x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Sustainable development 'the only answer to spreading wealth'

Scientists from more than 20 nations gather in RAK for research summit.

This prototype 100-metre diameter solar island, which can rotate to catch the sun's rays, has been created in a joint partnership between the UAE Centre Suisse d'Electronique et de Microtechnique and the government of Ras al Khaimah.
This prototype 100-metre diameter solar island, which can rotate to catch the sun's rays, has been created in a joint partnership between the UAE Centre Suisse d'Electronique et de Microtechnique and the government of Ras al Khaimah.

RAS AL KHAIMAH // Sustainable development is the only answer to spreading the wealth among nations, the Ruler of Ras al Khaimah told a science forum yesterday.

Sheikh Saud bin Saqr was speaking yesterday at the opening of the 17th Annual Micromachine Summit, a gathering of leading research scientists from 22 countries.

"I can't overemphasise the role of scientists and research," he said. "What is our wealth? It's really nothing. With the six or seven billion people on Earth, we have great challenges ahead of us. Only through knowledge and research can we afford to make a better future for our children."

The Swiss organisers of the summit chose to hold it in Ras al Khaimah to showcase the work of two research organisations from Switzerland that are exploring renewable energy programmes in the emirate.

"For us to spread the wealth - not just for a few, but for all - it means we have to find sustainable development," said Sheikh Saud. "Sustainable in terms of raw materials and availability, but more so in terms of climate."

The UAE delegation, the first to attend the summit from the Middle East, presented their research from the UAE Centre Suisse d'Eletronique et de Microtechnique (CSEM-UAE) on solar islands that rotate to catch the sun's rays and its use of solar polygeneration to desalinate water, cool buildings and provide electricity.

"I see the marvellous solar islands they have pioneered here, and we will look at if they can somehow tap the power of the sun, if we can make more efficient use of the cooling that we have, if we can make a more efficient use of desalination," said Sheikh Saud. "There are small steps and big steps, but nevertheless those steps will allow humanity to have a better chance."

Researchers in Switzerland have formed strong bonds with the RAK community in recent years - part of the reason they chose to host this week's summit in the emirate.

"Facilities, topics, the environment, the real life …" said Dr Nico De Rooij, an inventor and world leader in microtechnology who first proposed hosting the summit in RAK. "Research here is not just in a lab, it's the real exposure. It's very, very instructive for researchers to have this."

Government support in RAK was its greatest asset, said Dr Philippe Fischer, the director of the Swiss Foundation for Research in Microtechnology.

"You can do things very fast," said Dr Fischer. "There are no decision-making procedures like we know in Switzerland if you want to build new facilities. This ability to go ahead and do things is very exciting for scientists."

That was the appeal for the RAK campus of Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL), which has had 70 researchers visit RAK since November. The first batch of 25 to 30 RAK-based students will begin their masters in Lausanne in September, and arrive here next year.

"Switzerland has needed to diversify its economy from the onset, and there is a strong connection between RAK and Switzerland precisely because of that," said Dr Franco Vigliotti, dean of the RAK campus.

RAK students aim to research wind engineering, energy systems, energy management, sustainable urban design, water resources and sustainable mobile transportation.

"There are several things that connect us. First of all, a shared vision of what the future challenges are," he said.

"RAK and the UAE - this is a place where you can think of the future of renewable energies.

"We also think it's a place where technological advances for water desalination are going to be important."

This local research would have direct application to industry, said Dr Khater Massaad, an EPFL alumni. The chief executive of RAK Investment Authority already has his eye on using CSEM-UAE's research to provide energy for projects like the Al Hamra Village, where he is the managing director.

"The idea is to make a lot of start-ups with all this [research], whether it is CSEM or EPFL, to support the industry," said Dr Massaad. "Every industry needs the research and development, and when you have the institutes likes this they can help match industry needs."

azacharias@thenational.ae