ABU DHABI // An hourglass-driven generator and a self-powered caravan have put two teams of students into the finals of a regional sustainable energy competition.
Emirati students at the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) in Al Ain made it to the final 10 of 88 UAE teams with their one-man, solar-powered caravan.
Yousef Al Kuwaiti, 23, who studies mechanical engineering, said the inspiration came from traditional mud houses that trap cool air.
The caravan would keep a constant temperature of 25°C inside, with the solar panels turning its water pipes into heaters in winter.
And because it is powered entirely by solar panels, it would cost nothing to run.
Mr Al Kuwaiti and his teammates - his twin brother Eisa al Kuwaiti and Abdulla Sulaiman, both electrical engineers - hope to build the unit if they win the US$45,000 (Dh165,298) prize money.
"Right now it's all theory and we'd have to start to build it to really see what the challenges would be," he said.
Mr Al Kuwaiti estimated that if it went into production, the unit could be made for about Dh15,000, and could be used by tourists, and by the military and petroleum workers on short stays in the desert.
The theme of the competition, which has received entries from 400 universities in countries from Pakistan to Egypt, was building sustainable living in the desert.
Alan Frost, the director of Masdar City - Abu Dhabi's sustainable energy centre - and a member of the judging panel, said the competition provided an opportunity to bring sustainability to a wider audience.
"Companies such as Masdar and Siemens have a responsibility to help educate the next generation of business leaders on the importance of sustainability … helping to educate on the importance of renewable energy, climate change and conservation, so it is integrated into their daily lives," Mr Frost said.
He said he was impressed and inspired by the volume of interest, and by the quality of entries.
Mr Al Kuwaiti said engineers needed to think about making better use of materials.
"We must think of other ways of doing things and looking for sustainable solutions," he said.
Erich Kaeser, the head of Siemens Middle East, said participation from the UAE had been outstanding. Students from HCT and Abu Dhabi University submitted 15 ideas each, while there were 20 from the American University of Sharjah (AUS).
Of those, Louay Al Mujadidi, 20, a Saudi civil engineering student at AUS, won a spot in the finals for his hourglass generator that uses gravity to create power.
Sand is released from one chamber to another. As it falls it turns turbines between the two chambers.
"It's efficient as you use the same sand substance every time, simply turning it upside down and creating endless amounts of energy," Mr Al Mujadidi said.
But he has not yet decided what form of energy he will use to turn the hourglass, which is a key hurdle. He suggested solar power - "more costly in the short term but more efficient in the long term" - or wind, "which would mean tweaking the design".
"But it would depend on where the design would be used," Mr Mujadidi said. "For example, the UAE may have more wind than in Saudi Arabia, so I would need that data to be able to assess that."
The winners are to be announced on November 1 in Doha.