Energy Research: Qatar Foundation Annual Research Forum 2011

Energy Research: Qatar Foundation Annual Research Forum 2011
Reported by
Peter Fairley

Posted February 15, 2012

Presented By


The Qatar Foundation Annual Research Forum convened for the second time from November 20 – 22, 2011, in Doha, to discuss progress and challenges in transforming Qatar from a resource-based to a knowledge-based economy and in creating a more sustainable future. The Foundation recruited eminent scientists and leaders from Qatar and around the world to share their insights on how to build a robust R&D infrastructure, encourage regional and worldwide collaborations, and foster entrepreneurship in Qatar. In addition, one day was devoted to a series of research presentations in five areas: energy, environmental, biomedical, computing, and arts and humanities research.

This eBriefing looks at the research presented in the energy track, which focused both on fossil fuel and renewable energy research. A panel of distinguished experts in energy research challenged the presenters to consider new ways of thinking about their experimental designs and their results. In addition a special workshop focused on energy efficiency in buildings. Buildings consume an enormous amount of energy and the rapid development in Qatar has driven a massive increase in energy demand.

Use the tabs above to find a meeting report and multimedia from the Annual Research Forum Energy track.

Presentations available from: Workshop 7 — Energy in Buildings
Mariam Al-Ali, PhD (Qatar University)
Fahhad Alharbi, PhD (QEERI)
Saad Aljandal, PhD (Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research)
Alex Amato (Qatar Green Building Council)
John Bryant, PhD (Texas A&M University in Qatar)
Walid Chakroun, PhD (Kuwait University)
Abdul Sattar Al Taie, PhD (Qatar National Research Fund)
Holley Chant (KEO International Consultants)
Eyad Masad, PhD (Texas A&M University in Qatar)
Yasir Mohieldeen, PhD (QEERI)
Rabi Mohtar, PhD (QEERI)

A report and multimedia presentations from the forum-wide sessions can be found in the Building a Knowledge-based Economy in Qatar eBriefing.

Reports on the individual research tracks can be found at:
Arts, Humanities, Social Sciences and Islamic Studies Research eBriefing
Biomedical Research eBriefing
Computing Research eBriefing
Environmental Research eBriefing

For speaker abstracts, download the Annual Research Forum Proceedings here.
For speaker biographies, download the Annual Research Forum Program book here.

Presented by

  • Qatar Foundation

Distinguished Research Award Sponsors

  • ExxonMobil
  • Total
  • Shell

Other Sponsors

  • Chevron
  • Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar

Scientific Publication Partner

  • Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Journals

Workshop 7: Panel Discussion

Panelists: Fahhad Alharbi, QEERI (cochair and moderator); Yasir Mohieldeen, QEERI (cochair); Rabi Mohtar, QEERI (cochair and moderator); Mariam Al-Ali, Qatar University; Saad Aljandal, Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research; Alex Amato, Qatar Green Building Council; John Bryant, Texas A&M University in Qatar; Walid Chakroun, Kuwait University; Abdul Sattar Al Taie, Qatar National Research Fund; Holley Chant, KEO International Consultants; Eyad Masad, Texas A&M University in Qatar
  • 00:01
    1. Introduction
  • 00:45
    2. What is the importance of energy and buildings?
  • 08:50
    3. How energy conservation in extreme heat is affecting the country
  • 11:05
    4. Challenges and problems affecting the region
  • 13:13
    5. The energy code of practice R&D
  • 15:35
    6. Sustaining the cost of fuel to cool buildings in small countries
  • 18:10
    7. Texas A&M study on how to cool buildings
  • 23:13
    8. The effect of occupancy on building performance
  • 28:40
    9. How to mitigate energy; Such consumption in the future
  • 37:30
    10. Ecochicks; Sustainability at home
  • 43:50
    11. Requirements for materials in Qatar
  • 47:20
    12. Recycling building material in Qatar
  • 50:40
    13. CO2 control and agreement
  • 56:25
    14. Decoupling thermo and ventilation requirements
  • 60:44
    15. The effect of economic factors
  • 62:30
    16. Alternative refrigerants
  • 66:04
    17. Elimination of petroleum entitlement
  • 74:45
    18. The use of smart technology
  • 77:45
    19. Will GCC standard conserve energy in Qatar?
  • 79:02
    20. Is there a plan to rehabilitate old dirt buildings?
  • 84:35
    21. Plans on cooling building

Fossil Fuels Part 1

Journal Articles

Botes FG. Proposal of a new product characterization model for the iron-based low-temperature Fischer–Tropsch synthesis. Energy & Fuels 2007;21(3):1379-1389.

Elbashir NO, Bukur DB, Durham E, Roberts CB. Advancement of Fischer-Tropsch synthesis via utilization of supercritical fluid reaction media. AIChE Journal 2010;56(4):997-1015.

Elmalik E, Tora E, El-Halwagi MM, Elbashir NO. Solvent selection for commercial supercritical Fischer-Tropsch synthesis process. Fuel Processing Technology 2011;92(8):1525-1530.

Kopyscinski J, Schildhauer T, Biollaz SMA. Production of synthetic natural gas (SNG) from coal and dry biomass—a technology review from 1950 to 2009. Fuel 2010;89(8):1763-1783.

Mogalicherla A, Elbashir N. Development of a kinetic model for supercritical fluids Fischer-Tropsch synthesis. Energy & Fuels 2011;25(3):878-889.

Perego C, Bortolo R, Zennaro R. Gas to liquids technologies for natural gas reserves valorization: The Eni experience. Catalysis Today 2009;142(15):9-16.

Yang J, Liu Y, Chang J, Wang Y, Bai L, Xu Y, Xiang H, Li Y, Zhong B. Detailed kinetics of Fischer-Tropsch synthesis on an industrial Fe-Mn catalyst. Ind. Eng. Chem. Res. 2003;42:5066-5090.

