Gyorgy Szekely was interested in sustainability from the very beginning of his research career. Working with chemical separations, which are notoriously energy-demanding, he realized that there were more environmentally-friendly solutions to separations out there that were not necessarily more expensive than conventional methods. He began to think about the plethora of renewable raw materials that could be turned into efficient separations materials. From this initial interest, Gyorgy, who is now a professor at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), built a research portfolio around sustainable separations through a combination of materials science and process engineering. In particular, he has been devoted to addressing the challenges of sustainable fabrication of membrane materials for harsh environments, as well as expanding the application of these membranes via process intensification.
His group (https://szekelygroup.com/) contributes to several of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. They develop energy-efficient membrane separations utilizing biomass-based materials such as agricultural waste, shrimp farming waste, and upcycled polymer waste, including face masks. As the need to quantify improvements towards a more sustainable world continues to increase, Gyorgy’s team uses green metrics analysis to quantify and compare improvements in the efficiency of their separations as compared to conventional methods and materials.
Gyorgy has been continuously engaging with industrial partners through collaborative projects, grants, and consultancy work. For example, his group invented a process to upcycle shrimp farming waste from the National Aquaculture Group, which has recently been patented and published. Gyorgy worked with Cenovus Energy (Canada) over a three-year period to develop an energy-efficient separation process for oilfield diluents using membranes and to design and build a pilot-scale nanofiltration skid. Moreover, Gyorgy is an inventor on several other patents that are related to sustainability, such as nanofilms fabricated from algal biomass, antipathogenic membranes from waste materials for battling the pandemic, and nanocomposite films made of natural resources.
Sustainability is not only Gyorgy’s research focus but also his teaching. He really enjoys debating sustainability topics with his students and seeing how their critical thinking improves as a result. He has gone the extra mile to write and publish a textbook on his course unit titled Sustainable Process Engineering, and the second edition is on the way. He has been an advocate for STEM outreach activities for almost a decade now. In 2020, Gyorgy initiated an ongoing collaboration with a local high school to teach students about sustainability principles by extracting essential oils from plants.
Gyorgy runs his lab following green chemistry principles. Before he came to KAUST, he was at the University of Manchester where he participated in a university-led Green Impact competition. His lab at the University of Manchester received the ‘Labs-Gold’ award in 2017–2018 in recognition of labs that complied with the highest standards and initiated sustainable practices from purchasing through waste handling and materials recycling.
“All these research drives and the ACS-SCE Lectureship Award career recognition allow me to grow professionally, expand and diversify my career path and, most importantly, challenge myself,” says Gyorgy. We look forward to hearing from him at GC&E!
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