KAUST SRSI student Mohammed Alarfaj wins top honors at Ibdaa 2023

15 February, 2023

By David Murphy

Mohammed Alarfaj, a KAUST Saudi Research Science Institute (SRSI) student, recently won the first place grand prize in the “environmental engineering” category at the National Olympiad for Scientific Creativity — Ibdaa 2023 research competition, held in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, from February 1-4

Ibdaa is an annual scientific competition based on individual scientific or engineering projects submitted in one of 21 scientific fields. Alarfaj’s project won the grand prize from an initial pool of approximately 146,000 initial competitors. He also received two additional awards from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Al Zamil Group.

He will now represent the Kingdom at the world’s largest pre-college STEM competition, the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF​) 2023, which will take place from May 13-19 in Dallas, U.S.

“Having lived in Saudi Arabia my entire life, it feels like a privilege to represent my country at ISEF 2023. I am also more than honored to represent KAUST in the best light as it has played a vital role in my success,” he emphasized.

His Ibdaa award wins were based on a research project to improve the Cryogenic Carbon Capture (CCC) process by replacing the current solvent (or contact liquid) used and introducing "Net Direct Air Capture (NDAC)."

NDAC seeks to capture 100+% of carbon dioxide (CO2) from fuel sources. Negative carbon emission is achieved by capturing 100% of the CO2 emitted from the fuel sources and by capturing an extra bit of CO2, which was originally blown in with the ambient air for burning the fuel. Therefore, the process is carbon negative.

“This research project can aid the Kingdom as it has announced plans to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, which, with our results, we could achieve once scaled up. We can significantly reduce fossil fuel drawbacks through this research, which would benefit Saudi Arabia immensely,” Alarfaj explained.

The KAUST SRSI program

The KAUST SRSI is a rigorous six-week summer research program designed for 11th-grade students from high schools throughout Saudi Arabia. Under the guidance of KAUST faculty, students work in the University’s state-of-the-art laboratories while gaining insight into the transformative power of science, technology, engineering and math. The program is dedicated to developing the next generation of scientists, researchers and leaders of Saudi Arabia and providing them with context and support to envision their futures.

Alarfaj’s SRSI mentors at KAUST are Professor William L. Roberts, director of the KAUST Clean Combustion Research Center (CCRC); Christopher Wagstaff, a Ph.D. student at the CCRC; and Dr. Mohammed Al-Juaied, a research fellow at Harvard's Belfer Center and a senior research science consultant at the Aramco Research Center at KAUST.

“All of my mentors played a vital role in this accomplishment, providing me with support whenever I needed it,” he noted. “Mr. Wagstaff specifically devoted hundreds of hours to helping me throughout the entire process, which was indispensable to my success.

“Our future goals are to scale our work up even further by implementing the solvent on more power plants, which would help reduce carbon dioxide emissions greatly in Saudi Arabia,” Alarfaj concluded.