Fossil fuels, Part 2

Journal Articles

Alsharshani A, Mosbach T, Gebel GC, et al. Investigation of GTL-like jet fuel composition on GT engine altitude ignition and combustion performance. Part I: Combustor operability. Proc. ASME Turbo Expo June 2011;GT2011-45487.

Altman RL. Critical Issues in Aviation and the Environment 2011. Transportation Research E-Circular 2011;3:36-45.

Blakey S, Rye L, Wilson CW. Aviation gas turbine alternative fuels: A review. Proceedings of the Combustion Institute 2011;33(2):2863-2885.

Forman GS, Hahn TE, Jensen SD. Greenhouse gas emission evaluation of the GTL pathway. Environmental Science & Technology 2011;45(20):9084-9092.

Mosbach T, Gebel G, Le Clercq P, et al. Investigation of GTL-like jet fuel composition on GT engine altitude ignition and combustion performance Part II: Detailed Diagnostics. Proc. ASME Turbo Expo 2011 June 2011;GT2011-45510.

Stratton RW, Wong HM, Hileman JI. Quantifying variability in life cycle greenhouse gas inventories of alternative middle distillate transportation fuels. Environmental Science & Technology 2011;45(10):4637–4644.

Renewable Energy Research, Part 1


Qatar National Food Security Programme, Office of the Heir Apparent, Qatar
The QNFSP's mission is to develop a comprehensive and sustainable long term solution to the challenges that the State of Qatar faces with regards to its Food Security. The programme will implement the usage of solar energy to desalinate seawater, which will then be used for its agricultural production. It will also develop Research & Development centres, educational facilities, and introduce sound technologies that will enable Qatar to diversify its economy while preserving its natural resources to ultimately achieve Food Security.

Journal Articles

Connolly D, Lund H, Mathiesen BV, Leahy M. A review of computer tools for analysing the integration of renewable energy into various energy systems. Applied Energy 2010;87(4):1059-1082.

Eltawil MA, Zhao Z. Grid-connected photovoltaic power systems: Technical and potential problems—A review. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 2010;14(1):112-129.

Green MA, Ho-Bailli A. Forty three per cent composite split-spectrum concentrator solar cell ef?ciency. Prog. Photovolt: Res. Appl. 2010;18(1):42–47.

Mohtar RH. An integrated sustainability index for effective water policy. In: Water Security: The Water-Energy-Food-Climate Nexus. Washington, DC, Island Press. 2011.

Nozik AJ. Nanoscience and nanostructures for photovoltaics and solar fuels. Nano Letters 2010;10(8):2735-2741.

Rockett AA. The future of energy: photovoltaics. Current Opinion in Solid State and Materials Science 2010;14(6):117-122.

Renewable Energy Research Part 2


COoperative COntent DIstribution (COCODI)
COCODI presents a Qatar Foundation-funded research project intending to design, optimize, implement, and test content distribution strategies for wireless networks with mobile-to-mobile cooperation.

Journal Articles & Books

Ajdari A, Nayeb-Hashemi H, Vaziri A. Dynamic crushing and energy absorption of regular, irregular and functionally graded cellular structures. Int. J. Solids Struct. 2010;48(3-4):506-516.

Bell LE. Cooling, heating, generating power, and recovering waste heat with thermoelectric systems. Science 2008;321(5895):1457-1461.

Elsayed EA, Basily BB. Technology for continuous folding of sheet materials into a honeycomb-like configuration. US Patent 7,758,487. July 2010.

Galanis N, Cayer E, Roy P, et al. Electricity generation from low temperature sources. Journal of Applied Fluid Mechanics 2009;2(2):55-67.

Gibson LJ, Ashby MF. Cellular Solids: Structure and Properties, 2nd ed. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press. 1997.

Xiong J, Wu L, Ma L, Wang B, Vaziri A. Fabrication and crushing behavior of low density carbon fiber composite pyramidal truss structures. Compos. Struct. 2010;92:2695–2702.

Energy in Buildings


Msheireb Properties
Msheireb Properties is a subsidiary of Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development and was set up in April 2007. It is responsible for the Heart of Doha urban revival project.

Qatar Sustainability Assessment System
Qatar Sustainability Assessment System: The primary objective of QSAS is to create a sustainable built environment that minimizes ecological impact while addressing the specific regional needs and environment of Qatar.

Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute (QEERI)
Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute (QEERI) aims to mitigate climate change and contaminants harmful to the environment as well as contaminants affecting humans. QEERI's environmental work focuses on Qatar's desert and marine ecologies, plant and animal life and air quality.

Journal Articles & Books

Eichholtz P, Kok N, Quigley JM. Doing well by doing good? Green office buildings. American Economic Review 2010;100(6):2494-2511.

Hanna, GB. Energy efficient residential building code for Arab countries. Proceedings of the Tenth International Conference for Enhanced Building Operations. October 2010: Energy Systems Laboratory, TAMU.

Kok N, McGraw M, Quigley JM. The diffusion of energy efficiency in building. American Economic Review 2011;101(3):77-82.

Sozer H, Clark RJ, Elnimeiri M. Applying traditional architectural rules for energy efficiency and lateral structural stiffness to an 80 story tower. Energy 2011;36(8):4761-4768.

Kalra N et al. Recommended research priorities for the Qatar Foundation's Environment and Energy Research Institute. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2011.

Reiche D. Energy policies of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries—possibilities and limitations of ecological modernization in rentier states. Energy Policy 2010;38(5):2395-2403.



Mohammed Bin Saleh Al-Sada, PhD

Minister of Energy and Industry, Qatar

Energy Research Panelists

Lynn Gladden, PhD

University of Cambridge
e-mail | website

Raymond Lee Orbach, PhD

University of Texas at Austin (Chair)
e-mail | website

Philippe Tanguy, PhD

Total S.A.

