28 OCT 2018

The challenges of water scarcity

Water scarcity is a global challenge with rapid population growth around the world placing extreme pressure on finite water resources.

The United Nations (UN) forecasts the world’s population to increase from 7 billion today to 9.7 billion by 2050 leading to a 55% increase in the demand for water. As a result more than 40% of people will be living in areas of severe water stress – defined as when demand for water regularly exceeds supply.

To feed a growing population, food supply must rise by 60% across the globe, meaning agriculture, which already uses 70% of all water taken from rivers and groundwater for livestock to drink and irrigate crops, will need an even bigger share of the world’s water supply.
 
The strain on a diminishing water supply will be felt most acutely in cities as rapid urbanisation continues unabated. Cape Town in South Africa is already experiencing severe water usage restrictions after narrowly avoiding running completely out of water earlier this year following a prolonged period of drought. 
 
Cyril Ramaphosa, speaking before he became South Africa’s president, said the city faced “real, total disaster”. It was the world’s first metropolis to face such a fate.
The UN expects 66% of the global population to be living in cities by 2050 and this increase from the current 55% could cause major disruption if suitable water technologies are not in place to serve demand.
 
Here in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) - one of the most arid parts of the world with little rainfall - groundwater levels are low and in steady decline. For the UAE and about 150 other counties on the coastline with minimal rainfall and little freshwater, there is currently little choice but to rely on desalination technology.
 
Desalination is already widely used, with more than 300 million people relying on desalinated water for some or all their daily needs, according to the International Desalination Association.
 
Desalination has been vital for the UAE’s rapid growth and development with the country getting 96% of its domestic water through this method.  
 
Two of the big disadvantages of desalination technology are closely linked to each other – firstly, desalination is energy intensive, and secondly these energy needs have historically been met by fossil fuels. In the UAE, seawater desalination needs about 10 times more energy than surface, freshwater production. 
 
In the Gulf region alone, desalination plants account for 0.2% of the entire world’s electricity consumption. However, these challenges are now being addressed and desalination technology is expected to play a key role in serving growing demand for fresh water. 
 
Energy accounts for around 70% of the cost of desalination. By reducing energy intensity and running desalination plants on renewable energy, operators could both reduce their operating costs and minimise their carbon footprint. 
 
In the UAE, Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company (Masdar) - has piloted five energy-efficient seawater desalination projects at a testing facility at Ghantoot. The long-term goal is to implement renewable energy-powered desalination plants in the country, as well as the wider region, and to have a commercial scale facility operating by 2020. Once rolled out, this project is likely to have implications well beyond the Middle East. 
 
Desalination technology has played a key role in helping the UAE and other countries in water scarce regions grow their cities and industries. Over the next decades, it will also be vital in helping emerging economies develop, although how these countries power their plants will be different. 
 
Desalination, when combined with renewable energy and potentially energy storage, will significantly improve the economic viability of processing sea water and make it more environmentally sustainable. This will play a critical role in responding to the growing global challenge of water scarcity.  
 
Of course, diversifying supplies of water and reducing energy demand from water production, is only part of the solution to water scarcity. Making better use of water – such as re-using wastewater for irrigating crops (after it has been filtered), or for industry (for heating and cooling), is another challenge.
 
Re-using wastewater is now common. Recent advances in technology and purification methods mean that it could have a bigger role in alleviating water scarcity.
 
Finding solutions to water scarcity will require governments to work closely with business. Companies are increasingly concerned about the shortage of water because it could increase the cost of producing their products and services and increase their energy costs. Over the coming decades, access to a reliable and clean supply of water could become as important to companies as access to skilled labour, capital and technology.
 
Cape Town narrowly avoided Day Zero this year when the taps to the city finally ran dry. Lasting solutions need to be developed and implemented before scores of other cities around the world face a similar crisis.

By Khaled Abdulla Al Qubaisi / CEO Aerospace, Renewables and ICT for Mubadala

27 NOV 2018

The future of cooling Abu Dhabi

At the heart of Abu Dhabi’s sustainability efforts is how to efficiently provide the Emirate’s cooling. With temperatures staying above 30 degrees Celsius for nearly nine months of the year, there is huge demand for cooling for providing refrigerated transport for food and medicines, ensuring cool water supplies for residents and workers, and the need to keep buildings and data centres cool. In fact, almost 70% of Abu Dhabi’s electricity consumption is accounted for by air conditioning alone.

In line with Abu Dhabi’s sustainability ambitions to tackle climate change and reduce polluting emissions, there is an increasing demand to provide this cooling cleanly. As London-based experts in clean cold, we are proud of our groundbreaking innovations based on our zero-emission, liquid nitrogen technology, and we look forward to contributing to the UAE’s significant expertise on clean energy.

At Dearman, we have successfully shown what our technology can achieve, and that is why leading sustainability-conscious food manufacturers and the largest fleet operators in the world are coming to us. Given that 80% of the UAE’s food is imported through global logistics chains, we know we can be part of the country’s more sustainable future.

