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Mohammad Taherzadeh

An outlook: Exporting knowledge to meet the challenges of the world

Mohammad Taherzadeh, Professor of Resource Recovery at the University of Borås:

In the research field Resource Recovery, we develop methods to create energy as biogas, electricity, or ethanol from waste. Creating energy from waste is made in many parts of the world, and most people are positive to the idea. But for the decision-makers, economy is the determining factor while sustainability comes in second place. Now, oil prices have fallen dramatically, which means that oil is being used to a larger extent while investments in sustainable fuels have taken a step back. Electric cars may be ‘hot’ these days, but how sustainable is that technology? How do we get electricity and batteries to all those cars? And what happens when they are used up?

Researchers have to continue developing good ideas and initiatives. In my research team, we try to find solutions that could be used on a larger scale. One example is that we use fungi to produce cellulose ethanol, which could be done in existing plants so it does not require any investments. We are currently making large-scaled tests, and soon this ethanol will be launched commercially. There is also quite lot of research on cellulose ethanol going on around the world, but this is something unique!

Our methods for biogas production are spread in many countries, as we have invested a lot in knowledge transfer and simple yet functional methods. One example is the biogas reactors made out of textile, now being sold in India. This is how we, at the University of Borås, can contribute: By doing research on useful methods, and by disseminating knowledge about existing problems and their solutions. Since we have established contact with many universities around the world, we can reach out with that knowledge and work for it to be passed on to the decision-makers.

Thinking about the future might be terrifying, considering everything that global warming brings with it: sinking groundwater levels, rising sea levels, drought, extreme rain, and so on. In order to reduce the threats, we need to collaborate and think globally, but with the political turmoil going on in the world, this is difficult. We need to reduce our use of resources and take better care of carbon dioxide and waste. If politicians are to decide on which measures to take, first they need to realise how serious this is. So this means we have to educate them!

My dream project would be to break down the connection to time. What if we could have processes running a lot faster than they do now? We have managed to make biogas in seven days instead of thirty. Why not three? I think we could do it. A hundred years ago, living in Gothenburg and working in Borås would be impossible. Now that journey takes less than an hour. Imagine when it takes ten minutes. Or a second! Or if we could speed up the photosynthesis! The time connection is really something I would like to continue working with!

Text: Lena M Fredriksson
Photo: Lars Ardarve