The following is a montage I produced. It is for information and marketing purposes and was requested by the company owner. All work--photography, photo editing, video assembly, editing and timing, etc.--is mine.
While working for Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Journals' QScience media organization from 2011 to 2016, we served QNRF as a publisher of their newsletter. Although credits have not been assigned, I researched, interviewed and wrote this article, and it exists in the QNRF newsletter archives, linked directly before the following text. Researchers and organizations will attest to my work if contacted.
ARCHIVE. In a matter of two decades, Doha’s skyline has gone from flat and tan to a jagged skyscraping forest of gleaming metal and concrete structures. Construction continues to boom across Qatar, yet it imports so many construction materials—also known as ‘aggregate’—that the projects are unusually expensive. A research team funded by QNRF and based in Qatar is on track to challenge the current supply practices and radically cut costs while maintaining quality and saving massive amounts of energy used to import heavy materials.
“What we are trying to do is convert waste into an asset and then inform the government here to give them an understanding of how this works,” said Dr. Khaled Hassan, General Manager of TRL Ltd., Qatar Science Technology Park, who is the Lead Principal Investigator (LPI) on a project to test the quality of re-processed waste material in new construction projects, including buildings, roads and other infrastructure.
“We are trying to achieve a major cost saving—converting materials from waste that’s expensive to dispose of, into an asset that generates a potentially huge income. We are also thinking more green, more environmentally, in terms of reuse and energy savings.”
The first phase of the project involved reviewing the supply chain—i.e., identifying main waste materials with potential use in construction. Dr. Hassan said that the majority of the waste comes from construction sites. The two main waste zones within the construction field are excavation waste, and construction and demolition waste. In all cases, huge amounts of material are generated and automatically considered waste.
“It’s important to consider that it’s only human for people to look at something and if you tell them it’s a waste material they will think it is low quality,” he said. “Based on this first reaction, they just reject the material and don’t think about how they can use it again.”
From the first phase of the project, Dr. Hassan uncovered a potential goldmine of resources. In Qatar today, there are around 100 million tons of construction waste material that could be reused.
“Based on 2012 consumption of imported aggregate, that [100 million tons] can supply Qatar for five years,” he said. “So what we are seeing is, in terms of availability, this could be very beneficial to the construction industry.”
Dr. Hassan earned his PhD at Leeds University in the UK and worked there for 12 years as an academic before joining TRL. He felt a strong pull to apply the knowledge he had gained over the years and made the leap into applied research. It’s projects like these—where he can practically apply research and connect the academic and industrial communities in a shared goal—that erase any doubt in his mind that he made the right decision.
“We need to benefit from this research, and that’s why it’s my love. When I formed the project team, I gathered together the main stakeholders, including Qatar Standard for the important implementation of the project’s outcomes, and Qatar University, for the academic side of the work. When we are successful, we can all help to improve construction specifications and practices.”
Dr. Hassan is especially interested in sharing the findings as widely as possible so that if the results of his research prove positive, they will transform the construction industry across the country. The research is moving along and has now entered the testing stage.
The second phase of the process involved construction of model buildings made from different types of alternative aggregate materials. Three buildings were constructed—one made with conventional imported aggregate and local washed sand and two made with different types of alternative ‘aggregate’ materials. The buildings are now finished and according to the research schedule will be tested over a year to understand their behavior in Qatar’s environmental conditions over time.
“I’m not saying that waste material is top quality,” Dr. Hassan explained. “I’m saying that in our research, we are demonstrating that with appropriate processing of construction waste, it could be used in the highest value application of structural concrete. And we know that if it works in the highest value application, it will definitely work in lower value applications.”
Qatar Standard, part of Qatar’s Ministry of Environment, is not only a project partner but also a stakeholder with whom Dr. Hassan shares decision-making power on this project. Additionally, he has assembled an advisory board including representatives from aggregate suppliers, concrete suppliers, consultant agencies, and clients. He divided the project into tasks and invites stakeholders to meetings before tasks begin so that he’s working from multiple insights.
