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Interview and profile of professor and program chair Dr. Nimir Elbashir by student Sara Albanna

When first interviewing Dr. Elbashir I started off by asking him about his transition from CHEN to PETE, and what encouraged this change. Dr. Elbashir stated that “the chemical engineering field, is a field that has a lot of diversity, but from the beginning I have focused on the oil and gas industry.” When explaining the oil and gas industry the professor projected off its three pillars; upstream, midstream, and downstream, before elaborating on his focus on the interaction with natural gas. The professor stated that his work stemmed from the midstream section of “oil and gas” mostly natural gas and overseeing it’s processing throughout midstream and upstream and comparing it to crude oils. In the spectrum of his studies that mostly consisted in midstream, Dr. Elbashir emphasized that “my role in midstream can take one step back and bring this to petroleum engineering as now I am bringing this knowledge to your colleagues the student petroleum engineers, so they see the process after they deliver the oil, water, and gas to the surface.” The role of Dr. Elbashir has become similar to that of a bridge that allows the exchange of knowledge creating a window for Petroleum engineers into midstream and for Chemical engineers into upstream.

Another aspect of Dr. Elbashir’s journey that I found interesting was his motive to enter academia. The professor started by shedding light on the differences in the structures of his work before and after entering academia. Starting with his path in industry working in one of the world’s largest chemical companies; BASF, the professor explained the excitement of assembling a demanded product that with time can be seen utilized in real life practice. While on the other hand, his work in academia, the investment and his final product is a human being, as he says “By improving his [the students] knowledge, and training him, and qualifying him, the process is continuous. While in industry, the process ends with that product, whenever it is used, it is done.” A different perspective that the professor shared was that of comparative research in the two lines of work “In industry you are always limited by the business interest of the company even if I used to work in research and development and not in a plant” “[but] in academia you have the freedom to open so many problems and let your students to put forth so many issues …. so it becomes a continuous learning process.”

When asked about something unexpected he encountered after entering academia Dr. Elbashir compared the work-life balance between industry and academia taking it as an unexpected element. He stated that once his working hours ended at 5.30 or 6 pm in industry so did his ties and commitments to the workplace and he was free to utilize his time as he saw accordingly. But in academia, Dr. Elbashir clarified that since he has entered the profession he has not been separated from his email for a single passing day whether he was in the office, abroad, or on vacation.

The initial question outlined in the delegated interview assignment was then asked of the professor asking him what he found most interesting in the professional life in the oil and gas sector taking into account his more midstream oriented perspective. Dr. Elbashir then elaborated in his response stating that “Mostly that it is fragile, that it is a cyclic business” building on the reality of the fluctuation of demand for the products of the oil and gas series and the fluctuation of the pricing of the extracted oil and gas. The professor spoke of this as a major challenge that the oil and gas industry faces

The professor was then asked more about his line of research were he passionately went on to disclose its nature, “I mainly work on natural gas, trying to clean it in midstream and then convert it to liquid hydrocarbons products also known as the Gas to Liquid technology” where the professor seeks to identify and pinpoint the various possible uses of natural gas. The professor spoke of carbon dioxide emissions that stem from many of these processes and how the focus of his research is on how to reinject carbon dioxide into the process to result in more productive alternative outcomes instead of adding to the carbon footprint of the process.

Dr. Elbashir passionately speaking about regulating and minimizing or controlling our carbon footprint brought rise to my personal interest in renewable engineering from which I asked, “What you’ve said brings me to a different type of energy, how do you see the future of your current study when put head-to-head with renewable energy?” The professor acknowledged that renewable energy will always be available and present in various communities, but it too does have its own limitations, oil and gas on the other hand will continue with their role globally for at least another century and therefore mediating their use is more critical than abolishing it since renewable energy is far off from the magnitude of the oil and gas industry and thus will take time to come around.

A second follow up question was then presented “Petroleum or Chemical engineering and Renewable energy engineering are often put as rivals and not as comrades or potential collaborators do you see potential for their collaboration?” Here the professor uncovered another layer to his research that sparked my interest further, stating that in his research when reinjecting carbon dioxide into the process to form alternative products, high levels of energy are required to break the carbon – oxygen bonds. If burning fossil fuels is used to generate this heat the process potentially results in more carbon dioxide therefore defeating the purpose and therefore instead of the burning of fossil fuels, solar energy is being utilized to generate the heat therefore creating a collaborative setting on which these professions that are commonly dubbed as rivals are combined.

The interview ended at that and I was left starstruck, in my long-term goal plan I hope to expand my studies into renewable energy and find the collaborative ground on which Petroleum and Renewable Energy Engineering could stand to work towards minimizing our carbon footprint as petroleum engineers through the incorporation of renewable energy into our societies in a more conscious and subtle transition. The knowledge attained from this interview elevates my interests and sparks the fire only to increase my curiosity. With time I look forward to learning more about Dr. Elbashir’s study and potentially engaging in something similar to it, engaging in finding solutions to what the world acknowledges as catastrophic pollution.

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