In food logistics, large delivery trucks typically have two diesel engines - the main engine to propel the vehicle, and a second engine to power the refrigeration and keep the food cold while in transit. The second diesel engine can be significantly more polluting, emitting six times as much nitrogen oxide and 29 times as much particulate matter as the main engine. This has significant impacts for public health and subsequently for healthcare costs.

In stark contrast to dirty diesels, the revolutionary Dearman engine is zero emission. It emits zero nitrogen oxides and zero particulate matter. Crucially for Abu Dhabi and its refrigerated delivery trucks, the extremely low temperatures of liquid nitrogen (going down to -196 degrees Celsius while in the tank), mean that the same tank of liquid nitrogen, while powering the refrigeration, also provides the cooling needed to keep food cold.

Similarly, the Dearman engine also has huge potential for use in electric buses. Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week 2018 was notable not least because the all-electric Eco-Bus was unveiled, running up to 150km on a full battery charge. In hot climates, 40% of an electric bus’s energy demand is consumed by the air-conditioning alone. The cooling derived from a Dearman system means the range the bus can travel is increased, without needing to increase battery capacity. In fact, with a Dearman system, the battery pack itself could also be smaller, cheaper and lighter.

In short, as shown by the refrigerated delivery and bus air-conditioning examples, our technology has enormous potential in Abu Dhabi given the Emirate’s huge demand for cooling all year round. There is ample supply of liquid nitrogen globally to supply thousands of zero emission Dearman engines - which helps the affordability of our technology.

Our refrigeration unit has already been used in delivery trucks by global consumer goods giant Unilever and British retail giants Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer. We are also currently running projects looking at using our technology to cool data centres, and help farmers reduce post-harvest food loss.

The UAE’s population is forecast to grow from 8.5 million in 2015 to 10.5 million in 2030, and naturally this will mean a growing demand for cold, whether in air conditioning, transport refrigeration, public transport, data centres, or elsewhere. The challenge will be providing this cooling in a clean way that is affordable, efficient and non-polluting. But the scale of ambition behind Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week shows a clear intent to meet that challenge head on - and we at Dearman would be proud to join you in delivering that ambition.

By Scott MacMeekin / CEO, Dearman Engine Company

27 NOV 2018

Sustainability on Earth depends on our exploration of space

Today, the world faces mounting environmental challenges. With rising sea levels, increasing ocean temperatures, desertification and resource shortages, our planet faces distinct and unprecedented threats. Now, more than ever, we must use all means at our disposal to develop cutting-edge sustainability practices on Earth as well as enhancing existing ones.

Some may wonder why a space agency, which focuses on furthering human knowledge of the universe, is concerning itself with environmental protection. Yet I would say that each and every one of us has a role to play in ensuring the future of our planet. Entire sectors, some of which are seemingly unrelated to sustainability and environmental protection, can in fact provide global solutions. I have no doubt that space is one such sector.

So, how can space science, dedicated to the study of the stars and the exploration of what lies beyond our fragile atmosphere, lead this planet’s efforts at self-preservation? One of the biggest differences we can make — whether on an individual or a global scale — is to improve efficiency in the way we use resources. By reducing the amount we consume, we decrease both our net waste and emissions. Here, we have already learned a great deal from space exploration, which requires highly efficient processes as a result of strict weight limits applied during launches.

Water preservation and recycling techniques have brought much-needed benefits to at-risk communities around the world. For example, the University of Kenitra in Morocco is applying techniques to filter and purify nearby groundwater supplies that were initially developed for recycling wastewater into drinking water for astronauts. Providing water for some 1,200 students, this reduces the need for transporting drinking water, bringing the added benefit of lower carbon emissions from the logistics sector.

This example highlights the clear imperative to develop innovative technologies for water efficiency and conservation, especially with estimates that two-thirds of the world’s population will experience water shortages by 2025. It also highlights the extent to which all of our actions are connected. When taken together, small-scale local projects around the world have a global impact on reducing emissions and waste.

This convergence of activities across different industries is an important area of attention. Through its far-reaching impact, the space sector operates at the intersection of other key industries related to sustainability — from renewable energy and oil and gas to logistics and construction.

As such, I’m pleased to see space added as a pillar of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week. While the sector has already benefited environmental and sustainability efforts, there is always more that can be done. For example, the construction industry could adopt a range of new materials and technologies in order to reduce power demands in buildings, from self-illuminating materials to voltage controllers.

Locally, the UAE Space Agency, along with our close partners throughout the national space sector, have implemented a range of projects that will similarly bolster environmental efforts and sustainable practices, both in the UAE and abroad.

