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Date palm research at QU's Center for Advanced Materials

Qatar University

Date palm research at QU\’s Center for Advanced Materials

Scientists at Qatar University (QU) are experimenting with new uses for the “millions” of kilograms of date palm tree leaves that are discarded in the country each year.

These include using the byproducts as water filters as well as in everyday products such as paper, plastic wood and super-strong plastic in a more environmentally-friendly way.

The university’s Center for Advanced Materials (CAM) has been working on the research project Renewable palm waste: More valuable than people think for about 18 months.

It aims to find practical uses for leaves which are regularly trimmed from Qatar’s 600,000 date palm trees.

“Qatar has lots of date palms and each tree has up to 10 leaves cut from it at a time, which used to be woven to make baskets or handmade artworks, but they’re not used any more.

Instead, millions of kilos of the leaves go into landfill or are burned,” the project’s lead researcher, QU Professor Igor Krupa, told Doha News.

“At the center, we try to find new ways to recycle and reuse ordinary waste so we began looking at what we could do with the date palm leaves,” he added.

New methods

The team, including Dr Patrik Soboliciak and Aisha Tanvir, has been exploring new ways of extracting nanocellulose from the palm trees and refining the technology to find uses for the product.

Palm trees at Museum of Islamic Art

Jennifer/Flickr

Palm trees at Museum of Islamic Art

Nanocellulose has properties which are similar to Kevlar – the lightweight material which is usually made from fossil fuels to make high-strength durable materials.

Manufacturing these goods from date palm nanocellulose instead would be more environmentally friendly and sustainable, Krupa said.

In the early stages of the research, the team ground down the palm leaves and mixed it with plastics to make a more sustainable form of plastic-wood, which can be used to make durable door and window frames and fences.

Then the team used existing research, which had already established a method for extracting nanocellulose from the palm leaves and to refine it.

When it’s mixed with plastics, nanocellulose can significantly enhance the performance of the product to increase its durability and strength.

Uses

“We are still optimizing the technology – the nanocellulose needs to be easily and cheaply extracted,” Krupa said adding that it could be used in car manufacturing, for example.

QU date palm research

Qatar University

QU date palm research

“The automotive industry is using more and more plastics, which are mixed with different fibers (glass or carbon) to get stronger materials. We could use nano-fibers instead to enhance the plastics in this industry,” he went on.

In addition to strengthening materials, the nanocellulose could also be used for filtering water.

It can form a membrane which absorbs heavy metals such as copper, and other impurities from water.

“It is fitting that date palm, which is indigenous to Qatar and is deeply embedded in our cultural history, is found to be exhibiting strong potential as a sustainable green reinforcement material,” CAM director Professor Mariam Al-Maadeed said in a statement.

Thoughts?

Researchers presenting their projects at QNRF's 6th Annual Forum

Qatar Foundation

Researchers presenting their projects at QNRF's 6th Annual Forum

Qatar Foundation has given $130 million (QR473 million) in funding to several locally-based research projects – which range from examining issues faced by Qatari teachers to a cloud computing study that could alleviate some of the strain on Doha’s roads and infrastructure.

The winners of the latest round of Qatar National Research Fund’s National Priorities Research Program (NPRP) – its flagship funding stream – were released this week. A total of 162 projects from 22 institutions in Qatar were granted funding for this year – the largest number of projects funded in a single round of NPRP.

The money will pay for various types of research, with topics including:

  • Water security;
  • Cyber security;
  • Road traffic accidents;
  • Health issues like diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular and infectious diseases;
  • Urban development;
  • Business innovation; and
  • Culture, language and identity.
  • Diabetes research

    Weill Cornell Medical College-Qatar’s Associate Professor of Public Health Dr. Laith Abu Raddad and Prof. Julia Critchley, an epidemiologist at St. George’s, University of London, are examining the relationship between diabetes – which affects around 16 percent of the Qatari population – and tuberculosis (TB).

    Their project is titled “Tuberculosis and diabetes: Quantifying the adverse impact of rising diabetes prevalence on tuberculosis global burden, and estimating the impact of targeted interventions on tuberculosis transmission.”

    In their research abstract, they note that diabetes triples the risk of developing TB, and with a growth in type 2 diabetes in TB endemic countries, there is a threat to global TB control.

    “We will develop our TB model to explore the impact of changes in DM (diabetes) prevalence on the dynamics of TB infection, and to assess whether screening TB patients for DM and DM patients for active or latent TV could help meet Millennium Development Goals for TB.”

    Qatari teachers

    Dudley Reynolds, an English professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar, received funding for research into the professional development of Qatari teachers of English.

    Along with Dr. Abdullah Abu-Tineh from Qatar University and Dr. Donald Freeman of the University of Michigan, he will undertake a national study of public-sector Qatari English language teachers’ experiences in, opinions of and reported use of professional development, as part of the wider, cross-national Learning4Teaching Project.