“I just want to make sure that the project outcomes are practical and could be easily implemented,” he explained. “We have a very good link with the construction industry including Ashghal, Qatar Rail and Qatar 2022. The information we are generating is not confidential. The main idea is to help people cross a barrier so that we can work with standards and potentially accept and approve alternative aggregate materials that would benefit everyone here in Qatar.”
In the end, Dr. Hassan said it’s exciting and important to work on a project that is based entirely in Qatar. The newly constructed test building site is in Doha, directly across from the Ashghal Center for Research and Development. It will be used to test these materials as the weather bears down on them. In addition to the model buildings, several road safety barriers, concrete soak away segments and blocks have been made from the recycled aggregate and are now exposed to outdoor conditions. They will be subject to testing over the coming year.
“I can make this material in the lab and it would be a fantastic experiment, but would it survive in Qatar’s environmental conditions—in summer, winter, the heat, the salt, the humidity? The lab cannot replicate actual conditions. A real environmental assessment can’t be done over one year. It has to be done over a long time. But within the current project, we will monitor this for one year to begin to see how it reacts through the summer and winter. We will also consider long-term monitoring at the end of the project,” he said.
Of all of the potential impacts this project could have, Dr. Hassan said the economic benefits would be the most obvious. For now, all quality aggregate is imported from the UAE; he said that the price of shipping and buying material could be cut by 75 percent if the supply-demand loop is closed within Qatar. The second most obvious will be in terms of environmental benefits associated with waste disposal and energy savings.
“Qatar’s landfill sites hold approximately 100 million tons,” he explained. “That’s a lot already; and then what are we going to do? The projections show that a lot more waste will be generated, so we need to think more sustainably.”
In the end, Dr. Hassan credits QNRF not only for its financial support but also because of the vision its executives have maintained when supporting projects like these:
“I would like to thank QNRF for sponsoring such a project. They have been very keen about the implementation of research and the outcomes. I changed my career because of this. As an academic I feel that people should benefit from what I do. I moved from academia into applied research abroad, here to Qatar, to apply what I’ve learned. I’m delighted to see that QNRF is moving in this direction, because this is what we need for continuous development of the country. You can do your own research and keep on applying it, revising it and improving it.”
For more information about this project, see this edition's video podcast.
While working for Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Journals' QScience media organization from 2011 to 2016, we served QNRF as a publisher of their newsletter. Although credits have not been assigned as a matter of client agreement, I conducted and produced this interview, and it exists in the QNRF newsletter archives, linked directly before the following text. QNRF management and Mr. Alsuwaidi's records will attest.
ARCHIVE. Mr. Faisal Alsuwaidi's illustrious career began almost four decades ago when he began working for Qatar Petroleum (QP), rising to become QP's Administration Director. In 1997, he became the Vice Chairman and CEO of Qatargas, where he oversaw the construction and realization of LNG trains that are still the largest in the world, while Laffan is the largest condensate refinery in the world. As Qatar Foundation's President of Research and Development, Mr. Alsuwaidi brings a wealth of management and strategic experience to the research sector of Qatar Foundation. This interview highlights his transition, his vision for more collaboration among institutions and the power of the recently-unveiled National Research Strategy.
Q: Can you separate the goals of the Qatar National Research Strategy?
A: The main goal is to introduce the culture of research in Qatar. They have done a very good job so far. Through the fund, we will steer the research and development activity in Qatar toward national priorities. To achieve these, we are going to introduce new programs over the next five years. The main business from now on is to support the national priorities identified by the community of researchers in the country.
Q: How do you envision the future of Qatar’s research culture here and then in the region at large as a result of its growth?
A: If we look at resources, there’s nothing besides oil and gas. And everybody knows that this is depleting and depleting fast as demand increases around the globe. So we need to prepare ourselves for the future. In no way am I suggesting that research will replace the income of oil and gas, at least in the short or medium term, but science and research improve the quality of life in any country and hopefully we will be able to achieve both—making a small contribution to the economy and an improvement in quality of life in the country. This will happen through quality people who will come and help us here to address national challenges.
Q: Focused areas of research for the strategy—can you tell me how these were chosen?