Omar Yaghi, PhD

University of California, Los Angeles
e-mail | website

Energy in Buildings Panelists

Rabi Mohtar, PhD

Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute

Fahhad Alharbi, PhD

Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute

Yasir Mohieldeen, PhD

Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute

Mariam Al-Ali, PhD

Qatar University

Abdul Sattar Al Taie, PhD

Qatar National Research Fund

Saad Aljandal, PhD

Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research

Alex Amato

Qatar Green Building Council

John Bryant, PhD

Texas A&M University in Qatar
e-mail | website

Walid Chakroun, PhD

Kuwait University
e-mail | website

Holley Chant

KEO International Consultants

Eyad Masad, PhD

Texas A&M University in Qatar
e-mail | website


Narendra Kumar Agnihotra, PhD


Ali Alsharshani

Qatar Shell Research and Technology Centre

Abdelwahab Aroussi, PhD

Qatar University Gas Processing Centre
e-mail | website

Dragomir Bukur, PhD

Texas A&M University at Qatar
e-mail | website

Nimir Elbashir, PhD

Texas A&M University at Qatar
e-mail | website

Elsayed Elsayed, PhD

Rutgers University
e-mail | website

Manal Sami Farah

Total E&P Qatar

Abdel Magid Hamouda, PhD

Qatar University
e-mail | website

Wajih Idriss

Qatar National Food Security Programme

Thomas Mosbach

DLR German Aerospace Center

Mirko Stijepovic

Texas A&M University at Qatar

Elias Yaacoub, PhD

Qatar University Wireless Innovations Center

Student Speakers

Ahmad Abushaikha

Imperial College

Mohammed Rashid Alathba

Texas A&M University at Qatar

Mustafa Badieh Al-Waily

Texas A&M University at Qatar

Mariam Jassim

Qatar University

Peter Fairley

Peter Fairley is one of North America's foremost energy and technology journalists, following the energy story from the coalfields of Inner Mongolia to the powerless villages of Bolivia's Cordillera Real. As an author and contributor to MIT's Technology Review magazine, Spectrum, Discover, and other publications, he is a frequent commentator on innovation and the environment. Before taking up independent writing Peter served as Washington Bureau Chief for Chemical Week, chronicling the global chemical industry's collision with the environment. Peter has been a guest of NPR's Talk of the Nation and CBC Newsworld and has spoken on energy innovation to university, professional, and business organizations. He holds a Masters in science, health, and environmental reporting from New York University, a BS in molecular biology from McGill, and serves as an elected director of the Society of Environmental Journalists.


Presented by

  • Qatar Foundation

Distinguished Research Award Sponsors

  • ExxonMobil
  • Total
  • Shell

Other Sponsors

  • Chevron
  • Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar

Scientific Publication Partner

  • Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Journals

Ali Al-Sharshani, Qatar Shell Research and Technology Centre
Elsayed Elsayed, PhD, Rutgers University
Manal Sami Farah, Total E&P Qatar
Thomas Mosbach, DLR German Aerospace Center

Student speakers:
Ahmad Abushaikha, Imperial College
Mohammed Rashid Alathba, Texas A&M University at Qatar
Mustafa Badieh Al-Waily, Texas A&M University at Qatar


  • The international standard that regulates the use of synthetic jet fuels may be overly conservative. Although fuels containing synthetic paraffinic kerosenes produced from natural gas do not conform to the ASTM Standard D7566, they nevertheless appear to perform well in jet engines.
  • A metallocene catalyst modified at Total E&P Qatar can produce four times as much polypropylene as the unmodified catalyst.

Cleaner jet-engine fuel

Two of Elbashir's collaborators gave presentations on the performance of FT-derived paraffinic kerosenes in jet engines.

Thomas Mosbach, of the DLR German Aerospace Center's Institute of Combustion Technology in Stuttgart, evaluated the combustion profiles of two FT-derived fuels—differing in their carbon-chain-length distributions and ratios of normal-, iso-, and cyclo-paraffins—and of three different blends of those fuels. These experiments took place at the Rolls-Royce jet engine testing facility in Derby, UK, under conditions simulating flight altitudes of 25,000–30,000 feet. High-speed imaging of chemiluminescence from hydroxyl and methylidyne radicals provided a qualitative measure of the global heat release and temporal track of the ignition process, while optical emission spectroscopy was employed to quantify soot generation (given that hot soot particles produce most of the broadband luminosity in sooty flames).

Soot luminosity was significantly reduced for the synthetic kerosene fuels relative to Jet A-1, suggesting that the use of FT-based fuels could cut pollution and enhance engine reliability. No fuel-related trend was observed with regard to the chemiluminescence.

Ali Al-Sharshani, a scientist at the Qatar Shell Research and Technology Centre, presented an evaluation of the same FT-derived fuels' capacity to reignite under the high-altitude conditions. Colder fuel, he reported, becomes viscous, exits from the engine's fuel injector as a jet, and is thus harder to ignite than the fine mist produced by warm fuel prior to takeoff. All of the fuels tested successfully reignited during trials.

Mosbach and Al-Sharshani's presentations raised questions about the ASTM standard D7566, which regulates the use of FT-derived jet fuel. Under this international standard, the use of synthetic kerosene is approved only as a blending agent for petroleum-based Jet A-1 fuel, up to a 1:1 ratio, and there are restrictions on the synthetic and blended fuels' normal-, iso-, and cyclo-paraffinic content as well. Al-Sharshani's positive reignition results, some with fuels whose compositions fell outside the ASTM D7566 limits, suggest that the standard's composition requirements may be tighter than necessary. In describing the positive performance of neat synthetic fuel, both speakers implied that its blending with petroleum Jet A-1 may not be necessary.

