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French expatriate Nicolas Calvet set up the Masdar Institute Solar Platform nine years ago. The UAE Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai has honoured him as one of the dreamers. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: French expatriate Nicolas Calvet, Assistant Professor, Mechanical Engineering, at Khalifa University set up the Masdar Institute Solar Platform (MISP) nine years ago. Recognising his work, the UAE Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai has honoured him as one of the dreamers.

What is Masdar Institute Solar Platform?

MISP is the first facility in the UAE dedicated to concentrated solar power (CSP) and thermal energy storage (TES) and Calvet is the official representative of the UAE at the Solar PACES Executive Committee, a technology collaborative programme of the International Energy Agency (IEA).

It is one of the world’s first 100 per cent recycled high-temperature thermal energy storage material made from industrial solid waste. “Our dream is to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy,” said Calvet. “Solar energy is only available when the sun is shining, making energy storage crucial for 24x7 deployment.”

“I grew up in the south of France, in a small city called Perpignan, located between the mountain and the beach with about 300 days of sun every year. I became a high school teacher in Physics, which was my dream when I was a kid. Then I realised that instead of teaching every year, the same science discovered by other scientists, I would rather prefer to develop and teach my own research to students. So I went back to the university to study Solar Energy and I did a PhD in thermal energy storage applied to CSP. After my PhD, I worked at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden Colorado, United States, and then at CIC Energigune in the Basque Country in north of Spain. Finally, I joined Masdar Institute at Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi in 2013.”

The rest is history, as they say.

Creating the first solar platform in UAE

Taking inspiration from Felix Trombe a French scientist, Calvet, harboured dreams in the sustainable world. “He [Trombe] built the world’s biggest solar furnace in the Pyrenees mountains in south of France back in the 1970s. Today this furnace is the most powerful in the world. I was inspired by this unique solar facility and decided to create the first solar platform in the UAE.”

Calvet said : “If we want to deploy solar energy massively, we need to store energy as there is no sun at night, when we still need electricity. So we have to store energy during the day when we have a lot of sun, to reuse it after sunset. The Masdar Institute Solar Platform has today become an internationally recognised platform that provides a convergence of renewable energy research, development and demonstration and serves as a foundation for the UAE’s ambition to achieve world leading innovation in clean and renewable energy.”

What next?

Calvet is the co-founder and chief executive officer of Seramic Material Ltd, a startup that pioneers in recycled ceramics. “We are trying to commercialise this product.”

Dr Tarifa Alzaabi

Dr Tarifa Alzaabi, acting director at the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA), has been featured in the ‘Dreamers Lab’ at the UAE Pavilion in Expo 2020 Dubai.

She is one among others who have been rewarded with this honorary mention at the pavilion for her sustainable efforts in the UAE. “I feel really proud to see myself. I want to thank everyone who made it possible. I am sure it will inspire more people, especially women, to see themselves as future successful innovators.”

Alzaabi, at the helm of ICBA, has been recognised for her part in ICBA, which was founded 21 years ago with the support of the Government of the UAE and the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) has established itself as a global centre of excellence and a go-to research-for-development partner in different regions.

“Our strengths specifically lie in developing tailor-made innovative solutions to problems of salinity, water scarcity and drought. We have unique long-running research and knowledge on salinity and water scarcity in marginal environments. ICBA also hosts and preserves one of the world’s largest collections of germplasm of drought, heat and salt-tolerant plant species at its GenBank,” she explained.

“The focus lies in improving food security and nutrition, enhancing water security and environmental sustainability and creating jobs and livelihoods in marginal environments — the areas of the world that face problems of salinity, water scarcity and drought, among others.”

Alzaabi said her success had largely been due to the focus on alternative rather than mainstream solutions and approaches to provide agricultural solutions in the world’s marginal environments. “My team and I also received a lot of support for inter-disciplinary research teams and world-class research facilities that we have at ICBA. Above all, our strong partnership with all stakeholders, especially donors and partners and farmers.”

Empowering women

Alzaabi said one of the greatest achievements has been working with different organisations in the UAE, including the Ajman Business Women Council (AJBWC), to empower women in the field of Agripreneurship and build their capabilities. “We partnered with organisations like the Gracia Group and Dubai Entrepreneurship Academy — SME to offer certified agri-entrepreneurship professional diplomas. In addition, we also run a Halophytic Kitchen Lab programme to promote the use of locally-grown halophytic food crops. The programme seeks to encourage young and adults to learn more about the health and other benefits of consuming foods based on nutritious halophytic crops such as Salicornia, cultivated with saline water in desert conditions.”

Message for women and youth

“My message to the youth and women is that they should believe in themselves and make the best use of the resources and technologies we have in today’s world. With the boom in technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and internet of things (IoT), we have more opportunities than ever before for innovators. Also, our innovations need to focus on something that’s not only sustainable, but also helps to address some of the most pressing challenges that we have, such as depleting natural resources like fresh water, climate change, ensuring future food security and nutrition security and fighting poverty and hunger,” she said.

The American University stars

Dr Oussama El-Kadri and Dr Mohammad Al-Sayah of American University Sharjah are two sustainable innovators who have made their mark in the field of polymer. And this is why they are among those featured at the UAE Pavilion.

“We want to be part of the solution that saves the Earth. Fossil fuel and nuclear energy are still essential, so we are working on ways to reduce their impact on the planet,” said El-Kadri.

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'Dreams will become a reality as long as you think that nothing is impossible,' says Dr Oussama El-Kadri, one of the dreamers who is being showcased at the UAE Pavilion. Image Credit: Supplied

“What we have created is a sponge-like organic material that has proven effective in selective capture of carbon dioxide in a safe, efficient and economical way. Carbon dioxide capture and sequestration has the potential to greatly reduce carbon dioxide emissions.”

El-Kadri grew up in Lebanon and moved to Canada when he was 14. He completed his undergraduate studies from the University of Toronto, majoring in Chemistry. He later did his PhD in Chemistry at Wayne State University in Detroit.

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“Dreams will become a reality as long as you think that nothing is impossible. As an educator and scientist, the UAE presents an ideal place to pursue my work because of its vision of putting education first and establishing a higher education system that promotes excellence in teaching and research,” he said.

Looking ahead

“By patenting and commercialising the technology, we will continue to design material that collects or neutralises other toxins,” he said.