First, we don’t impose our agenda on anybody. Different people will do different research for different reasons. Everybody can do what they like, but if you are to get funded through us then you need to attend to our priorities here. Second, when we say our priorities, actually these have been developed through interaction with the whole community of researchers in Qatar. Last year when we introduced our first strategy, more than 100 people came to our forum and contributed over two days to the strategy, and we identified around 70 research objectives that were transferred to QNRF and asked them to design their program to meet these priorities. So it has been very collaborative work and the majority of research institutions took part in it. Third, we needed to identify the reasons for success in order to filter the proposals that we saw.
We decided that addressing Qatar’s needs is the first filter. The second one is capacity. In order to address these priorities, we need to ensure that there is capacity to undertake this research. The third filter is impact. This research has to be big enough and serious enough to make a difference in Qatar, in the region and globally. When we talk about Qatar’s needs, basically what we are saying is the region’s needs, because of our similar situations. We all depend on oil and gas, we all have limited resources and we all suffer from the same issues … so the whole region has a lot of similarity.
Q: 2.8 percent of Qatar's GDP is going into research. How far into the future do you see the fruits of this research showing up? In other words, how long do you think it will take before you see a major impact?
A: I think we are beginning to see some results. When we talk about results in this kind of business, we need to manage our expectations. This is something for the long term if you like … this does not mean you will reach some benefits in between. To see a difference in a big way, this will take some time. We are in our infancy now, yet we have some very good marks of excellence and QNRF is one of them. I think in six years that they have developed a good system within the fund. They have achieved some good results, and we need to build on those and build other areas needed that support the whole system. For example, we need to develop the IP system. This is a cornerstone to everything and will help QNRF, our institutes and people who want to come to QSTP to develop their ideas. Some fundamental things are missing currently, but addressing these we hope will boost research activities.
I’m new here, but I was impressed with the results that have been achieved over the past four or five years considering the resources and considering the infrastructure I think people in Qatar should be proud of what they have achieved with the little resources that they have. Now we are developing a system that we hope will enhance this and will improve activities.
Q: How can we get more Qataris involved in research?
A: Publicity and sponsorship are important, but more importantly people have to have passion for what research is. Publicizing is important and people need to know the importance of activities that are taking place on the ground here. Incentives are important, but I’m not offering more salaries and more money. Research is something where you need to have a passion for it, to come and work on it. This is not like you hire someone and in two years they get a grade and a promotion. You really need to work. Some people don’t want a promotion. They want a lab space, and a project, and funding. Unless you have a passion for this I think research is not your area. We’d like to see more involvement so we are offering training and sponsorship to send people to do their masters and PhDs in big universities around the globe.
Q: How do you see the growth occurring here in Qatar being integrated with the growth happening in the region—what is the sharing strategy?
A: Our environment is the same—somebody in Abu Dhabi can import our strategic plan and say this is his. The same thing can happen in Kuwait and Bahrain. Like I said, there’s little difference between our needs, especially if they use the same criteria for success. They want to address their needs in the first instance. They want to have capacity. They want to make an impact. We use these criteria, and I think we could have one generic strategy for all.
I think that what will differ is the commitment of the leadership to see this strategy through. I am very proud of our leadership. His and Her Highnesses have pledged 2.8 percent of national income. We are investing now and created the budget for the next five years, and this has been approved. Her Highness is in contact on a daily basis asking us to give the progress of our activities. This will make a difference. Otherwise, needs here in the region are the same.
Q: What is your idea of good research. Is it something that results in a product or something tangible? What about research for research’s sake, say, theoretical projects? What in your mind constitutes good research?
A: I’m not a researcher. I’m a businessman. I like to see results. I’m not suggesting that the bottom line is that [theoretical work] is not important. But here I guess what is more important is our needs, so if people tell me that diabetes is an issue, we need to address that. This is why we term this the reason for success. So if you address those national needs, then you get funding, you get support. But research for the sake of research I think this is important for schools and universities.
Q: What have been the lessons learned from the research program as you have reviewed it?
A: I think if I look at the last four, five, six years at Qatar Foundation, like I said there is a very good thing considering the resources that they had … I think the effort now is to pull these resources together. In the past, they identified their priorities alone so each institute looked at what they needed, and they communicated with one or two stakeholders. I think now it’s more of a national effort instead of one or two stakeholder efforts, and we hope this will provide for the longer-term vision with more support and focus on the infrastructure issues I mentioned earlier. No one institute can address these.