Synthetic paraffinic ketones ignite well at altitude and generate less soot than petroleum jet fuel. (Image courtesy of Thomas Mosbach)

In a related presentation, Mohammed Rashid Alathba, a TAMUQ undergraduate, described a spray-characterization facility for evaluating alternate jet fuels, including FT-derived synthetic paraffinics. This experimental facility, at TAMUQ's Micro-Scale Thermo Fluids Laboratory, investigates jet-fuel spray characteristics such as droplet size, velocity, and spray-cone angle at different injection pressures.

New catalysts for next generations of plastics

In a presentation on the research selected by the meeting's Energy Research Panel for a $100,000 grant from the ARF's corporate sponsors, the investigator addressed advances in the processing of another value-added product from natural gas: plastics. Manal Sami Farah, a chemist with Total E&P Qatar, discussed work underway at the lab to synthesize new single-site metallocene catalysts that produce polyolefins and biopolymers with improved performance or novel functionalities.

Farah reported that altering the size and type of a catalyst's substituents, as well as modifying its steric, electronic, and symmetrical characteristics, can change the catalyst's efficiency or the resulting polymer's microstructure. Specifically, she described modifications to cyclopentadienyl-fluorenyl ligands complexed with zirconium and their use as polypropylene catalysts.

One modification was the addition of a hydrogen atom and a phenyl group to the bridge that links the upper- and lower-ring structures. This change caused a decrease in the hapticity of the structure—i.e., the number of bonds between the organic ligand and the central atom (in this case, zirconium)—and an increase in its capacity to be hydrogenated.

In effect, adding both hydrogen and phenyl altered the active species created when propylene was complexed with the catalyst, and the result was a significant increase in polypropylene output, Farah noted. "Using the same amount of catalyst, you make four times more plastic as compared to catalysts having methyl groups on the bridge. This is great; industrial-wise, this is a huge step." The next step, she said, was to experiment with more modifications so as to better understand the relation between the catalyst structure and the polymer properties. "Wouldn’t be great if we could have very strong but lightweight plastics to be used for the production of lightweight cars, for example? We would be producing less plastic with better mechanical properties and less environmental impact," she commented.

Determining oil and gas flow

Two presentations based on unrelated student papers described research relevant to oil and gas production. Ahmad Abushaikha, a doctoral candidate in petroleum engineering at Imperial College and winner of the student prize at the 2010 ARF, presented a new way of simulating the mobility of oil in complex reservoirs. In this method, the pressure and transport equations are decoupled; pressure is calculated using finite elements; and the calculation of saturation is based on finite volumes.

Abushaikha's proposed technique seeks to correct an inherent inaccuracy when modeling two-dimensional radial flow; it does so through a novel means of calculating the finite elements' mobility. In a benchmark simulation of a fracture network at the bottom of a reservoir, he said, the technique's results were comparable to those of experimental efforts.

Graph shows the position-dependent flow rates of three components, gas, oil, and water, flowing together in one pipeline. The flow rate of the oil fraction (green) decreases down the length of the pipe, as gas is liberated from the liquid because of a decline in pressure. As gas is liberated from the oil, the gas flow rate (red) increases along the length of the pipeline. The water flow rate (blue) remains fairly constant. The black curve is an exaggerated view of the pipeline inclination profile. (Image courtesy of Mustafa Al-Waily)

Mustafa Badieh Al-Waily, a petroleum-engineering undergraduate at TAMUQ, spoke on the application and improvement of a tool for predicting multiphase flow in oil and gas wells and in production installations. The work was performed to improve modeling of the pressure losses that result from multiphase flows in the main production lines at Total E&P Qatar's Al-Khalij field.

Optimizing maintenance schedules

Elsayed Elsayed, professor of industrial and systems engineering at Rutgers University, presented a model for calculating maintenance schedules so as to maximize system availability or minimize costs. The model treats degradation rate as a function both of time and of the system's level of degradation at a given time. The result, said Elsayed, is an efficient tool for condition-based maintenance scheduling in systems with multiple dependent failure modes, an issue that has not been well addressed in the literature. The optimization has many applications to the energy field, he noted. For example, a 1990 study by the Electric Power Research Institute found that one-third of utilities' annual investment in preventive maintenance was wasted.

Raymond Lee Orbach, director of the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin and chair of the ARF energy panel, asked why there has to be a relationship between the degradation rate and the level of degradation. Elsayad explained that although the parameters need not be linked in general, the development of the tool was a response to real problems, brought to his attention by industrial partners, where they were linked.

Narendra Kumar Agnihotra, TCE QSTP LLC
Fahhad Alharbi, Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute
Wajih Idriss, Qatar National Food Security Programme


  • Modeling by the Qatar National Food Security Programme is part of its effort to increase domestic food production while respecting the complex interactions between water and energy systems.
  • The cost effectiveness of using solar energy to power desalination plants is being explored.
  • The best hybrid organic/inorganic photovoltaic cells presently capture 8.6% of solar radiation as electricity; by contrast, the efficiencies of commercially used crystalline silicon modules exceed 20%.

Exploring the promise and limits of solar energy

Adoption in 2008 of the Qatar National Vision 2030 dedicated the country to a future of "harmony between economic growth, social development, and environmental protection." Half of the talks delivered in the ARF's energy track represented the country's growing efforts to achieve that goal through the increased use of alternative energy sources such as geothermal, solar, and industrial waste heat. The integrated modeling of water and energy systems undertaken by the Qatar National Food Security Programme (QNFSP) suggests the scope and sophistication of the solutions under consideration.

The QNFSP is a task force of 17 government ministries, officially launched with an edict of Qatar's emir in August 2011. The programme is mandated with developing—and, from 2014, implementing—solutions to the nation's "almost complete dependency on food imports," according to Wajih Idriss, a technology and systems analyst at the QNFSP. Increased domestic food production will be crucial to that development goal. But Idriss explained that the QNFSP is seeking a comprehensive solution—in effect, a "national sustainability development program" for Qatar—that takes into account the complex interactions between the country's water and energy systems and recognizes necessary tradeoffs.

