From Waste to Renewable Energy

A group of NYU Abu Dhabi students joins the global conversation on sustainability at Expo 2020.

Participating in a competition led by the Swiss Pavilion to shift the attitude of society towards waste, a team of diverse NYU Abu Dhabi students worked together to formulate novel methods of greening the desert and developing the agricultural sector. 

Sponsored by NYUAD’s Center for Interacting Urban Networks (CITIES), the team is combining the use of two innovative technologies, to show the potential of integrating technologies to turn waste into renewable energy and reusable materials. 

Participating student, Vera Petrova, from NYUAD Class of 2022 explained that by using microwave induced plasma gasification (MIPG) on plastic waste, organic matter can be broken up into synthesis gas such as carbon monoxide and hydrogen gas. The carbon monoxide will be combusted into carbon dioxide that feeds into greenhouses for crop production while hydrogen can be used as raw material for various industries. Using anaerobic membrane bioreactor (MBR) technology on wastewater and food waste, clean water can be filtered out and used for irrigation purposes for example. 

Multi-disciplinary Team

The team’s interdisciplinary nature allows for them to tackle the challenge of waste management and agricultural shortcomings from a variety of angles. 

Vera Petrova, NYU Abu Dhabi Class of 2022.
Federico Jannelli, NYU Abu Dhabi Class of 2023.

While Petrova is a mechanical engineering major, her other team members come from various disciplines to contribute to the project in a holistic manner. Other members of the team include economic majors who helped with the financial analysis for long and short term profitability in order to better understand how economically feasible their idea is to implement in Abu Dhabi or even on campus. 

“It’s really been helpful (in this project) because of the different knowledge that we have acquired in our different majors over the last few years,” said Federico Jannelli, NYUAD Class of 2023, who is an economics and political science double major. This team also has three NYUAD faculty mentors whose research or interests deal with sustainability and waste: Senior Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering Philip Panicker, Assistant Professor of Civil and Urban Engineering Daniel Johnson, and Assistant Professor of Practice of Visual Arts Goffredo Puccetti

The opportunity to be exposed to a large-scale project like Expo2020 to work on projects relating to the environment and sustainability is empowering. “It gives us (the youths) the opportunity to apply our academic and practical knowledge to an important cause like climate change,” Jannelli said.