Intellectual property—we need everybody to work on that. We need the IP office and the government system to work with us on that so they will see one face to all the research activity in Qatar Foundation and its centers.
This is a huge issue. One of the limitations that we have when we look at research from QSTP’s side is the number of patents and the number of entrepreneurs, so we need to open up for people outside Qatar to come and use this facility. Nobody will come with an idea unless they have protection. And protection is IP system policy. We also need to look at things like imports of chemicals for labs. This has been an identified issue by the community and is something that we need to build a system around and make sure we don’t shut labs down because of supply delays. This is another piece of work that we have to do collectively.
Q: Could anything have been done differently? Is there anything you want to change direction on? Any lessons learned you’d like to take forward?
A: I’m sure we will ask ourselves this question five or six years down the road. We try to involve everybody in order to minimize regret in the future so it has been very collaborative, and we are using different people’s experiences. We run our plans against very experienced people in the field to verify that we are on the right track. But if experience tells you anything it is that as you develop experience you will always say 'yes, I could have done this better,' but then until you gain that experience, you will not be able to know better. As for now we took all the measures to make sure that we are doing things the right way.
Q: How have the outcomes of research manifested themselves so far?
A: Most of the offers we make to people get accepted, which gives you some indication. We’re not paying tons of money. Other people see Qatar as a serious newcomer in this field, so people want to come and contribute. To me, this is one indicator of success or being on the right path. Another example is that QCRI [Qatar Computer Research Institute] has more than 50 patents. There is also a willingness of reputable, international research institutes or organizations to team up with Qatar Foundation. For example, last week we signed an agreement with Boeing to work on some IP issues, and we have collaboration with MIT and with Harvard so I think they see Qatar as serious about what they want to do. I’m not sure if they want to risk their reputation otherwise.
Q: How would you assess QNRF's performance so far?
A: Personally speaking, I think they’ve done a very good job. This also was confirmed by third party review that was conducted recently. They came to the same conclusion. Over the last six years, people did a very good job and developed a good system, so basically we are very pleased with their progress and their achievement based on a third party. They should be very happy with themselves and with what they have achieved. Being first is always difficult. Considering this should make people even more proud. I think people see QNRF now on the map and people here and abroad know about it. They have good programs locally for research, with schools and for graduates, and I think this will improve with the culture, and hopefully we’ll see more people taking up research professions.
Q: How do you compare the challenges of directing research and development with those of directing oil and gas?
A: At management level it’s the same … probably there are some differences but, generally speaking, my job would be to make sure that the plan exists and that this plan is communicated. If I agree to this plan, my job is to make sure that we deploy it and with the resources to see it through. So basically, it’s the same thing that you do as a manager. Now, the difference is that there you would be producing oil and gas and here you would be producing knowledge and solutions. So basically they are the same. Oil and gas existed for 40-50 years in Qatar. They’re pretty established in what they do, with an established system and best practices and efficiency, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we are in a bad situation. I think considering where we are compared to starting, we should feel very happy. I like to benchmark. I like to compare. But from a management level it is the same.
Q: What can we do to encourage new researchers to come to Qatar?
A: I would encourage them to read our strategy and our business plan. Both will be uploaded on the Qatar Foundation site soon. This will give people comfort and an indication that we are really serious. I have a lot of sympathy for people who come and work in other countries. To me this is a big decision that a family has to take. A spouse will have to give up his or her job. Children will have to change the school and will have to leave friends behind. I don’t think that we will ask people to do this unless we are serious. A good read of those two documents will indicate how serious we are. We like people to come and commit for the long term. We don’t want them to come and stay one year or two years. I think research will take a longer time to produce results, and we would like them to come and make Qatar home.
Q: Given the investments in the QF-ARC (Qatar Foundation-Annual Research Conference), what do you think are the benefits?