Thus the QNFSP is creating a model to simulate and analyze infrastructural interactions and assess the costs and impacts of different developmental scenarios—including the effects of policy and regulatory decisions. As an example of this effort, Idriss presented preliminary results on planning for desalination, which would help to expand water supplies for irrigation.

One scenario considered was the exclusive use of solar thermal-power stations to drive desalination plants, which together would generate 1.65 million cubic meters of water per day and store up to 130 million cubic meters in depleted aquifers. The cost would be roughly 2.4 times that of powering desalination with natural gas-fired power plants, but Idriss's model showed that some 42% of the solar-cost premium could be eliminated by integrating the desalination facilities' solar stations with the country's power grid. Another 8% could be shaved by reducing the output of the desalination plants and diverting the energy thus saved to the grid in summer; this action would help Qatar's national utility cope with heavy summer electrical demand due to air conditioning.

System integration could reduce the cost of desalination via solar energy. (Image courtesy of Wajih Idriss)

In response to a question from energy-track panelist Tanguy, Idriss acknowledged that this preliminary modeling for desalination did not incorporate a full range of technological options. At this stage, the model considers only solar thermal for solar energy generation and reverse osmosis for the desalinating process, said Idriss. "The next stage will explore the other technologies."

Toward greater solar-cell efficiencies

The promise of hybrid solar cells, an as-yet-nascent alternative for solar power generation, was reviewed by panel speaker Narendra Kumar Agnihotra, assistant manager, TCE QSTP LLC, Doha, Qatar, a subsidiary of Tata Consulting Engineering Ltd, India. Hybrid solar cells combine conducting molecules and semiconducting organic molecules and polymers with nanoscale components, and Agnihotra's paper reviewed how nanomaterials such as carbon nanotubes and nanowires could increase the efficiency of hybrid solar cells to render them commercially viable. The challenge is that while the best hybrid cells presently capture 8.6% of solar radiation as electricity, the efficiency of commercially used crystalline silicon modules exceeds 20%.

Nanomaterials in hybrid solar cells. (Image courtesy of Narendra Kumar Agnihotra)

Fahhad Alharbi, a senior scientist at the Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute, sought by contrast to identify the theoretical limits of photovoltaic-cell technologies. Alharbi reported that the theoretical efficiency limit for single p-n junction devices, such as the silicon and thin-film cells used commercially today, is well established at 33%. But he noted that alternative devices could in principle surpass this limit by a considerable margin.

The options that Alharbi cited included multiple-bandgap structures, hybrid cells that convert both heat and light to power, and cells that divide incoming photons into two or more carriers. He presented a quantitative assessment of potential efficiency for cells with multiple gaps; a 43% efficient cell has been produced by stacking three p-n junctions, leading him to conclude that 50% is possible.

By combining the various options, Alharbi said, photovoltaics with efficiencies in excess of 80% are possible. The caveat, he noted, is that "such high efficiencies are achievable in ideal cases" that may prove technically impossible or impractical to achieve routinely.

Abdel Magid Hamouda, Qatar University
Mirko Stijepovic, Texas A&M University at Qatar
Elias Yaacoub, Qatar University Wireless Innovations Center

Student speaker:
Mariam Jassim, Qatar University


  • Mixtures of heat-transfer fluids in Rankine-cycle systems may be more efficient than single fluids at extracting energy from geothermal sources.
  • Researchers are exploring ways to use waste heat in applications such as desalination.
  • Collaborative mobile networks can reduce power consumption, increase data-transfer bandwidth, and lower distortion in streaming video.

Putting low-grade heat to work

Qatar University mechanical engineer Abdel Magid Hamouda identified a means of better extracting energy from geothermal sources such as subsurface rocks or from sources, such as industrial operations, of waste heat. Rankine-cycle systems can use such heat to vaporize a single working fluid and drive a turbine, after which the fluid must be condensed to repeat the cycle. Hamouda presented simulations and economic analyses of using mixtures of heat-transfer fluids, which he argued overcome a major constraint of single-fluid systems.

Because evaporation and condensation always occur at the same temperatures in such systems, they cannot evolve to track the often-shifting temperatures of the heat source and heat sink (the air or water to which the leftover heat is transferred in order to condense the working fluid). Hamouda maintained that a mixture of fluids, each with its own evaporation and condensation points, should enhance system efficiency through increased flexibility. Qatar University undergraduate Mariam Jassim presented another option for exploiting low-grade heat: direct desalination using membrane distillation. The driving force for membrane distillation is the vapor pressure of water across the system's hydrophobic membrane, which passes water vapor but not liquid water or dissolved salts. Jassim examined the potential for using waste heat to raise the vapor pressure of saline water and thus drive the process forward.

Jassim and colleagues explored the practical potential of three industrial processes that generate waste heat and are in use in Qatar: compression of natural gas to LNG and production of ethylene and vinyl chloride monomer (VCM). Only chemical plants producing VCM offered a steady heat profile that matched the range suited to low-grade heat recovery via the membrane process, according to Jassim. A VCM plant's direct-chlorination section condenses a vapor stream through 118° to 460°C.

But given the membrane technology's relatively low rate of potable-water generation, Jassim acknowledged that "huge units" would need to be installed within the chemical plants to make full use of their waste heat.

Collaborative mobile networks

Elias Yaacoub, a research scientist with the Qatar University Wireless Innovations Center, revealed a novel means of data transmission that could reduce the power used by wireless networks and improve the functionality of mobile devices. His innovation is a protocol to enhance video streaming via peer-to-peer connections between mobile devices. The result would be to reduce power consumption, which at present, according to Yaacoub, is a "major challenge" to the development of next-generation 4G wireless networks.

