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.