The Emirates Foundation has awarded nearly Dh7 million to 56 UAE researcher teams, requiring each to train two Emirati research assistants.
It is the second year that the philanthropic organisation has given the awards of up to Dh200,000 each for original research in the fields of science, technology, engineering, agriculture and health studies.
"We now consider ourselves the only active, regular research funder in the UAE," said Dr Abdulla Ismail Abdulla, senior executive adviser to the foundation's science, technology and environment programme.
Funding from the country's grant-making organisation, the National Research Foundation, has been delayed since last year as its budget awaits approval. As a result, some institutions have taken on the funding initiative themselves. UAE University awarded Dh12.5 million last month to its researchers, the largest amount of internal funding in the institution's history.
Forty-one UAEU researchers received the grants from the Emirates Foundation this week.
Also awarded were: the American University of Sharjah; University of Wollongong in Dubai; Masdar Institute; Abu Dhabi University; British University in Dubai; Boston University Institute for Dental Research and Education; Sharjah University; Petroleum Institute Abu Dhabi; and Khalifa University of Science, Technology and Research.
The projects were chosen by an external peer jury based on their relevance to the country's development and priorities.
The decision to require recipients to train Emirati researchers "will help us to create and further knowledge that we can retain in our own country," Dr Abdulla said.
"It is as important to invest in our future as it is to produce information."
Dr Mohamed al Marzouqi, chair of chemical and petroleum engineering at UAE University, received a grant of Dh170,000 for a two-year project. His research focuses on developing a low-cost oil refining system of separating hydrocarbons with the same boiling point. His technology would function in the same way as a distilling tower, but would use porous membranes to absorb different hydrocarbons based on their size.
Dr al Marzouqi has developed similar projects funded by Japanese petroleum companies, and hopes to use it to remove carbon dioxide from natural gas.
"This funding allows us to show that this is feasible, to conduct a pilot test and then go from the lab to commercial use, which is what this research is really meant for," he said.
Another UAEU project awarded the same amount focuses on two environmental problems: plastic waste and oil spills. Dr Mohamed al Naqbi, an assistant professor in the university's chemistry department, hopes to use new or used polymers in plastics to change the physical quality of crude oil, making it easier to separate from water and collect.
He would do this on a lab scale, studying how polymers absorb and react with the oil's hydrocarbons. He said the amount he will receive from the foundation far surpasses the Dh50,000 he has received from the university for other research over the past five years.
"This is something that I have been looking into since getting my doctorate degree, and now I can finally start the research, do the experiments, and find a way to prove my theory about which types of plastics will work ... " he said.