The ideal network, in Yaacoub's view, would stream data from cell towers to the mobile devices having the best link quality, which would then share the data with other mobile devices nearby through relatively low-power protocols such as Bluetooth or WLAN. Yaacoub's research, in contrast to earlier studies of cooperative networks, considered multiple communications technologies and developed an optimization protocol designed to minimize energy drain.

Peer-to-peer networks accelerate video streaming over cellular networks and reduce power consumption (Image courtesy of the American University in Beirut (AUB))

Yaacoub explored the critical question of fairness: might the cooperative networking scheme that is optimal overall nevertheless increase energy use for those doing the long-range downloading? Only in the short term, he said, if the scheme is programmed to vary the mobile unit selected for the power-consuming long-range communication. "Over the long term the optimal solution is more fair than other solutions designed to ensure instantaneous fairness," he said.

Yaacoub maintains that his protocol also reduces data delays, an improvement that translates into extra bandwidth on the network and higher-fidelity video. "Because excessive delay leads to distortion due to dropping delayed video frames, you achieve a lower distortion in the video files compared to the noncollaborative case," he said.

Enhanced honeycomb structures

A scheme for optimizing the attributes of materials was offered by Mirko Stijepovic, of Texas A&M University at Qatar, who explored means of fortifying honeycomb-patterned structures—well-known options for lightweight and high-strength applications. In particular, Stijepovic and his colleagues at TAMUQ added hierarchical organization: they replaced the edges of a regular honeycomb structure with smaller honeycombs. The result was a more complex structure with superior mechanical properties. For example, he reported an increase in strength of at least 3.5-fold for the same mass.

Stijepovic hypothesized that hierarchical honeycombs could find use as structures for lightweight portable energy systems, for example.

Fahhad Alharbi, Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute (cochair and moderator)
Yasir Mohieldeen, Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute (cochair)
Rabi Mohtar, Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute (cochair)
Mariam Al-Ali, Qatar University
Saad Aljandal, Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research
Alex Amato, Qatar Green Building Council
John Bryant, Texas A&M University in Qatar
Walid Chakroun, Kuwait University
Abdul Sattar Al Taie, Qatar National Research Fund
Holley Chant, KEO International Consultants
Eyad Masad, Texas A&M University in Qatar


  • Electricity use is rising sharply in Qatar, and buildings are responsible for nearly two-thirds of the load.
  • Policies and solutions need to be developed that are matched to the Persian Gulf's unique combination of environmental conditions, which include large atmospheric sand loads, searing heat, and high humidity.
  • Energy pricing is a controversial tool for the oil- and gas-rich region, where citizens have a sense of entitlement to low-cost energy.

Energy in buildings: a sampling of a workshop's deliberations

A workshop on Energy in Buildings was organized as part of the Annual Research Forum by researchers at the recently established Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute. According to Institute executive director Rabi Mohtar, the workshop's deliberations would "set the tone" for the Institute's future efforts to address the energy footprint of Qatar's built environment. Mohtar's formal call to the panelists and audience was to help create a plan of action—appropriate to the region—to reduce power consumption. "The materials that we use are not sustainable, are not home grown. The designs are imported. The building codes are imported. There's a real need for all of us to sit down and start highlighting [regional] priorities," he said.

This is a challenge of great and growing importance, Mohtar said. "Unprecedented infrastructure growth" in Qatar and throughout the entire Arabian Gulf region over the last 5–6 years has driven a massive increase in energy demand, and Doha's ubiquitous construction sites suggest that the trend is far from over. Qatar's electrical capacity already exceeds that of Morocco, a country with 18 times Qatar's population. And over the next decade power consumption will more than double—from an estimated 20.3 terawatt-hours to 42.5 terawatt-hours—according to a July 2011 report by Business Monitor International. Mohtar observed that buildings account for 65% of the energy demand in the region, citing recent research from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

Qatar's electricity is generated from natural gas, and therefore greenhouse gas emissions are rapidly rising. Eyad Masad, assistant dean for research at Texas A&M in Qatar, said the country's construction boom has also boosted carbon emissions through its use of energy-intensive materials such as Portland cement (which constitutes about one-tenth of every ton of concrete). Producing one ton of cement, said Masad, generates one ton of carbon dioxide.

Saad Aljandal, a research scientist at the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research, added a financial aspect to the sense of urgency. "A small country like Kuwait spending 6–8 billion dollars per year on fueling power stations cannot be sustained," Aljandal said. But with proper policies and building designs, energy use could be greatly reduced, he noted. "The source of the problem is the building itself—how it was built, the materials used, and the behavior of the people using the building."

John Bryant, an air-conditioning expert at Texas A&M University in Qatar, underscored the need for improvement by showing a year's worth of energy data for TAMUQ's building in Doha's Education City district. Energy demand rose and fell with the time of day and the season largely as expected, he said, but demand never fell below about 1 megawatt, equal to the average load of over 1,000 homes in North America. "Regardless of whether there are people in our building or not, we're driving that thing 24/7. Evidently we've got some operating problems," said Bryant.

A first step toward reducing building-energy use region-wide is coming soon: the tightening of building codes. Kuwait updated its code last year to emphasize energy efficiency, and Aljandal said that member states of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf planned to adopt a unified building code in the near future.

Mariam Al-Ali, cochair of Qatar University's Materials Technology Unit, said Qatar was already ratcheting up performance expectations for new buildings. She noted the government's endorsement of the Qatar Sustainability Assessment System (QSAS), an alternative to the LEED standard that is widely used in Europe and North America. QSAS certification is mandatory for all new government buildings as well as large commercial complexes and high-rises, according to Al-Ali, and it is poised to spread throughout the region.

