Masdar City’s More Transparent Zero Carbon Plan

masdar-city-abu-dhabiSince the hype clearly failed, Masdar and Foster and Partners have turned to the nuts and bolts of building a sustainable city instead.

Masdar and Foster and Partners (F&P) have eaten several servings of humble pie in the last few months. After a barrage of criticism related to the costs and failed expectations of Abu Dhabi’s Zero Carbon, Zero Waste dream, a scaled-down plan was finally unveiled, albeit still shrouded in some mystery. Given its visibility to date, any kind of clandestine planning would only leave the project vulnerable to more criticism.

If Masdar hopes to regain respect and support, their PR department needs to move in a more transparent direction; judging from a new article in Arabian Business, they may be doing just that. This new tactic allows them to put the rhetoric to rest and demonstrate the minutiae involved in building a zero carbon city – an entirely more respectable approach.

It is true that the Personal Rapid Transport (PRT) system of remote controlled vehicles will not be the only means of transport within the city walls. It is also true that the first building phase will be pushed back two years to 2015, and that the entire six square kilometer city will not become three dimensional for another ten to fifteen years.

But Masdar CEO Sultan Al Jaber insists that “the vision remains the same,” even though they have had to adjust their schedule.

“We’re not going to build ahead of the market, we’re going to build to market demand,” Alan Frost, Masdar’s director, told the paper.

Not all energy will be produced from within the compound, but it will all be generated renewably. At present, the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology (MIST) is being powered by a 10MW photovoltaic (PV) solar power plant built on 22 hectares close by. The plant produces excess energy, which is shaved off and plugged into Abu Dhabi’s grid.

Masdar is vigilantly testing a variety of technologies, including geothermal, concentrated solar power, and concentrated solar thermal collector technologies that can cool buildings. (Since September, a 1700 square meter office building has been cooled by using heat to activate a chemical process that chills water). Forty different PV technologies are being tested to find the best fit for Abu Dhabi’s specific solar and dust conditions.

A Membrane Bioreactor plant (MBR) will recycle nearly 10% of the city’s waste water and reuse it for irrigation. This facility will treat 1,500 cubic meters of water per day. By combining this with solar heated water, MIST will function with 54% less water and 51% less energy than an ordinary, non-Masdar building.

And the buildings’ facades (curved, brown, or metallic) are specifically designed to reduce heat gain. This along with small spaces, light-colored flooring, wind corridors, and a central wind tower that funnels creates the perception that the courtyard’s temperature is twenty degrees cooler than elsewhere in Abu Dhabi.

Arabian Business quotes Jürgen Happ, associate partner at Foster & Partners:

The courtyard is a good representation of what the master plan is in terms of how the space could be designed and in terms of trying to create this micro-climate where people can walk around rather than needing to use a car… You can feel the difference between where you came in at the site office and here. At the site office the perceived temperature is higher than it is here. We just tested this a week ago with a thermo camera. It is true that the heat difference is significant, over 20 degrees from downtown Abu Dhabi.

These efforts are certainly worthwhile, combining passive design with cutting edge technologies that harness the natural elements to reduce energy and water demand, both of which are in short supply in the United Arab Emirates. And Masdar deserves kudos for rising from the ashes of its own hubris.

However, in perhaps one of his less eloquent but nonetheless relevant moments, Mark Boyle – frequently dubbed the Moneyless Man – recently pondered “whether buying our way to sustainability is as ridiculous as trying to shag our way to virginity.”

It is a question worth pondering.

:: story and image via Arabian Business

More Masdar City News:

Re-Assessing Masdar City

NY Times: Masdar City’s Just A Futuristic Playground For The Rich

GE Ecomagination Centre in Masdar City

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