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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Swiss plan research partnership for RAK

Proposals include 100-metre wind tunnel, smart grids and sustainable solutions for port.

LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND // Ras al Khaimah would become a world-class research centre under plans detailed on the first day of the Emirati-Swiss Friendship Forum yesterday.

Among projects outlined by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) are a 100metre wind tunnel; large-scale smart grids and wind farms; and a study to find sustainable solutions for bulk port operations in the emirate, which has one of the largest ports in the Middle East.

EPFL hosted about 60 UAE students at the event. They presented some of their projects related to renewable energy, alongside students from other Swiss technical schools.

Dozens of EPFL researchers visited RAK this year to begin projects related to wind energy, solar power, transport, sustainable buildings and water resources.

The emirate also hosted a Swiss-organised research summit for another organisation this year. And an EPFL post-graduate programme will send its first batch, of 23 students, to work from labs in RAK next year.

"When you look at subjects such as clean-tech energy, construction, sustainable transportation and the traffic jams you see in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, these are things you do not see so much in Switzerland," said Patrick Aebischer, the president of EPFL.

"When you are doing research these conditions make it very interesting. If we want to research smart grids, which are in their infancy, or photovoltaic energy from sand, it is better done there than here, where it would only be theoretical."

Mr Aebischer said the plan was to build a research network in the UAE that would attract top scientists from around the world. That would attract industry and help the country shift away from an oil-based economy.

"If you offer a unique facility for very specific research operations, which we are trying to do with a state-of-the-art wind tunnel that our faculty and others are already dying to use, you will create a nucleus to connect with companies looking to develop research operations," he said.

Using pressure sensors and computer algorithms, researchers could measure how wind would flow differently after passing through or near a wind turbine.

This would give them a better understanding of how wind turbines can disrupt the velocity, turbulence and layer height of wind, showing the impact on the efficiency of other turbines and on neighbouring wind farms.

Students from the Higher Colleges of Technology, Zayed University, UAE University, the American University of Sharjah and the American University of RAK presented studies, hoping to collaborate with EPFL's RAK branch in the future.

Sara Al Braiki, a mechanical engineering graduate student at UAE University, presented the 8-metre-tall windmills her team has begun making for use in the UAE.

"These are the same projects, so hopefully we can also contribute to what they are doing," she said.

The UAE is one of the most important trade partners to Switzerland in the Middle East, said Bahaa El Attar, the secretary general of the Arab-Swiss Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

"Bilateral relations between Switzerland and the UAE are flourishing, not only on the scale of investment but on the scale of scientific co-operation and tourism exchange."

Switzerland has its own corner of Abu Dhabi's ambitious carbon-neutral Masdar City project.

Swiss Village will be a business hub of offices, research labs and manufacturing facilities, as well as housing and schools, all built by Swiss designers and architects.

The two-day forum also includes slide shows of UAE images by the Swiss photographer Michel Roggo, an Emirati fashion show and an exhibition about time spent in Switzerland by Sheikh Zayed, the founding President of the UAE.

econroy@thenational.ae