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Partnering to achieve the UAE’s vision of an innovative future

Achieving such a far-reaching transformation cannot be done quickly or by one party alone for it requires collaborative participation across the key sectors that drive its social, economic and academic growth. Public-private partnerships are a key element of the UAE innovation strategy as they can play a critical role in achieving our mutual benefits, with private institutions or entities working together with government and semi-government organizations to pursue shared goals. Masdar Institute is pleased to be leading in some of these key collaborations, partnering with local government and industry to help solve problems and achieve results.

With renewable energy and sustainability part of Masdar Institute’s very fabric, it is probably no surprise that many of our collaborations are linked to energy. But what may surprise some is how closely we work with the UAE’s other priority economic sectors. That is because we recognize them to be partners in the UAE’s transformation; they are the pillars that have and will carry the weight of the UAE economy and should be helped to transition to the country’s next phase of growth.

The UAE’s oil and gas sector is focused on optimizing the extraction and utilization of the precious resources that have brought the UAE great prosperity and so Masdar Institute is working with the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc), Total and the Petroleum Institute to map the complex behavior of the region’s carbonate reserves with a view to maximizing oil recovery. The ‘Digital Rock Physics’ (DRP) project pools our technical resources and expertise, alongside that of the Petroleum Institute, to produce an extensive archive of rock images in microscopic detail, as well as to digitally simulate and test the behavior of oil and gas reservoirs. Masdar Institute’s state-of-the-art microscopy facility is examining local rock samples at the nano-scale to generate 3D images of the pore network and pore morphology of typical Abu Dhabi reservoir rock cores.

The metal industry was one of the critical sectors targeted in the Abu Dhabi Vision 2030 and aluminum in particular is one of the Gulf region’s hottest industries, with investment tipped to reach US$55 billion in 2020. Aluminum is also a feedstock of two of the sectors targeted in the UAE Innovation Strategy — transport and space — and the UAE aluminum manufacturing sector has a significant effect on energy as one of the country’s largest consumers of electricity. To secure a continuing competitive edge, Abu Dhabi’s aluminum giant —Emirates Aluminum Company (EMAL), now part of Emirate Global Aluminum (EGA), sought the expertise of Masdar Institute’s mechanical and materials engineering faculty. The results of this collaboration can help Emal reduce its energy consumption and thus improve operational cost while supporting preservation of the UAE’s natural gas resources. The results of the project can be applied to fine-tuning of existing Emal plants and in the design of new plants. This kind of collaboration benefits Abu Dhabi by helping improve the competitiveness of its industrial entities.

Another research area that is critical to Abu Dhabi’s strategic ambitions relates to water. It is estimated that desalination technology – which converts seawater to freshwater – produces about 40% of the UAE’s water supply. As part of Masdar’s broader renewable energy water desalination program, Masdar Institute is currently working with a number of international companies to develop and improve renewable energy-powered desalination technology, so that renewable resources, particularly solar, can be used to turn seawater into freshwater.

With collaborations like these, Masdar Institute is offering the best of its minds and facilities to help solve some of the UAE’s most pressing needs — whether they are that of an individual manufacturer or a government agency. With the UAE Innovation Strategy moving UAE government entities to increasingly dedicate resources to research and innovation projects, we are confident more research collaborations will be in the offing in 2015, helping draw the UAE closer to its ambitious but critical national development goals, and making the UAE brighter for us all.

Dr. Steve Griffiths is the Executive Director of the Office of Institute Initiatives at Masdar Institute of Science and Technology in Abu Dhabi.

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