Women in Energy: In conversation with Dr. Amani Al-Othman on women leading nanotechnology research

5 Mar 2024
Women in Energy: In conversation with Dr. Amani Al-Othman on women leading nanotechnology research

Dr. Amani Al-Othman is an Associate Professor at the American University in Sharjah. She is leading the energy group at the department of Chemical Engineering at the university. They are working at developing novel coatings for self-cleaning PV-Cells. 

Her research focuses on fuel cell technology and renewable energy. She received her PhD, University of Ottawa, Canada. 

In this interview, she discusses her research. Dr Otman explains how there is a significant role in the field of nanostructured materials within the Arab world. 

Your research is very niche in what is considered a "man's world." How did you get into researching nanotechnology and fuel cell activities?
I have always been interested in clean energy solutions. I was particularly looking for a technology that would revolutionize the energy transition while enhancing the energy conversion. What triggered my attention was the fact that research has been going on fuel cells for almost 180 years now. Nanotechnology played a pivotal role in advancing fuel cells components (such as catalysts, gas diffusion layers and membranes). For example, fuel cells electrodes were initially composed of platinum sheets. Nowadays, we are using nanoparticles supported on carbon with enhanced performance and significantly reduced platinum loading.  Nano-structured components decreased the cost of fuel cells components and enhanced their performance, and made them more available, durable, and adaptable.

What do you think is the biggest block for energy transition?
I believe that the cost of energy production is the biggest block and challenge in the energy transition. The other block is proper energy storage. We can harness energy from renewable sources, but the cost of energy is not yet comparable to the energy obtained from fossil fuels.

How far do you think your research can go and why? What are the obstacles and what are the opportunities?
Research on fuel cell membranes will advance significantly driven by the demand for clean energy. Obstacles can arise from the cost of materials, manufacturing them at a large scale, and materials’ durability. Fuel cells operating conditions are very harsh; hence, durable, and functional materials are required. Having said that, these challenges open gates for more research opportunities towards nano-structured materials innovation to enhance the preceding performance criteria. 

Through your research, what do you think are the opportunities for the Arab world? Can this region be part of and lead the transition?
Absolutely. I can see lots of efforts being led in this region in materials innovations. The Arab world has a significant role in the field of nanostructured materials, and there is a potential for our region to play a substantial role in the transition towards clean energy through the development of advanced functional materials. We do have renewable energy sources. Therefore, nanotechnology can be explored through the renewable energy sector, desalination or agriculture. 

Are fuel cells really the solution for cleaner energy?
Fuel cells are part of the solution. Fuel cells are promising because of their high theoretical efficiency, compact design and (zero-to-low carbon footprint) but there are other sources that can be coupled with fuel cells to maximize their performance. 

What are the opportunities and challenges for fuel cells?
As I mentioned previously, fuel cells have high theoretical efficiency, quiet operation and compact design and therefore, have opportunities in many applications such as transportation, space and military applications, and decentralized energy systems. Fuel cells are also suitable to generate electricity in remote areas where it is easier to transport the fuel. 

The challenges include mainly the cost, materials durability, and hydrogen storage. 

What are the alternatives for them?
Possible alternatives are batteries. However, fuel cells generate electricity if the fuel is continuously provided. They can be lighter in weight as well.


 

Dr. Amani Al-Othman and many others will be speaking at Middle East Energy, the region's most anticipated energy event is all set to be back with its 49th edition, running from the 16th to the 18th of April 2024 at Dubai World Trade Centre.

The flagship energy event of the year will be the epicenter of opportunities for energy professionals from all over the world! And keeping in line with COP28, Middle East Energy 2024 will be bigger, better, and more focused on sectors that will cater to your energy needs.

This year Middle East Energy advocates how renewable energy, energy storage and digitalization are key to optimizing the region’s power ecosystem and ensuring self-sufficiency. Register now!

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