Masdar Institute Faculty Win National Research Foundation Grants to Advance UAE’s Innovation Goals

September 21, 2018

Abu Dhabi-UAE: 03 June, 2015 – The Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, an independent, research-driven graduate-level university focused on advanced energy and sustainable technologies, announced that two of its faculty members have received the University-Industry Research Collaboration Award (U-IRCA) from the National Research Foundation (NRF).

The one-year research grants of AED175,000 will support the advancement of UAE’s National Innovation Goals – specifically in the targeted areas of renewable energy, technology and water – and affirm the positive impact that industry-university research collaborations have on developing both the UAE’s commercial and knowledge-based economies.

The Masdar Institute faculty are Dr. TieJun (TJ) Zhang, Assistant Professor of Mechanical and Materials Engineering and Dr. Jorge Rodriguez, Assistant Professor, Chemical and Environmental Engineering, who were recently honored at the Grant Awarding Ceremonies, which were held under the patronage of His Excellency Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Higher Education & Scientific Research at the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research in Abu Dhabi.

Dr. Zhang’s grant supports innovative research aiming to increase the solar power generation efficiency of Shams 1 – the Middle East’s largest concentrating solar power (CSP) plant – which could lead to increased solar power utilization across the country. His project focuses on enhancing solar power production by improving the sunlight harnessing capabilities in harsh desert environments and optimizing the operation of key solar energy conversion processes.

Dr. Zhang’s research team includes Abdulaziz Al Obaidli, Senior Project Manager at Masdar Clean Energy, Alexander Higgo, Process Engineer at Shams Power Company and Masdar Institute MSc Alumnus, and Ali Al Masabai, PhD Student at Masdar Institute.

“It’s our great honor and mission to support the UAE’s solar industry and continue in meeting Abu Dhabi’s goal of producing 7% of its power from renewable energy,” Dr. Zhang said. “This NRF grant is not only a catalyst for university-industry collaboration, but it also supports the development of human capital for the UAE National Innovation Strategy’s priority sectors. I believe the new knowledge we are discovering together is beneficial to people in hot and arid regions all over the world.”

Shams 1 is located in the Western Region of Abu Dhabi and has the capacity to generate enough electricity to power 20,000 homes in the UAE.

Dr. Rodriguez’s grant supports the development of energy-efficient ways to treat Abu Dhabi’s wastewater in order to meet growing freshwater demands. Dr. Rodriguez will be partnering with VeBes O&M, an Operating and Maintenance Company of two wastewater treatment plants in Abu Dhabi. Two Masdar Institute students – Kulthoum Ismail and Félix Ayllón – are also involved with the project.

Dr. Rodriguez’s project aims to support the development of nitrogen removal from Abu Dhabi’s high temperature and saline wastewater while simultaneously reducing the carbon footprint and operational costs and improving effluent quality of Abu Dhabi’s wastewater treatment plants.

“Traditional methods of removing organic pollution and nitrogen from wastewater can account for between 30%-60% of operation costs of wastewater treatment plants. We are seeking to enhance operational modes in order to treat wastewater in a less energy-intensive way, so that Abu Dhabi can use a greater proportion of treated wastewater to fulfill its freshwater needs, without draining its energy,” Dr. Rodriguez said.

As one of the world’s largest energy consumers with severely limited freshwater, the UAE is seeking innovative solutions to lower its dependency on hydrocarbons while increasing its supply of clean energy and freshwater in a sustainable way. These Masdar Institute faculty-led research projects awarded by the U-IRCA could help the UAE develop such crucial solutions.

Establishing partnerships between regional industries and universities is a key criterion for winning the U-IRCA, and is clearly demonstrated by Dr. Zhang’s and Dr. Rodriguez’s projects. Both projects help establish relationships between Masdar Institute and industry partners, bringing mutual benefits to all parties – they provide Masdar Institute’s students with real-world industrial research problems and deliver innovative and valuable solutions to Shams 1 and VeBes O&M.

The National Research Foundation (NRF) was established in 2008 to provide research leadership and funding support on a competitive basis to researchers in the UAE, in order to contribute the development of the UAE’s knowledge economy.