Abu Dhabi: A team of United Arab Emirates University (UAEU) students are working on an environment-friendly project to make paper from sand.
The process is designed to tackle water shortages and reduce the country’s carbon footprint, said a UAEU press release issued on Thursday.
Sidra Siraj Ahmad, a graduate student from the university’s Chemical Engineering Department and Rukshana Mangattu Veetil, a senior year undergraduate student of the same department, are fine-tuning a process to produce a mineral-based strong and durable paper-like product.
It will be manufactured by binding sand and polymer pellets that will require significantly less energy to produce than wood-fibre paper and requires no water during production.
“The consumption of paper worldwide has increased by 400 per cent in the past 40 years, leading to a rise in deforestation and global warming,” Ahmad said. The paper industry is also causing water and air pollution.
Ahmad said the UAEU-led project would be first such project in the world. “Nowhere else in the world paper is made from sand,” she explained.
With easy access to the UAE’s desert landscape, Ahmad said she and her original teammates — Sumiyya Faheem Rabbani, Hamda Juma Khalaf Al Zari Al Mesmari and Sara Helal Rubayea Mattar Al Katbi — brainstormed on ways to harness the country’s natural resources into an eco-friendly product.
“Paper made from stone — rock stock — recently came into existence. This environment-friendly paper is 80 per cent rock, with the remainder being a polymer.
“If paper can be made from rocks, why can it not be made out of sand? And that is how the idea came about.”
After winning third prize in Think Science 2016 in the Applied Chemistry and Biochemistry category with their innovative idea, Ahmad teamed up with Rukshana to develop the idea into reality.
Currently, they are trying an approach on pelletising and rolling. “This is basically about making little pellets of the sand and polymer mixture and trying to roll. We are in this phase right now.”
They are also investigating bleaching the sand to lighten the colour of the sheet obtained. The production process is expected without using water and fossil fuel. This will contribute in lowering the carbon footprint.
Ahmad gave credit to her supervisor Ali Al Marzouqi, from the Chemical Engineering Department, and his overarching support for the team’s decision to undertake the project. She said the result has the potential to bring multiple benefits, including water saving. The product is expected to be high in tear-resistance and durability, while polymer is also water resistant. It will boost the economy as the paper could then be created using a local natural resource.