Researchers see RAK as 'new frontier' in sustainable energy

A new smart chip could help computers to manage power sources more efficiently.

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LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND // Maher Kayal believes he could manage all of Ras al Khaimah's energy use through a single microchip.

The professor of electrical engineering and analog circuits, who works in the Electronics Laboratory at Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL),has begun a case study with his students to consolidate power sources for a smart power grid.

His technology would help to manage the grid in a way that could match demand with supply, improving economic and environmental efficiency without limiting consumption. He has already developed hardware to manage a network that could run 1,000 times faster than current software.

"We need something to be as smart as possible to predict what will happen in the next cycle, and at the end of the day there will be less pollution and we would be spending less on energy," he said. "In the future, we could target every plug where data from that plug could be shared with the system."

Dr Kayal was among several professors at the two-day Emirati-Swiss Friendship Forum at EPFL, which ended yesterday. He was there to discuss projects to be based in Ras al Khaimah through the technical university's new postgraduate programme in the emirate.

His project is just one example of how Swiss researchers are looking at the emirate as a clean slate for case studies and experiments.

"What they are planning to do are projects that are new, not anything that has been done before, and they are seeing RAK as a new frontier," said Franco Vigliotti, the dean of the EPFL Middle East campus in RAK. "If they can do this successfully there, it could be implemented in other cities, in other countries, all around the world."

Next year, 23 students will be sent to the RAK campus for research projectsthat will focus on wind engineering, energy systems, energy management, sustainable urban design, water resources and sustainable transport. Other initiatives focus on removing micro-pollutants from wastewater treatment plants, using solar ponds to collect and store thermal energy, and simulating the interactions between water aquifers and seawater to gauge salinity distribution and transfer of sediments.

"We are trying to take advantage of what the country has to offer and what we can learn from it, as well as establishing an operation that can lead to industrial development," said Patrick Aebischer, the president of EPFL.

Students from the Emirates also presented ideas for smart energy management. Hessa Ali Al Shehhi, an engineering student at UAE University, presented a design for breathing walls with concrete and large inner cavities for air to cool.

Salah Eldeen and Mohamed Abu Quta, from the American University of RAK, presented their Informative Digital Display System, text displays that could be used in hospitals or high-traffic areas to send alerts through text messaging.

Mr Vigliotti said the institute is in contact with UAE universities about further collaboration on projects.

"As the UAE is planning more and more emphasis on science and research and we are looking to integrate local technologies on a large scale in and around RAK, such opportunities will arise in a natural and straightforward way," he said.