A: We spoke earlier about publicity. Functions like this will put Qatar on the map and raise the profile of the country. We invite quality people to come and contribute. It’s a good opportunity for people here to network with scientists internationally. It’s good for international scientists to come and share their ideas with the local researchers, to network and to learn and for our employees to learn. It’s also an opportunity for local researchers to present their work to the international community. There are many conferences on research around the world, but here we are investing time and money in order to raise the profile of this function. I was very encouraged last year when we published our strategy at the conference, at the quality of the people who came.
Thank you so much for your insights into the future of research in Qatar. We wish you the best of luck in your new role.
While working for Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Journals' QScience media organization from 2011 to 2016, we served QNRF as a publisher of their newsletter. Although credits have not been assigned or retained, I researched, interviewed and wrote this article, and it exists in the QNRF newsletter archives. It is linked out to the archives directly before the following text. Researchers and organizations will attest to my work if contacted.
ARCHIVE. The treatment of open wounds is something that we take for granted as a systemized approach to health. Yet, the history of wound care as we know it spans back just 200 years. It was only in the early 1800s that Hungarian physician Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis proposed hand washing as an approach that could prevent infection. Physician Joseph Lister took this insight forward to treat surgical gauze with carbonic acid, which cut his surgical team’s mortality rate by nearly half. Today, the field of wound care is in the midst of a similar kind of transformation based on moisture and pH monitoring. Research in Qatar is making a significant contribution to this next leap forward.
Professor Patricia Connolly, of Strathclyde University in Scotland, has already made significant progress in moisture monitoring, with her patented WoundSense technology, currently used in Saudi Arabia, the United States, Scotland and UK (promoted there through the Department of Health). The technology monitors wound moisture without bandage removal, which, if unnecessary, is time and resource intensive as well as risky in terms of exposing wounds to infection—unless moisture levels indicate the need.
“Patients should be able to monitor moisture levels without removing the dressing,” Professor Connolly said. “The design involves sensors that are economical, sterile and disposable.”
WoundSense technology relies on electrodes that are in direct contact with the wound fluid. Ink is used as a conductor, so that the nature of the electrical signal along it can be used to indicate the level of moisture—essentially, the ionic (charged particle) movement and the level of resistance (to that movement) along the ink is directly related to the level of moisture in the wound, as is the system’s ability to store an electric charge.
“Technically we are measuring impedence,” Professor Connolly explained. “This is resistance and capacitance, the ability of an electrical system to store and conduct an electrical charge—it’s quite a sophisticated monitor we’ve set up.”
Professor Connolly said that there is a correlation between the rate and success of healing and the level of moisture in leg ulcers, which are a focal point of wound management research. This knowledge translates to other types of wounds as well.
“We are looking at ways for people to use this system at home so that nurses can visit and focus on other things besides changing dressings,” she said. “This would save nursing time."
Given the success of the moisture-detection technology, Professor Connolly has received support to oversee a large-scale study into similar technology based on pH. Funded by a QNRF National Priorities Research Program grant, she has teamed up with Dr. Ihab Seoudi and Dr. Hanadi Al Hamad, Consultant in Geriatric Medicine—both of Hamad Medical Corporation—to conduct a multi-disciplinary study into ways of monitoring pH at the wound site, which would offer insights into how the wound is progressing that have never before been available at early stages.
“The interesting thing about pH is that there are many questions associated with it,” Professor Connolly said. “pH is related to inflammation and infection, and nobody has done extensive research on this at the bedside. In Qatar we hope to build up a complete picture about how pH affects a wound.”
Until now, bacterial growth and wound progress have been based on observations alone. This wisdom has been cultivated over many generations of clinical practice, and yet it still comes up short compared to what pH sensors could offer.
“With this technology, we are able to provide a diagnostic profile that’s based on science,” Professor Connolly said. “Before, it was up to the nurses’ observations of debrided, dead tissue as well as the smell and look of a wound. By the time these signals came through, it could be quite far down the infection line. We will now have a lot more experience and parameters and be able to offer a better picture of what is going on with the wound and in turn be able to better manage intervention.
“QNRF support has been important in building the international collaboration among medical technicians, scientists, clinicians, wound management diagnostics experts and a lot of different specialists coming together. It’s hard to find the level of funding around a cross-disciplinary team like this, and it’s really important for the advancement of this technology.”
Sensors for Advanced Wound Care.