    The aim of their project is to “unravel systemic issues” and create a professional development program that is tailored to teachers’ needs and which should contribute to an improved public education system. Speaking to Doha News, Reynolds said:

    “This is the second QNRF funded project aimed at providing effective professional development for Qatari school teachers that I have been involved with.

    Human development is the first pillar of the 2030 National Vision and Qatar has committed significant resources to its educational system. It is important to get it right.”

    Cloud computing system

    Another research topic involves a cloud computing project that processes “big data,” which could have significant benefits for medicine, infrastructure and transport in Qatar, one researcher said.

    Prof. Mohammad Hammoud, a computer science expert at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar, is collaborating with Dr. Tamer Elsayed from Qatar University and Dr. Rami Melham from the University of Pittsburgh to develop a “fully fledged scalable – ie, can run on thousands of machines – distributed analytics engine.”

    The system should be able to quickly and efficiently crunch through enormous amounts of data to help academics, planners, medics, engineers and government officials come up with solutions to everyday issues.

    Speaking to Doha News, Hammoud said:

    “The proposed system will aid in solving various problems that relate to Qatar. As we prepare for the World Cup in 2022, there are numerous infrastructure, transport and supply chain management issues which could be improved with this system.

    “It could also be used in medicine to expedite DNA sequencing for protein identification, for example.”

    Main funding recipients

    According to reports in Qatar Tribune, Qatar University received the highest amount of funding this year at $48.8 million. Texas A&M University at Qatar followed with a total award of $31 million; Hamad Medical Corporation $15.9 million; Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar $9 million; and Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar $4 million.

    This is the seventh round of NPRP, which aims to support Qatari institutions and encourages collaboration with well-known international entities to conduct research that will support Qatar’s development.

    To be considered for funding, proposals should be aligned with the four pillars of Qatar’s National Research Strategy – energy and environment; computer science and information and communications technology; health and life sciences; and social sciences.

    In total, QNRF received 798 proposals for the latest funding round – an 18 percent increase from last year. The number of applications from Qatari-led principal investigators had also doubled in the same period.

    For the first time this year, researchers who had previously been awarded a grant from NPRP and are nearing the end of their project could apply for extra funding to extend their research and build on their initial findings.

    QNRF awarded 10 of these new renewal grants to researchers, as it announced all the successful grants during its sixth Annual Forum.

    Some institutions and academics were also commended. Weill Cornell Medical College’s Dr. Shahin Farii has been working on a project examining stem cell biology and angiogenesis – the physiological process through which new blood vessels form from pre-existing vessels.

    He was awarded the title of Best Researcher for being prolifically published – 14 journal papers, and a book chapter.

    QU was acknowledged as Best Research Office in 2014, while the Best Research Team award went to Texas A&M, which is leading a collaboration of academics from USA, Germany, China, Serbia and Australia.

    Thoughts?

    image

    With reporting from Mai Akkad

    As part of Qatar’s efforts to shore up a knowledge economy and tackle health problems facing residents, the country has been working to get the region’s first biobank up and running.

    The facility, located within Hamad Medical City, stores samples of blood, saliva, urine and body measurements taken from locals and expats who have lived here for more than 15 years for research purposes.

    Analysis of the data (which remains anonymous) will be used to tackle chronic health problems here, the initiative explains on its website:

    Over the next few years, research enabled by Qatar Biobank will show how the health of the Qatari population is affected by their lifestyle, environment and genes. Qatar Biobank will, therefore, help improve the prevention and treatment of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, obesity and other life-threatening and debilitating illnesses that affect communities in Qatar.

    The bank has been created in collaboration with Qatar Foundation’s Biomedical Research Institute, Hamad Medical Corp. and the Supreme Council of Health, with support from scientists at the Imperial College London.

    Long way to go

    Three months into accepting participants, the facility has only collected samples from some 300 residents. But it has set an ambitious goal of getting 60,000 participants by 2018.

    The lack of samples could have to do with the fact that the payoff for residents is still far away. Elio Riboli, professor in cancer epidemiology and prevention at Imperial College London, explains:

    “The benefit here is a bit more indirect. As you know, the time it takes in modern science and medicine to translate new findings into new types of treatment and make these treatments available is in the order of 10 to 15 years. Therefore Qatar Biobank, as well as any other similar initiatives, would not have a short-term effect on the type of medical treatment offered in Qatar.”

    However, he added that the facility could boost Qatar’s healthcare reputation in the long run and encourage more locals to seek medical treatment at home.

    Contributing takes about three hours, and involves donating fluid samples and having a series of measurements taken, including height, weight, grip strength, blood pressure, body composition, and heart and lung function via a treadmill test.

    Participants who do not feel comfortable taking a certain test can opt out at any time during their visit. More details can be found here.

    Fahad Al Thani, a Qatari who recently donated samples to the bank, said:

    “What I most liked about the experience was that the privacy and convenience of the participants was carefully considered throughout the research. From the moment I entered and until my way out I was treated with care and I felt that I was the only participant there.”

    Thoughts?

    Credit: Photo by Sharon Drummond