Dr Ozalp, thank you very much for agreeing to this interview. Let me start by asking what made you want to be an engineer?
A: It really started early in primary school where I was fascinated with science. Energy and developing energy solutions to create sustainable development is something I feel very passionate about and I am very happy that my career took me to this point.

Q: How do you think your research will create an impact in the region and beyond?
A: Well, at this moment of time, there are two resources Qatar can use to develop an industry. One side is looking at LNG (liquefied natural gas), whilst the other is solar technologies. Through the wealth from LNG we can start funding the necessary development to create sustainable energy. Let's make a simple illustration; steam turbines of the kind we use today which run on gas are only 20% efficient. At this moment, solar turbines are even less efficient. There is a race to use engineering to make solar energy more efficient so that it becomes more viable. The breakthrough here will be a major milestone in energy development.

Q: Please tell me more about your developments.
A: I am working with two natural resources to build a sustainable energy source. We are using the sun to break natural gas into two key natural resources: hydrogen and carbon black. This will have a huge impact, at this present time, let's say 1kg of natural gas can create 50,000kJ of energy. Hydrogen is much more powerful, 1kg of hydrogen can create 140,000kJ of energy, with hydrogen there is no toxic gas there is just water vapor. The other component is carbon black, which is a key component for car tyres, batteries, etc and a great commodity to have.

Q: What is the economic impact of your research?
A: Our partner in Germany, the Fraunhofer Institute has done an economic analysis of this process. They concluded that we can make three times more money from natural gas through this process, so this research has both economic and environmental benefits.

Mini-reactors which will be scaled-up in partnership with the Fraunhofer Institute in Cologne.

Mini-reactors which will be scaled-up in partnership with the Fraunhofer Institute in Cologne.

Q: How are you working with the QNRF on developing these projects?
A: I am very lucky to have two projects worth US$2.2m with QNRF. The first one is looking into how we can create reactors which operate at the same capacity when the weather changes, when the air is full of dust or when it is cloudy. I am working with a team of 25 undergraduates to develop a smart reactor which takes its inspiration from the human eye. As we are walking into the light, our pupils shrink or widen to deal with the amount of light around us. We are developing exactly the same system, where we can control the flow of sunlight entering the reactor to keep it at a constant and always efficient temperature. We are developing this together with Fraunhofer Institute in Cologne and will license it for commercialization.

Q: So where are your reactors at the moment?
A: We have a small reactor here in Qatar - but are using Fraunhofer to scale it up. Whilst the intellectual property (IP) for this is ours and very much based on the research done in Qatar, to win the race to create efficient solar energy products, we need partners to get a time advantage. Fraunhofer are a great partner in this project, as they help us to scale the reactor up quicker, thus improving our time to market. This is another way to highlight how partnership between local and international institutions can advance the research here in Qatar. Interestingly, we already have a customer who wants to deploy this technology very soon.

Q: What about your other project?
A: The other project looks at how we can stop the clogging of reactors, which happens all the time. It is carbon deposition at the exit which causes this clogging. There are various research projects which have enhanced workflow conditions but these have not managed to solve the carbon deposition problem. We are developing this idea to provide a laminar flow shield, which covers the walls as a thin layer, so the velocity is strong enough to sweep carbon particles away. Both projects are linked as we have to look into the challenges to create timely solutions for residential, manufacturing and production facilities.

Q: So you are really targeting residential size applications and scale them right up to industrial sizes?
A: Absolutely - we hope that this technology will be available and used by many people in their homes, whilst at the same time we are working with Exxon Mobil or Qatar Petroleum on how to use hydrogen more effectively on site.

Q: Do you think we will be able to build reactors like those being built by Fraunhofer in Cologne, here in Qatar?
A: Yes, eventually, but we need the expertise of our partners to bring this to Qatar. QNRF plays such an important role to encourage research based in Qatar but we have to ensure that the IP of this research remains within Qatar. QNRF is a key to creating this, and although I have not submitted another proposal, we have huge hopes for the Exceptional Proposals program. The competitive approach is key to the success, after all, here in Qatar we are on the right track to creating a research culture, hence we have to be able to compete with the key players in the field, the Swiss, Weizmann, CNRS and DLR.

Q: How is the dialogue with QNRF helping you to advance your research here?
A: We are providing regular status reports, which are important for us to map our research against milestones. This dialogue is important as you have to question and develop your research. I aim to deliver everything and more!

Q: Your wish for the future?
A: Education has to be seen as a status symbol, and this has to extend to science and research. We hope that our research will have an impact on everyone and will inspire more people to work with QNRF and Qatar to develop an industry here.

Dr Ozalp, good luck and thank you very much for this interview.

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  • MAY 2015