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Renewable, Sustainable Energy a Focus in New Low Carbon City

Wed August 03, 2011 - Midwest Edition
Mary Reed

By Mary Reed


Masdar City is a “green” urbanization under construction near Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). A multi-billion dollar project, the focus is developing and utilizing renewable and sustainable energy.

While the UAE sits on 8 percent of the world’s known oil reserves and is among the globe’s largest oil exporters, it also ranks high on the international table for energy consumption and generation of waste.

Thus the Abu Dhabi government created the 7.2 million-sq.-ft. (6 million sq m) city to ensure the emirate remains at the center of an evolving global energy market, as well as to support the development and commercialization of renewable energy and clean technologies in the UAE and worldwide.

Located 10.5 mi. (17 km) from Abu Dhabi, Masdar City is among the five units of Abu Dhabi-based Masdar, an energy company using a holistic approach to production and sustainability. The company is one of the supporting pillars for Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030, a plan whose aim is to move the economy from one based on natural resources to one that is knowledge-based.

Created by the Abu Dhabi government as a highly strategic, long-term initiative, Masdar is a comprehensive and progressive company that covers the whole value chain of renewable energy and clean technology sector, due to a unique business structure. This spans education, research, and development through the Masdar Institute, investments in advanced new technologies with Masdar Capital, utility scale renewable energy generation through Masdar Power, reducing carbon emissions and advancing carbon capture technologies through Masdar Carbon, and providing a leading global platform for demonstrations, cooperation, and partnerships in a sustainable living environment that is Masdar City.

Masdar City will be constructed in phases through 2015 and will ultimately house 7,000 residents, as well as hosting an additional 15,000 commuters.

Phase 1 is expected to provide 1.1 million sq. ft. (1 million sq m) of floor area that includes space for commercial, residential, community and educational use.

This phase includes construction of:

• Masdar’s headquarters, which it will share with the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA);

• The Masdar Institute, a higher education campus;

• The Courtyard, the first commercial building in the city;

• Assorted commercial, retail, and residential developments; and

• Recreational facilities such as football fields, tennis courts, and a fitness centre.

A sharp reduction in the city’s carbon footprint will be reached by lessening consumption of energy and fossil fuels. Low carbon emission will be achieved by reducing consumption of such fuels by three quarters, waste by 400 percent and use of water by 300 percent.

The use of advanced technologies will mean the city will save more than $2 billion in energy costs and oil usage over the next quarter century.

Because the city is a pedestrian-focused entity, its transport will primarily be composed of electric buses with routes no more than 273 to 328 yds. (250 to 300 m) from residential areas. Thus, by and large, personal vehicles will not be needed to travel to work although car parks are located at the edge of the city.

The city has been designed with five levels, each featuring buildings, pedestrian traffic, service level, transport, and finally the main infrastructure for utilities. All necessary amenities and services will be completed in one neighborhood before the next is begun.

Construction on the $15 billion project began in February 2008 with a groundbreaking ceremony in which a virtual cornerstone was set in place by General Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi and deputy supreme commander of the UAE armed forces. The government, through Masdar, has committed substantial funds to the city, which will be built through a combination of Masdar and partner company investment.

Developed in cooperation with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology is the centerpiece of Masdar City, and several MIT faculty members provided consultation on different aspects of Masdar City’s development. The Institute offers graduate level courses, including degrees in materials science, engineering systems and management and information technology.

Six buildings on the Masdar Institute campus were the first in the city to be completed, residents moving in during the last quarter of 2010. The structures amply demonstrate the project’s vision of sustainability, using less than half of both potable water and cooling demands compared with average use in the emirate, while 20 to 30 percent of the Institute’s power is provided by their rooftop photovoltaic panels.

Water is naturally of prime concern and the master plan anticipates 80 percent of waste water will be recycled. Gray water from showers, etc., will be used for toilet flushing, irrigation and landscaping. The rest plus processed sewage and the resulting bio-solids will be used in waste-to-energy power generation facilities.

Waste-to-energy applications include not only incinerating waste to convert it to fuel but also controlled biodegrading and composting to produce biogas. Various types of waste will be collected via three dedicated chutes in city buildings. In this way, Masdar City also will dramatically reduce waste generation, with the ultimate goal of a 98 percent reduction in material sent to landfills.

The ultimate goal is to make Masdar City largely self-sustaining in energy production, and to this end needs will be met in great part by solar power systems within the city. A 54-acre (22 ha) 10 MW solar power plant — the largest in the Middle East — is already online, with its excess output transferred to the country’s national grid.

Power consumption will be reduced by the use of low-energy light, insulation, “smart” appliances, and similar provisions, and tests are under way on the use of solar thermal and geothermal energy to power air conditioners. Low power usage is assisted by elements taken from traditional city design such as the shading of windows, exterior walls and paths, narrow and thus shadowed streets, and small parks where water features are used to cool passing breezes. The urbanization’s northeast-southwest orientation also takes advantage of prevailing night winds by channeling them for cooling purposes.

Work on Phase I continues with the construction of the second phase of the Masdar Institute. At the same time, work is ongoing on the Courtyard Building, the first to be built in the city for commercial use, which will open in 2012.

Construction is under way on phase 1B of the Institute’s campus, adding 90,770 yds. (83,000 m), more than doubling the size of the current campus. It will add 221 residential apartments in three blocks and three laboratory buildings. A sport building and performance hall will have sporting facilities, a gym, and a large multi-use hall suitable for conferences, sporting events, and music and other cultural performances. This phase will incorporate energy piles‚ within the substructure that use the high water table as a heat sink during the day to assist in the air conditioning of residential apartments.

Construction of Masdar’s seven-story headquarters also is proceeding, with an expected completion date of 2013. Featuring an award-winning design by Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, it covers approximately 161,054 sq. yds. (134,662 sq m), including landscaped areas. It will boast a 70 percent reduction in water usage compared with the average in the emirate, and produce more than its own power needs via more than 15,400 photovoltaic panels, one of the largest roof-mounted panel assemblies in the world.

These three projects alone will increase the size of the city six-fold, enlarging it from 41,860 sq. yds. (35,000 sq m) of floor area last year to nearly 239,198 sq. yds. (200,000 sq m) in 2013.

A low-carbon, renewable energy-powered city, Masdar City is a community where cutting-edge cleantech research, pilot projects, building materials and technology testing, and construction of some of the world’s most sustainable buildings is currently ongoing. Inspired by the architecture and urban planning of traditional Arab cities, Masdar City incorporates narrow streets, the shading of windows, exterior walls and walkways, courtyards and wind towers, vegetation, and — fundamentally — a walkable, pedestrian-focused city. It not only reflects Abu Dhabi’s commitment to a sustainable future, but is pioneering best practices in sustainable urban planning, design, development, and operation.

(This story also can be found on Construction Equipment Guide’s Web site at CEG

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