By Peter Mueller, Guest Writer
When one thinks of a futuristic, sustainable and technologically groundbreaking city, an image of the Jetson’s residence in Orbit City might come to mind.
Aside from a suitcase that can change into hover car and artificially intelligent companion Rosie, the Mubadala Development Company is developing Masdar City in Abu Dhabi that envelopes all of what the city of the future might look like.
In an effort to move the United Arab Emirates’ natural resource based economy away from oil production, Masdar City is looking to be the international hub of renewable energy innovation.
In 2006, planning and development on Masdar City began with an initial budget of $22 billion. The five-phase plan included corporate headquarters, 1,200 storefronts and residential space for 50,000 people.
Now in phase two of the project, Masdar City is composed of 3,000 inhabitants, the Masdar Institute, an unmanned inner city transport system, two corporate buildings and multiple residential housing complexes, Bloomberg reports.
All development in Masdar City is designed and built with sustainability and renewable energy in mind. Fosters and Partners, the leading green architecture firm, has created structures that maximize organic light, shading and air flow to create a climate 10 degrees cooler than outside the city.
All structures within Masdar feature solar panels that generate 30 percent of the city’s energy. Alongside the incredible functions of Masdar’s city structures is the design of the buildings, which are nothing short of architectural eye candy. With fractal-like structure design accented with traditional Middle Eastern patterns, the city is a template for sustainable modern architecture.
Masdar City is creating a template for zero emission inner city travel. No personal automobiles are allowed within the city, leaving residents to use an unmanned, zero emission mass transit program called Personal Rapid Transit (PRT).
Designed by 2getthere, a sustainable mobility solutions company, the PRT system features an underground system that transports citizens from station to station in a Mitsubishi i-MiEV automated electric cabin car. In order to maximize shading and eliminate roadways at ground level, the PRT system is completely underground.
When the financial crisis of 2008 struck, Masdar City was forced to scrap the expansion of the underground PRT system in order to cut costs and continue ground-level development.
In response to the expansion cut, engineers heading transportation in Masdar City are looking to implement an unmanned electric car pilot on ground level in 2015, Scientific American reports. Masdar City has also reached an agreement with Abu Dhabi to expand the neighboring city’s mass transit and light rail systems to run through the city.
The most groundbreaking part of Masdar City is the Masdar Institute. The Masdar Institute is a graduate school developed in association with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and it offers eight Masters programs. The student body of the Masdar Institute includes 213 graduate students from 33 different countries. The institute’s facilities include sustainable labs that are conducting some of the world’s most innovative renewable energy and nanotechnology research.
Masdar City and the Masdar Institute have started working on a project to create new biofuels for the aviation industry. Nearly 500 acres of coastal land was donated to them by the United Arab Emirates for the project.
The project looks to take carbon dioxide rich salt water from shrimp and fish farms from the surrounding area and pump them into semi-arid land to grow salt tolerant plants such as salicornia. Once the plants have been harvested, they are then crushed to create biosynthetic kerosene for aviation-grade fuel.
The project is still in the experimental stage, but past projects by the Masdar Institute using the same technology have yielded promising results.
In 2011, the Masdar Institute began a similar project on a smaller scale that created enough biosynthetic kerosene for an Etihad airways cargo plane to fly from Abu Dhabi to Seattle year round. With every piece of arid land needed for conventional agriculture and with only 3 percent of the world’s water being fresh water, this project might be revolutionary to the biofuel industry.
Developers of Masdar City have set the completion date at 2025. The rapid growth and promising results of the city’s innovation have led some corporations, including the electronics and electrical engineering company Siemens, to move their headquarters to Masdar City.
Masdar City is aggressive in sustainability and renewable energy projects, treads lightly with zero emissions and could one day be the template for sustainable inner city development and architecture. ◼︎