Just as important, according to Kuwait University cooling-system expert Walid Chakroun, is behavioral change. He asserted that 70% of the energy currently used could be conserved, but added that this potential would remain untapped without more education. He called for policies such as "building labeling" to raise energy consciousness. "People know the energy use of their cars, but not of their houses," said Chakroun.

Abdul Sattar Al Taie, executive director of the Qatar National Research Fund, urged the workshop participants to consider increases in the pricing of energy—which is heavily subsidized in most regional states—as a mechanism to drive conservation. "Why should I invest a lot of money in insulation when the electricity is [virtually] free for me? We need to give people incentives to conserve energy," said Al Taie.

That suggestion, however, elicited pushback from an audience member—an engineer with Musheireb Properties, the Qatar Foundation subsidiary that is building the $5.5-billion, 31-hectare Heart of Doha architectural megaproject. "Imposing tariffs and regulations on this country ... is not the idea," said the engineer. "It's a developing country that's boosting up."

Holley Chant, the Abu Dhabi-based corporate sustainability director of KEO International Consultants, reluctantly agreed. "It's a given that the best driver for sustainability is economy. But in this region there's an entitlement to [low-cost] energy access that is entrenched," said Chant.

Speakers stressed a need to match policies with the results of ongoing research to identify region-specific efficiency solutions. For example, Chakroun cited a dearth of data for refrigerant performance under high-heat, high-humidity conditions. The only thing that's certain, said Chakroun, is that using refrigerants popular elsewhere, such as R134a and R410, saps compressor efficiency by more than one-third.

Alex Amato, a Doha-based carbon-footprint analyst at global construction consultancy Davis Langdon, called for development of better energy-use models for buildings. Amato recalled a recent conference talk in the UK by a "renowned architect" who admitted that a building of his design was consuming power at twice as the level he had projected. "He later learned that his performance was [relatively] quite good because others were out by 500%. So there is really a lot that we do not understand when we design and model buildings," said Amato.

After the workshop's discussions the panelists met, according to Mohtar, and formulated specific research recommendations, which he said were currently "under consideration" to provide a "detailed roadmap" for sustainable buildings in Qatar and the region. "More events are planned in the near future to follow up and finalize the roadmap, which will be nationally developed," said Mohtar.

Do energy efficiency technologies developed for buildings in North America and Europe make sense in the Persian Gulf climate?

Could iso/normal paraffinic content below the limits established by ASTM D7566—an international standard for synthetic fuels used in commercial jets—actually enhance turbine engine performance?

Is decreased hapticity the mechanism for increased polymerization activity observed in modified cyclopentadienyl-fluorenyl-zirconium metallocene catalysts?

Is desalination using low-grade industrial heat and membrane distillation an economically-viable means of supplementing Qatar's potable water supplies?

Can the energy efficiency of hybrid organic-inorganic solar cells be increased to make the commercially competitive with commercial crystalline-silicon and thin-film photovoltaics?

Design options could boost the energy efficiency of photovoltaics to over 80% in laboratory test cells. What is the practical limit for commercially viable photovoltaics?

Are hierarchical honeycomb structures prototyped via 3D printing amenable to mass-production?

What degree of food security is environmentally sustainable for Qatar, which currently produces just 10% of its food?

Mohammed Bin Saleh Al-Sada, Qatari Minister of Energy and Industry
Abdelwahab Aroussi, Qatar University Gas Processing Centre
Rabi Mohtar, Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute

Lynn Gladden, University of Cambridge
Raymond Lee Orbach, University of Texas at Austin
Philippe Tanguy, Total S.A.
Omar Yaghi, University of California, Los Angeles


  • Two driving goals for energy research in Qatar are sustainability and the conversion of natural gas to shippable products.
  • Salt water is the main source of water for Qatar and water consumption threatens to overwhelm the supply from the Persian Gulf.

A technology-aided transformation

Qatar's national development vision for 2030 is the country's transformation from a resource-based economy into a knowledge economy. But as Mohammed Bin Saleh Al-Sada, Minister of Energy and Industry, stressed in his 2011 Qatar Foundation Annual Research Forum keynote talk, it is essential that Qatar's resource industry be central to the process. "A first and critically important step for a transfer to a knowledge-based economy must [be] the transformation of the oil and gas business in Qatar into a knowledge- and technology-driven business," said Al-Sada.

Technology will play an important role in Qatar's energy sector, and for two main reasons. First, said Al-Sada, the country sits atop an estimated 17% of the world's natural gas reserves, but it is distant from major population centers. To realize the value of its gas bounty, Qatar needs technology to convert this natural resource into shippable liquid and solid products such as synthetic fuels, chemicals, and plastics. Second, technology is also an "ally" in the development of energy sources, such as solar and geothermal, that are more sustainable. They will thus allow Qatar to "leave a legacy of prosperity and development [for] our future generations," he said.

Researching fossil fuels and alternative energy alike

These two topics arose frequently in the dozen research presentations, by working scientists, of the Annual Research Forum's energy track. On the fossil-fuels side, two talks explored improved means of transforming natural gas into synthetic fuels and another two evaluated the potential use of synthetic fuels as replacements for jet fuel. A fifth talk discussed novel catalysts to produce plastics, such as polypropylene, from natural gas-derived olefins.

Most of the talks related to fossil-fuel processing were given by researchers at Texas A&M University in Qatar (TAMUQ) as well as by their international academic and industrial partners such the DLR German Aerospace Center's Institute of Combustion Technology, based in Stuttgart, and oil and gas majors Royal/Dutch Shell and Total.

Five talks on alternative energy were given by working scientists who represented a diverse range of projects and institutions, including Qatar University's Wireless Innovations Center, the Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute, and the Qatar National Food Security Programme. These talks addressed options such as photovoltaic technologies, improved means of converting geothermal heat into usable energy, and the potential for waste heat from Qatar's chemical plants to help drive desalination plants.