Firstly, the landmark Mars Scientific City announced by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum has the primary objective of replicating conditions on Mars in order for us to develop technologies and techniques for surviving the inhospitable environment of our neighbouring planet. In doing so, we will produce tangible and practical solutions for some of our most pressing challenges, including sustainable water supplies, hyper-efficient recycling of resources and enhanced renewable energy production systems. Once launched in 2020, I am sure that the research and development set to take place at Mars Scientific City will bring tremendous benefits to humanity.

In the near term, the MeznSat project is currently being designed and developed by local undergraduate students at Khalifa University for Science and Technology and the American University of Ras Al Khaimah. The 3U CubeSat will collect data about carbon dioxide and methane levels above the UAE. This valuable data will then provide insights into the concentration of nutrients in the Arabian Gulf’s coastal waters. Among other applications, MeznSat will allow us to predict harmful algal blooms that can negatively impact on ocean ecology and enable us to implement precautionary measures to address them.

Pioneering projects such as these are providing students and early career professionals with tangible opportunities throughout the space sector — ones that will bring potential for significant and global benefit surrounding environmental protection and sustainable practices.

The Mars Hope Probe, which will enter the Martian orbit in 2021, represents the first Arab and Islamic interplanetary mission. Not only is this a truly inspirational project for our youth, it will also deliver on the environmental agenda. Vast amounts of environmental data gathered during the Hope Probe’s mission will allow us to get a better understanding of the Red Planet’s climate and, in the process, that of our own.

The range of scholarships and agreements with universities that we have put in place serve to facilitate our vision of using space to bolster sustainable activity on Earth. Indeed, with more awareness than ever about the environmental implications of our actions, engaging the upcoming generation and facilitating their entry to the sector and industry is one of the surest ways to achieve this.

Our future on Earth depends on our joint cooperation, and that is why I am proud that the UAE Space Agency can take learnings from the distant cosmos and faraway planets, and reapply them to those of us here on Earth. I firmly believe that the space sector is uniquely positioned to lead the development of sustainable technologies and to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

By H.E. Dr Ahmad Belhoul Al Falasi / Minister of State for Higher Education and Advanced Skills, Chairman of the UAE Space Agency

27 NOV 2018

Three words to address the world

Just over five years ago I was working in the music events industry. It was my job to make sure that bands, equipment and guests all ended up in the right place, but that turned out to be far more difficult than I expected. With musicians getting lost all over the English countryside, I realised street addresses just weren’t reliable enough, and latitude and longitude coordinates were too long and easy to mistake. There had to be a better way.

I sat down with a couple of friends to tackle this problem, and what3words was born. We divided the entire world into 3m x 3m squares, and gave each square a unique 3 word address. recoil.itself.electrics for example, identifies the exact front entrance of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. We had a created a location reference solution that was very, very precise but also simple, and easy to remember, use and share with others. I had solved my problem of directing musicians to festival fields, but soon realised that 3 word addresses could have a far greater impact on the world. Four billion people don’t have a reliable address for where they live. They struggle to stake a property claim, register births, open a bank account, access health services, run a business or be found in an emergency. It hampers the growth and progress of nations and puts lives at risk. And even in the best-addressed parts of the world, street addresses aren’t accurate enough for services such as on-demand delivery, and certainly not for a future of autonomous vehicles and delivery drones.

what3words offers people a really simple way to talk about location. It can currently be used in 26 languages, including Arabic, and is optimised for speech recognition. The technology is used by businesses, governments and NGOs to operate more efficiently, and by individuals to find and share places reliably using the free app for iOS or Android.

Our system is being used by humanitarian organisations and NGOs around the world to give people access to essential services. In rural India, for example Pollinate Energy use 3 word addresses to deliver solar lanterns to communities without electricity, and in Mongolia and Liberia, people can now access microfinance for the first time thanks to having an address to give on their application form.

In South Africa, NGO Gateway Health provides vulnerable pregnant women with their 3 word address, and has trained the local ambulance drivers to find places quickly in an emergency using what3words. The technology has also been used by the UN, Infinitum Humanitarian Systems and the Philippine Red Cross for faster and more effective response in the aftermath of natural disasters.

As well as enabling access to basic services, what3words is working with innovative companies to build the cities, transport systems and mobility solutions of the future. Mercedes-Benz already offers what3words voice navigation in several of its vehicles, enabling drivers to input any precise destination simply by saying three words to their car. The technology has also been integrated into autonomous shuttles such as IBM’s #AccessibleOlli and modular vehicles created by Next Future Transportation in Dubai.

As we move towards increasingly fluid and flexible transport systems and the sharing economy grows in importance, being able easily to communicate precise location is essential. what3words has been built into ride-hailing apps such as Cabify, a key player in Spanish and Portuguese markets, and can be used to locate charging points for electric vehicles, as well as specific parking spots for car-sharing projects. By making these new mobility services efficient and easy to use, we can cut carbon emissions and enjoy cleaner, healthier cities.

By Chris Sheldrick / Chris Sheldrick, CEO and co-founder of what3words