School of Chemical Engineering

Arshe Said: "Dive deep"

Arshe Said is not your typical researcher. His work with steel by-products has been breathtaking – combining waste materials together to make a new product that has commercial demand is not only award winning, but also ensures a more sustainable planet.
Human-sized lamp in the shape of the Aalto logo, capital A followed by an exclamation mark, stands in a dark space / photo by Aalto University, Lasse Lecklin

The year 2015 was a real turning-point for Arshe Said. His research group received a prestigious award from Caltech’s Resnick Sustainability Institute. They were honoured for pioneering a CO2 sequestration process that converts a low-value steel slug into a valuable product, precipitated calcium carbonate (PCC).  Yet, it wasn’t just the science that left an impression, it was the whole process.

The research project itself was a true roller-coaster. It required a lot of hands-on work. Said explains, “along the way I learned a lot about project management, funding, negotiations, selling your ideas, and marketing your research.” Expanding that researchers today have the responsibility to, “be awake” and understand what kind of information the world needs most, and how to provide it.

“Being part of a large research network gives you many different viewpoints”, Saidsays. Sometimes those viewpoints can even take you by a surprise. “We were initially thinking of building a very small, 10-litre demo reactor. However, our industry partners believed in us, and they were after at least a 200  – 500-litre reactors. We were horrified. How are we going to do that? With these resources? But in the end, we did it.” Now he can even laugh about it. The final pilot plant took years to build, but it was well worth the effort. It is one of its kind in the world.

Now the project has funding until 2017, and they are building a ten times bigger demonstration plant in Raahe. Forerunning Finnish companies are on-board. There have been inquiries from other European and Asian countries, which has large steel manufacturer with scarce land areas for landfill sites.

But was it a calling for Said to save the planet?  Not initially, “I was never so much into sustainable technologies. During my school years, I was always good in mathematics, and became interested in mathematical algorithms which are useful in practically any field. However, at Aalto I realised that you can really make a difference by being a researcher. That was a great feeling. I want my research to be out there, bringing value for people, not getting dusty in some desk drawer or vault.”

Along with his career as a researcher, Said has been active in politics, heading the Finnish Somali League, helping the employment of his fellow countrymen and preventing the criminalisation of Somali youth. Said himself moved from Somalia to Finland when he was 19 years old. “Today, I think I’m more Finnish than Somalian by nature. When I recently travelled to New York, I was puzzled by stranger trying to small talk with me”, he jokes.

For young people considering career in research, Said has two tips. “Firstly, be open: it’s all about teamwork. Today’s researchers don’t live in ivory towers. Don’t hesitate to ask for help and build networks. Secondly: don’t be afraid to fail. You can learn from every mistake and if you don’t fail, you never learn anything.”

Read more about Said online:

Become a game changer. Find your own programme

  • Published:
  • Updated: