12 Jul Essential economic diversity
Creating new businesses and industries to replace their traditional economic reliance upon oil and gas production, has become a central theme in the growth policies of several MENA Countries in recent years. None more so than in Saudi Arabia, where two huge projects will be providing workspace that will combine the establishment of industries imported from other parts of the globe with encouraging research into the creation of new products many of them with an oil or gas base. And, where the research is scientifically driven involving experimenting with the use of not just gas and oil but also chemicals that might catch fire or explode, there is a growing demand for high tech and ultra sensitive fire prevention and safety equipment.
Semiconductor manufacturing plants, research and development operations, and pharmaceutical production facilities represent a considerable fire risk due to the constant supply of flammable material. The increased airflow and high level of oxygen adds to the risk by accelerating the fire growth, subsequent distribution of smoke and resultant contamination. However, the major risk is the protected environment itself. The smallest of fires can contaminate the process tools, destroy product and result in unrecoverable manufacturing and operational downtime. Additional concern is the physical logistics of evacuating these types of facilities if there is a real or false alarm.
A reliable, early warning smoke detection system can drastically reduce this risk while providing the lowest incidence of nuisance alarms which would otherwise cause costly production downtime.
Scientists also need to have effective and safe waste management and disposal systems similar to those used in hospitals and health facilities all around the world.
Purely from the basis of spectacular design all the new MENA centres will struggle to compete with the buildings that have already been completed for the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Centre on the outskirts of Riyadh.
Dedicated to energy policy and solutions, the 70,000m2 complex, which is also known as KAPSARC, consists of asymmetric hexagonal buildings connected by broad, canopy covered footpaths. The roofs consist largely of highly efficient LEED Platinum plates which convert sunlight to electricity to power the complex and use 45 per cent less energy than conventional buildings. While the shape and positions of the walls have an innovative ‘wind catcher profile’ which help passively control the temperatures in the complex’s courtyards.
KAPSARC is complete and operational but in terms of sheer size will be dwarfed by the plans announced last October by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman when he unveiled a future policy document Saudi Vision 2030.
Designed to reduce the country’s dependence on oil, diversify its economy and develop not only new business ideas, a new city called NEOM is to be built with its own labour laws and tax system to encourage investment.
As one MENA specialist said :
“The Saudi intention is to shift from oil to high tech and put the Saudi kingdom at the forefront of technological advances. This is the post-oil era. These countries are trying to flourish beyond oil exporting and the ones who don’t will be left behind.”
The German Klaus Kleinfeld, former chairman and CEO of Alcoa Inc., and former president and CEO of Siemens AG, will direct the development of the city with plans to include robots to performing functions such as security, logistics, home delivery, and caregiving.
Energy for NEOM will be provided solely by wind and solar power and planning and construction will be initiated with $500 billion from the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia and international investors with the first phase of the project scheduled for completion by 2025.
Without professionally installed, compliant passive fire protection and rapid response suppression systems the damage a fire can inflict on research centres where chemicals are being tested is illustrated by two fire incidents.
Hot work underway on a roof started a blaze in a building at The Christie Hospital in Manchester, England while workers were taking a tea break, but it was not discovered for 30 minutes because a smoke detector and fire alarm had been switched off.
There were no reports of injuries but extensive damage was caused by welding equipment falling down a wall and landing on a heap of waste cardboard and fabric.
Of greater impact was the forced suspension of research work in the building carried out by the University of Manchester and Cancer Research UK.
More typical of the dangers that can be faced by workers in a research laboratory was the story of the two people injured when an explosion occurred in San Francisco facility belong to the biopharmaceutical company Amgen.
One worker was seriously hurt by burns to the face and another suffered with hand burns after an explosion involving at least one dangerous chemical which ignited in a flammable liquids cabinet.
All neighbouring buildings at the site were evacuated as a precaution immediately following the explosion as officials were unsure what caused the chemical mixture to explode.
Waste disposal was at the root of a second such incident at the lab in the space of nine months following a fire which started during the movement of waste hazardous materials.
Avoiding incidents like these but following the need for more economic diversification of Saudi Arabia has been central to plans in Dubai, where, for more than a decade on a 300 hectare site the Biotechnology and Research Park has been under construction.
Laboratory space within the park has been designed to the highest global standards with the core and shell spaces equipped with air exhaust and ventilation system. They also have acid resistance drainage, pH neutralisation systems and other technical features to attract businesses in the science sector whose activities range from research and product development, testing, diagnostics, manufacturing as well as production.
The estimated cost of building the park, run by DuBiotech, a subsidiary of the Government company Dubai Holding and a member of Tecom Investments, is about Dh130m for the infrastructure, and Dh600m for the lab and headquarter’s buildings.
An innovative product recently developed at Qatar’s Science and Technology Park provides a good example of the new types of industry that governments are now firmly determined to establish in the region.
Local company Subol has created technology that enables people to keep their homes safe from fires caused by gas leaks by remote control.
The system consists of a ‘sensor unit’ to detect gas leaks, and an ‘actuator unit’ to be attached to the outside of gas installations and activated through a mobile phone app.
The Samam system sends homeowners a notification if a risk emerges from a gas leak and allows them to shut down their gas system with just one tap on their keyboard.
Globally Subol’s eventual target is to market Samam in Asia and Europe where it is estimated around 200 million homes use liquid petroleum gas.
Primarily, however, they want to acquire a customer base in Qatar where national statistics show that, in 2015-16, seven per cent of all household fires were started by gas leaks and almost 34,000 homes experienced a leakage.
Meanwhile a research project that forms a central part of Abu Dhabi’s Economic Vision for 2030 and has a Dhs 55 million budget is underway at Khalif University and its intended end product is on a much grander scale than making domestic gas boilers safer.
Called the Aerospace Research and Innovation centre it is aimed at boosting the aviation industry in Abu Dhabi and the across the UAE.
Around 50 per cent of the investment is being used to establish research facilities and with the remainder invested in research and development (R&D) projects that are directly related to the needs of the aerospace industry in the UAE.
Homaid Al Shemmari, executive director of Mubadala Aerospace, Communications Technology and Defense Services said:
“To make the aerospace industry in Abu Dhabi truly viable, competitive, and sustainable on a global scale, two fundamental elements need to be addressed – building local “know-how” and creating an R&D ecosystem. Not only will the research centre develop essential future technologies, but it will also fill the skills gap in providing young Emiraties with essential training in aerospace and empower future talent.”