Solar and wind power will help convert seawater to fresh

The UAE is transforming into an innovation-first society with projects like Masdar City in Abu Dhabi.

The UAE is transforming into an innovation-first society with projects like Masdar City in Abu Dhabi. Fatima Al Marzooqi /  The National
Powered by automated translation

The country’s leadership has set ambitious and exciting targets with the UAE Innovation Strategy. This initiative will touch on far ranging issues from renewable energy to health and technology. The attempt will be to transform the UAE into an innovation-first society.

But such a far-reaching transformation cannot be achieved quickly or by one party alone. It requires collaborative participation across the key sectors that drive social, economic and academic growth. Public-private partnerships are a key element of the UAE Innovation Strategy as they are mutually beneficial for private institutions or entities working with government and semi-government organisations to pursue shared goals. Masdar Institute is pleased to be leading in some of these key collaborations, partnering with local government and industry to help solve problems and achieve results.

Renewable energy and sustainability is part of Masdar Institute’s very fabric. So it is probably no surprise that many of our collaborations are linked to energy. But what may surprise some is how closely we work with UAE’s other priority economic sectors. That is because we recognise them to be partners in the UAE’s transformation; they are the established industrial pillars that have and will carry the weight of the economy. And they should be helped to transition to the country’s next phase of growth and in optimising the extraction and utilisation of the precious resources that have brought the UAE great prosperity.

The UAE’s oil and gas sector is focused on optimising the extraction and utilisation of the precious resources that have brought the UAE great prosperity and so Masdar Institute is working with the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc), Total and the Petroleum Institute to map the complex behaviour of the region’s carbonate reserves with a view to maximising oil recovery. The Digital Rock Physics project pools our technical resources and expertise, alongside that of the Petroleum Institute, to produce an extensive archive of rock images in microscopic detail. It also digitally simulates and tests the behaviour of oil and gas reservoirs. Masdar Institute’s state-of-the-art microscopy facility is examining local rock samples at the nano-scale to generate 3D images of the pore network and pore morphology of typical Abu Dhabi reservoir rock cores.

The metal industry was one of the critical sectors targeted in the Abu Dhabi Vision 2030 plan. Aluminium in particular is one of the Gulf region’s hottest industries, with investment tipped to reach $55 billion in 2020. Aluminium is also a feedstock of two of the sectors targeted in the Innovation Strategy — transport and space. In fact, the UAE’s aluminium manufacturing sector has a significant effect on energy because it is one of the country’s largest consumers of electricity.

To secure a continuing competitive edge, Abu Dhabi’s aluminium giant — the Emirates Aluminum Company (Emal), now part of the Emirate Global Aluminium (EGA), sought the expertise of Masdar Institute’s mechanical and materials engineering faculty. The results of this collaboration can help Emal reduce its energy consumption and thus improve operational costs while supporting the preservation of natural gas resources. The results of the project can be applied to fine tune existing Emal plants and in the design of new ones. This kind of collaboration benefits Abu Dhabi by helping improve the competitiveness of its industrial entities.

Another research area that is critical to Abu Dhabi’s strategic ambitions relates to water. It is estimated that desalination technology, which converts seawater to fresh, produces about 40 per cent of the UAE’s supply. As part of Masdar’s broader renewable energy water desalination programme, we are currently working with a number of international companies to develop and improve renewable energy-powered desalination technology. This will mean that solar, geothermal and wind power can be used to turn seawater into freshwater.

With collaborations like these, Masdar Institute is offering the best minds and facilities to help solve some of the country’s most pressing needs, whether of an individual manufacturer or of a government agency.

With the UAE Innovation Strategy requiring all government entities to reduce spending by 1 per cent and to dedicate those savings to research and innovation projects, we are confident that more research collaborations will be in the offing this year. And that they will help the country draw closer to its ambitious but critical national development goals.

Dr Steve Griffiths is the executive director of the Office of Institute Initiatives at Masdar Institute of Science and Technology in Abu Dhabi