Scholarship Winner Sees Entrepreneurial Opportunities in Sustainability

UT Dallas student Hazem Elshorbagy has refined biodiesel from algae, designed an environmentally friendly method for heavy crude oil extraction and is currently using the UT Dallas campus as a testbed for his ideas to improve the efficiency of trash hauling.

Hazem Elshorbagy

Hazem Elshorbagy

Attracted to entrepreneurial endeavors and driven by a commitment to energy conservation and environmental sustainability, Elshorbagy, a full-time MBA student in the Naveen Jindal School of Management, has developed a singular business passion: He wants to turn sustainability in the energy sector into a money-making proposition.

“I call it monetizing sustainability. … What I want to do is make it cost-effective for the oil and gas industry to be more environmentally friendly,” Elshorbagy said.

Having gained industry experience working as a field engineer on drilling rigs in Abu Dhabi and the United States, Elshorbagy added to his professional credentials last year when the team he was on at oilfield services company Baker Hughes broke a U.S. record by drilling more than a mile a day in the Marcellus Shale natural gas reserve in West Virginia.

In school, he has maintained industry ties in part by serving as the president of The Energy Association – UT Dallas student organization.

Impressed by Elshorbagy’s ideas and achievements, the Texas Business Hall of Fame Foundation recently named him to receive one of its 2015 scholarships, which will be presented October 28 at a dinner in Houston. The competitive awards, upped this year from $10,000 to $15,000 apiece, go to graduate business students across Texas who have demonstrated leadership and entrepreneurial skills.

Lisa Shatz

Lisa Shatz

“I tell the students on Day One that you get out of an MBA program what you put into it. Hazem is living proof of that,” Lisa Shatz, JSOM’s assistant dean for MBA programs, said about Elshorbagy’s scholarship success. “Although he takes his academics seriously, he has put himself out there to try every experience possible and to learn as much as he can from alumni, mentors, faculty, employers.”

From Elshorbagy’s perspective, “I like to think that my entrepreneurial vision started when I was in school and decided to earn a degree in mechanical engineering,” he said. American-born, he grew up in the United Arab Emirates and earned both a BS and an MS in mechanical engineering from UAE University.

For his master’s thesis, he developed a method that uses nanoparticle-assisted electromagnetic heating rather than steam injection to move heavy crude oil out of the ground. Earlier, in a competitive capstone project to earn his undergraduate degree, he and teammates earned third place in a regional competition for their design of an automated system for producing renewable biodiesel from algae grown in wastewater.

Harvesting biodiesel from algae was not a new idea, Elshorbagy acknowledged. “What we did new is we proved that as a business concept, it’s very feasible for the UAE. Actually, the Gulf, the Middle East has better conditions for its success than any other place,” he said, “because it has sun all year round — algae needs the sun — and a lot of wastewater, and it has a lot of empty land that is not being used for anything.”

Also during his undergraduate years, Elshorbagy and two teammates designed a foot-controlled car. With a steering wheel on the floorboard, their prototype could be turned on and off, accelerated or braked with the right foot and steered with the left. The invention aims primarily to provide people with arm disabilities the ability to drive, he said, but the concept has promising military and entertainment applications as well. Besides earning a U.S. patent, the team recently received a $10,000 young inventors’ award from UAE University.

At UT Dallas this year, Elshorbagy joined a team that placed third in the inaugural national Future of Transportation Case Competition sponsored by the Fuels Institute in New Orleans. The team developed a rating system for ranking fuels according to their environmental cleanliness.

Approaching cleanliness from a different vantage, Elshorbagy has launched a startup, Know Your Waste, predicated on keeping a watchful eye on dumpsters.

On average, waste dumpsters are only 40 percent full at the time trash haulers empty them, according to Elshorbagy. “Know Your Waste monitors fill levels to trigger hauling only when dumpsters become full,” he said. “Our innovative solution could save up to 50 percent of the transportation costs incurred in the $35 billion U.S. waste-collection industry while increasing recycling by 40 percent.”

Thea Junt

Thea Junt

Aided by Thea Junt, assistant director of energy conservation and sustainability at UT Dallas, Elshorbagy has researched the viability of his idea and put test sensors in place in a campus dumpster. He said he plans to use part of his scholarship money to develop unique software for his business.

“At UT Dallas, we always support our students as they are exploring their ideas,” Junt said, “I worked with Hazem to guide his ideas into a real-world business application. With waste, any business would be looking to save money and streamline operations. His Know Your Waste ideas could definitely help an organization save money.”

Interning this summer with a pair of local entrepreneurs who have hired him as an executive business strategy consultant for their fledgling endeavor, Elshorbagy said after graduation in December he would like to become a full-time energy consultant.

Because he has accomplished so much “with a humble and grateful attitude, it’s really hard not to root for him,” Lisa Shatz said. “I guarantee; this won’t be the last time you read about Hazem. He will do great things.”