Perhaps one of the most remarkable scientific accomplishments in the recent decades has been the discovery of environmentally sustainable forms of energy. Think for instance of biodiesel, a renewable source of energy that produces a minimal amount of pollution when burnt, but there is a caveat and that’s the staggering cost of its production. There is as if yet no solution for this problem. Recently, however, a talented young Iranian scientist made a significant discovery in this field. This scientist’s name is Dr. Farhang Tirgir and his mission is to save modern metropolises like Tehran from severe atmospheric pollution. In “The Land of Elites: Tirgir”, we get acquainted with an Iranian young elite from Iran’s historical capital Isfahan. Farhang Tirgir has got a PhD in Chemistry and is a lecturer at Azad University in Shahr-e-Kurd, the capital of Iran’s Chaharmahal Bakhtiari Province. Tough very young, today he is considered one of the most prominent lecturers of this university. His years of persistent and extensive research and study at this university have led to the discovery of a special substance that has revolutionized the production of biodiesel. Dr. Tirgir first unveiled his discovery at the Annual European Golden Eagle festival in 2001. There he won the top prize as the representative of the Asian block. We also come to know that Dr. Tirgir has been also quite active in other aspects of life such as art and music. He is one of the greatest Ney (shepherd pipe) players in his province.
TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00
Narration: Oil, a slimy black substance that has transformed the face of human existence in unprecedented ways. Cars, stoves, heating systems, you name it, all run on what has come to be called black gold. With the passage of time, human dependency on oil has grown to such an extent that these days it’s hard to image life without it. But experts estimate the world’s oil reserves are depleting at a faster rate than expected leading scientists on a haunt for more sustainable uses of this precious natural resource. Indeed as a form of energy oil has inherent disadvantages. It is by nature a non-renewable substance, burnt once and it’s gone forever. What’s more, oil based forms of energy have brought about massive air pollution in heavily industrialized cities. Scientists may have toyed with alternative forms of energy, but they still haven’t managed to find an ideal replacement. True every now and then we witness hopeful new developments in the energy sector, but in most cases the scientific community eventually realizes its falling prey to a monster far more dangerous than the one it saw to replace. Nuclear energy is perhaps the most prominent example, what at first appeared to be a harmless substitute proved its capacity for destruction in Chernobyl in 1986, not to mention the Fukushima incident that recently befell in Japan. Perhaps the most important scientific accomplishment in the recent decades is the discovery of environmentally sustainable forms of energy. Think for instance biodiesel, a renewable source of energy that produces a minimal amount of pollution when burnt, but there is a caveat and that’s the staggering cost of its production. There is as if yet no solution for this problem. Recently a talented young Iranian scientist made a significant discovery in this field, his name is Dr. Farhang Tirgir and his mission is to save modern metropolises like Tehran from severe atmospheric pollution. Tirgir was born and raised in Esfahan. As Iran’s Historical capital Isfahan enjoys international fame because of its historical landmarks and cultural attractions, the stunning architecture, majestic palaces and elaborately defined mosques attracting droves of tourists every year. Tirgir’s origins however can be traced back to Iran’s well-known Bakhtiari tribe.
TIME CODE: 05:00_10:00
Narration: With increasing urbanization over the years, numerous members of this tribe have migrated to Iran’s major urban centers in search of opportunity. Farhang’s father, Mohammad Qoli, is one of them. After moving to Esfahan, Qoli quickly realized the value of education in securing a comfortable life-style. Soon enough he had enrolled in the civil engineering program of a nearby university while working part time in Isfahan’s municipality.
SOUNDBITE [Farsi], Father of Dr. Farhang Tirgir: “I studied at nights and obtained my college degree. Then I enrolled for a course in architectural drafting, which took me 10 years to finish. Following that I obtained the required permit from Tehran Municipality, for construction of a four-story building which actually ended up to be in five floors. I worked for more than 30 years in Esfahan Municipality. Due to my committed service to the city of Esfahan and its people, I received an appreciation letter and a tableau. In regard to my son, I should say that unfortunately we suffered a great calamity in life.”
SOUNDBITE [Farsi], Uncle of Dr. Farhang Tirgir: “He experienced a great trauma in his childhood. He lost his mother and his little sister in a car accident. This was a great psychological blow to him.”
Narration: Because Tirgir lost his mother shortly after starting primary school he was raised by his aunt who made quite a few sacrifices in order to raise him. She vowed not to marry until Farhang and his siblings had entered adulthood and kept her promise.
SOUNDBITE [Farsi], Dr. Farhang Tirgir, Professor of University: “First of all I should mention my aunt. In fact, maybe in this interview I am remembering all those dear ones who took our hands. One was my late grandfather who helped us tremendously in those times, and my little brother, Danesh, who was just born, was breastfed and taken care of by our neighbors in Esfahan.”
Narration: Tirgir spent all his holidays alongside his family in his father’s hometown, a town called MaalKhalifa. Maybe that is why he was never quite successful in severing ties with his motherland. After obtaining his PHD in Chemistry, Tirgir moved to Shahr-e-Kurd, the capital of Iran’s Chaharmahal Bakhtiari Province. He began to teach at a branch of Azad University while continuing his studies. And today though young, Tirgir is considered one of the most prominent professors of this university.Because it was in this university that Tirgir began his extensive research on renewable fuel the fruit of his long years of research has been the discovery of a special substance that has revolutionized the production of biodiesel.