Enlightened vision and action

It would be easy to dismiss the research-track talks on alternative energy and Al-Sada's sustainability rhetoric as window dressing from a nation built on fossil fuels. Yet throughout the conference speakers repeated the message, often in blunt terms, that Qatar needed to confront its energy-related environmental problems. Abdelwahab Aroussi, who directs Qatar University's Gas Processing Centre, called water consumption a "major issue" for the parched country. Water consumption increased by over 244% from 2000 to 2010, Aroussi noted, with desalination providing over 99% of the supply. Largely as a result, the salinity of the Persian Gulf is rising, and in any case the supply remains limited. "The water comes from a small gulf with lots of nations competing for the same shallow waters," he said.

Aroussi cited greenhouse-gas emissions as another serious problem, and one that needs to be addressed with a sense of urgency—as opposed to merely passing it on to future generations. Invoking the words of Nelson Mandela, Aroussi said that Qatar needs both vision and action: "Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world!"

Rabi Mohtar, executive director of the recently established Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute, echoed Aroussi's call to action. As Mohtar put it: "Moving toward sustainability is not an option but rather the only way forward."

Dragomir Bukur, Texas A&M University at Qatar
Nimir Elbashir, Texas A&M University at Qatar


  • Advances are needed in the design of catalysts and reactors for converting Qatar's abundant natural gas into chemicals and synthetic fuels. Such advances would provide increased control over end products and decrease their costs of production.
  • A new model of Fischer-Tropsch (FT) synthesis may enable the design of reactors that generate an optimized mix of products.
  • Researchers are developing a FT reactor that operates in the supercritical realm.

Converting natural gas into products

Qatar is becoming a leader in technologies that enable natural gas to be converted to liquid or solid products—including chemicals, plastics, and synthetic diesel fuels—for shipment to distant markets. Thus several research presentations at the ARF involved novel or improved natural-gas conversion methods or assessments of the resulting products' performance.

Dragomir Bukur, a professor of chemical engineering at Texas A&M University at Qatar (TAMUQ), presented a new model of the catalytic chemical process, known as Fischer-Tropsch (FT) synthesis, in which a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen (produced from natural gas via partial oxidation) is converted to hydrocarbon waxes, naphtha, and other compounds of industrial interest. These substances can then be refined to produce synthetic replacements for a range of petroleum products.

Bukur's comprehensive model, developed in collaboration with researchers at the University of Kentucky, predicts the rate of the FT conversion as a function of reaction conditions and thereby enables the design of reactors that generate an optimized mix of products. Such reactors thus deliver "considerable" cost reductions as well, he said.

Models for Fischer-Tropsch synthesis. (Image courtesy of Dragomir Bukur)

Bukur noted that comprehensive models have proved difficult to achieve until now, for three main reasons: the diversity of the products generated, which range from methane to chains of 50 or more carbon atoms; a poor understanding of the reaction mechanisms; and the complexity of the associated mathematics. He attributed his team's success to the development of a mechanistic model, first proposed by Botes in 2007, in which olefins produced by the catalyst are not readsorbed but participate in further (secondary) reactions due to slow rate of desorption from the active sites on the catalyst surface. The model's results were a "good fit" to experimental data generated at Kentucky, said Bukur; his slides showed model agreement with the mix of experimental products (C1-C15 hydrocarbons) observed under a range of operating conditions. And the model identified features, often missed by earlier models, such as variations in product composition as a function of carbon-chain length.

In the future the team plans to generate experimental data over a wider range of temperatures and conditions in order to further validate its comprehensive model.

Combining the best of both

TAMUQ chemical engineering professor Nimir Elbashir presented modeling and experimental results for a novel FT synthesis reactor that combines elements of the liquid-phase slurry process examined by Bukur and commercialized by Sasol, and the gas-phase process commercialized by Shell. The new reactor operates in the supercritical realm—a high-pressure phase of properties that is part liquid, part gas. The modeling and experimental results presented by Elbashir showed both excellent temperature control—a hallmark of slurry reactors—and the fast reaction rates and higher effective catalyst use of the gas-phase reactors. Ultimately, he posited, this supercritical FT reactor may also offer a higher degree of control over the FT synthesis products toward the ultra-clean fuels and value-added chemicals.

Supercritical reactors can define the product mix synthesized from natural gas via Fischer-Tropsch chemistry. (Image courtesy of Nimir Elbashir)

This work presented at the ARF is one component of a large multilab collaboration, supported by the Qatar National Research Fund, that includes Elbashir and his colleagues at Texas A&M, Cambridge University, Auburn University, and the Qatar Shell Research and Technology Centre in Doha, among others.

According to Elbashir, quantitative assessment of a small FT reactor with a supercritical hydrocarbon solvent confirmed that the overall production rate was higher than that of gas-phase processes; the assessment confirmed as well that the resulting hydrocarbon chains and the solvent were easily recovered by simply dropping the temperature/pressure of the system. The researchers were also able to define the optimal solvent for commercial reactors: an unspecified substance—likely a light hydrocarbon—that is a natural constituent of synthetic fuels. The results of the collaboration are now being used to guide construction of a bench-scale supercritical reactor at TAMUQ.

Elbashir also described ongoing reactor and catalyst visualization work, in response to questions from energy-track panelist Philippe Tanguy (vice president for R&D programs, partnerships, and international relations at French oil and gas firm Total S.A). Tanguy had asked if capillary effects could be occurring within the catalyst's pores under supercritical conditions. Elbashir said that MRI and other visual analyses underway at the lab of energy-track panelist Lynn Gladden (professor of chemical engineering at Cambridge University) could resolve that question; these analyses could also help test a working hypothesis that the supercritical conditions activate a second reaction site on the hitherto single-site FT catalysts.