Monday, May 18, 2009

ASIC gets briefing on the amazing Masdar City project

Abu Dhabi is one of the seven emirates and the second largest city in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on the Persian Gulf. Although it averages just 4.2 inches of rain annually, it’s in full blossom thanks to its robust oil production and progressive leaders. Its skyline bristles with new skyscrapers, its streets with retail shops (including some of the most exclusive shops in the world), and its boulevards and parks are awash in greenery and colorful gardens.

Abu Dhabi, with about 900,000 people, is building what it is describing as the world’s first carbon-neutral city. Masdar City is a $28-billion development on a 7-year fast track to become the home of 50,000 people within a decade, and to become “a net carbon waste city.”

The city will be the most visible manifestation of the larger Masdar Initiative, an ambitious program launched by Abu Dhabi in 2006 to become a leader in the development of alternative and sustainable energies.

Jared Thorpe of CH2M Hill, provided details of Masdar City to about 150 people during the recent American Society of Irrigation Consultants (ASIC) Conference in St. Augustine, FL. ASIC members, who design and consult on major irrigation projects, were understandably fascinated by Thorpe’s overview of this visionary, sustainable project in one of the driest regions on earth. As designed, the city will recycle 80% of the water it needs, including capturing the irrigation water in underground pipes after it is used to grow crops.

Thorpe, from New Zealand, has been in the United States since 2001. The firm he works for, CH2M Hill, based near Denver, offers global full-service engineer, consulting and construction services. The company Web site says that CH2M Hill employs about 25,000 and that it had revenues of $5.8 billion in 2007.

Most recently CH2M Hill has been working in the UAE on desalination, the main source of the region’s drinking water, which will also supply potable water for Masdar City. Desalination, of course, is a huge consumer of energy. This, and other major energy users, such as the actual construction of the city, will be offset by the city’s greenery and by the production of energy once the city is up and running.

“This will be a brand new city,” said Thorpe. ‘There will be no cars. Private cars will be parked at the perimeter of the city, and there will be light rail to the airport and neighboring cities.” Within the city, people will be whisked from one area to another in what look like pods or something from the movie Blade Runner, the city’s Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) system, which will have several hundred locations and stops. The PRT will run on solar cells and batteries.

Electricity for the city will be supplied mostly from photovoltaics with some contribution from wind turbines and a waste-to-energy system, which is under development. “This city is going to be a testing ground for photovoltaics,” said Thorpe. The city will also use geothermal and concentrated solar power to help supply its energy needs.

Thorpe said the key to ultimately making the city function as designed is the comprehensive “integrated resource system modeling” that is being used. This, of course, depends upon tying all of the project’s complex components together with the aid of an incredibly sophisticated information and technology system.

Thorpe said the Masdar Institute of Technology in partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) will be opening by the end of the year.

For more information on Masdar City, visit the Web site www.masdaruae or click on the headline above.

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