SOUNDBITE [Farsi], Dr. Farhang Tirgir, Professor of University: “Biodiesel is the fuel obtained from vegetable sources substituting fossil fuels, which are in fact irreplaceable. Biodiesel is obtained from seed-bearing plants, such as colza, soybeans, coconut and so on. As it is evident from its name, biodiesel is a natural product compatible with the environment. It produces no ecologically harmful pollutants such as lead, mercury or sulfur, which is the case with fossil fuels. Biodisiel’s by-products are just H2O and CO2, which are part of the natural food chain. They are re-absorbed by plants, transforming into the given vegetables with their seeds later producing biodiesel again.”
Narration: The first country that managed to produce and consume biodiesel fuel on a large scale is the United States. But the main problem with this fuel, a problem that American scientists have yet to find a solution for, is that it’s highly expensive and complicated to actually produce. The final cost of its production far exceeds that of fossil fuel.
TIME CODE: 10:00_15:00
SOUNDBITE [Farsi], Dr. Farhang Tirgir, Professor of University: “The global concern is that at present the price of production of biodiesel is one and half to three times higher than of fuels such as petroleum. It is not economical. The goal is to increase its production with the help of catalysts. Many catalysts have been tried in the world, including acidic catalysts such as Sulfuric acid, HCl or hydrochloric acid and basic catalysts like soda or sodium hydroxide. However, the use of these catalysts has its own problems. For example, acidic catalysts, which are liquids bind permanently with biodiesel and later damage the engine due to their corrosive effect. It is hard to separate them from the fuel. On the other hand, basic catalysts produce soap in the process with its foam making it difficult to separate biodiesel from fatty acids and glycerol. Because of that, it needs more filtering which increases the expenditures up to five times more than that required for the production of petroleum. Again this is not economical. What we did was to concentrate on finding new catalysts and to design solid super acidic catalysts based on silicon and aluminum. These catalysts can increase the efficiency of the production of methyl acid esters from methanol up to 90 percent.”
Narration: What we have called a revolution in the production of biodiesel is the catalyst mentioned before. It’s an invention of Dr. Tirgir who calls it a solid super acid. In contrast to other common catalysts used in the scientific world, it not only does not damage automobile engines, but it can also be recycled after use. In fact, once produced, it can be re-used endlessly in the production cycle of biodiesel.
SOUNDBITE [Farsi], Dr. Farhang Tirgir, Professor of University: “Biodiesel has a high ignition point and a relatively low evaporation rate. That means that if you leave petroleum in open air, it evaporates quickly, while biodiesel can remain intact for up to 5 hours. This is while its ignition point is the same as petroleum. This is a great advantage as there is less waste, while at the same time unlike petroleum, it does not produce those harmful pollutants like lead, sulfur or mercury either. In this way, we managed to reduce the technological expenditures from one and half to three times, which are the figures that other countries have reached. As the result, now its overall production cost is equal to that of petroleum. So now biodiesel can very well compete with petroleum.”
Narration: The other problem in the production of biodiesel, particularly in Iran stems from the substance it’s derived from, vegetable oil. Because Iran imports most of its vegetable oil used primarily as cooking oil, its conversion into biodiesel is not particularly economical. But Dr. Tirgir has devised an interesting solution to this problem as well.
SOUNDBITE [Farsi], Dr. Farhang Tirgir, Professor of University: “We then reached the conclusion that we should produce the sources of biodiesel ourselves. Imported colza seeds or soybeans, used as food sources are of no use here. It is not economical to process them into fuel. A good source can be salad rocket or arugula, which we do not use as food source, with its seeds rich in oil. This is the vegetable we are now studying hoping to cultivate it on large scales, as it can be grown with even sewage water.”
Narration: Dr. Tirgir first unveiled his discovery at the Annual European Golden Eagle festival in 2001. There he won the top prize as the representative of the Asian block. Expanding the scope of studies and research, Dr. Tirgir has since published numerous articles in some of the most world’s most prestigious scientific journals even so, the ultimate goal of this diligent young researcher is more than just fame and prestige.
TIME CODE: 15:00_20:00
SOUNDBITE [Farsi], Dr. Farhang Tirgir, Professor of University: “Although I have published twenty-one articles in prestigious journals cited in Institute for Scientific Information (ISI), now I am concentrating on the field of production and have come to believe that science should be brought on people’s dining table. Any science that does not lead to production and wealth is defective. Our researchers who only focus on publishing articles should pay more attention to technology. This is my approach. No doubt it needs a great deal of hard work, accompanied with a lot of hardship, but even this has its own fruit.”
Narration: Dr. Farhang Tirgir has been married for a few years now and has a daughter. Like himself his wife also works in academia. In addition to his position in the field of science, Tirgir has also a special place in the arts. He is one of the greatest the Ney (shepherd pipe) players in his province. The Ney is one of the oldest Iranian musical instruments often played among villagers and tribesmen. Every now and then his family gets together on various occasions and the sound of Tirgir’s Ney along with the Daf (Persian framed drum) played by his brother Khashayar make a great combination. Dr. Tirgar has still a long way to go. He is working on a few other projects that may very well be just as revolutionary as the advancements he has made in the field of biofuel. It probably won’t be long before he’ll make headlines in the world of science.