Researching Tomorrow’s Critical Solutions Today

Fred Moavenzadeh

When Masdar City was announced as a dedicated clean-tech freezone and host of the sustainability engineering-focused Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, it was heralded as the City of the Future. But to many, it seemed like a distant future. A city based on clean energy, green construction, low-carbon transportation and smart systems existed in the realm of flying cars, not in the immediate.

But in just a few years, as the impacts of global climate change became more obvious, peak oil drew closer, and the global recession changed the status quo in many economies, it became widely recognized that the technologies and innovations at the core of Masdar City were not a mere novelty. They are a necessity.

Today, we know the research being undertaken at Masdar Institute to make human habitation more sustainable on our planet and more efficient with our limited resources is critical to maintaining prosperity, security, human health and happiness. These are not needs for a vague distant future, but for our imminent tomorrow.

To meet these needs, our faculty and students are looking at every aspect of our modern world. Solutions must be holistic in order for them to be successful. It is not enough to install solar cells and wind turbines. We need to develop the smart grid that transports the energy between end user and producer, the low-power gadgets that will allow our energy to go further, the apps and tools that will motivate us to adopt energy saving practices, and more.

For a transportation system that is not reliant on fuel that is both finite and subject to wild price fluctuations, the institute is researching sustainable alternatives to petrol and diesel. Electricity and hydrogen powered cars are expected to play an important role in meeting our transportation needs. To that end we are looking to develop the technology and systems that are needed to make these renewable energy fuelled vehicles an effective option. We are researching not only energy storage within the vehicle but also the entire energy distribution network.

It is our hope that our ‘futuristic experiment’ in the sands of Abu Dhabi will contribute some of the technologies, systems and expertise needed for a better tomorrow and sustainable future.

There is also a continuing environmental cost for every structure we build: in how much material it took to build it, how much energy it needs to run, how much water it consumes, and how environmentally harmful its components and functions are. We are working to mitigate those impacts with our newly launched Sustainable Critical Infrastructure Program. The research that is undertaken through this program will reduce the ecological footprint and impact of everything from transportation networks and buildings to energy generation and distribution systems, and everything else that is part of urban development.

With these areas of research and others, Masdar Institute is working hard to provide the solutions needed to meet society’s growing needs in the face of shrinking resources. It is our hope that our ‘futuristic experiment’ in the sands of Abu Dhabi will contribute some of the technologies, systems and expertise needed for a better tomorrow and sustainable future.

Fred Moavenzadeh is the President of the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology and the James Mason Crafts Professor of Engineering Systems on Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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