Jul 12 2012
|more articles from|
Don't let the sun go down!
In a country so rich in natural resources, Qatar has plenty of renewable energy potential as well. A 2002 study by Qatar University indicated that the cost of electricity generation from wind here - with all factors taken into consideration - compares favourably with that of fossil fuels. However it's the potential of the sun which has scientists and engineers smitten with endeavour. Solar technology is still in its infancy in terms of how it can be developed.
Qatar Solar Technologies ( QSTec ) is a joint venture between Qatar Foundation (70%), SolarWorld AG (29%) and the Qatar Development Bank (1%). SolarWorld AG is a German solar company that has developed proprietary technologies and has a strong research and development background. The collaboration is focused on providing a product which will complement Qatar's natural energy reserves. Chairman and CEO of QSTec , Dr Khalid K Al-Hajri, spoke to Qatar Today about what his organisation is trying to achieve.
"The development of the solar industry in Qatar brings with it tremendous opportunities. The growth in the demand for solar applications and technologies will continue to expand here, through the region and the world whilst preserving our natural resources. This new industry growth will offer a wide range of research, investment, entrepreneurship and employment opportunities. "In line with the Qatar National Vision 2030, QSTec is developing a new industry for Qatar. A number of new jobs and business opportunities within the local economy will be created and we will provide new career paths in the solar energy sector for our youth," he added.
The science bit
Since the industry is still in its infancy stage, there is little doubt that it's a very technical and complex process. So what exactly is involved in changing heat energy into an industrial raw material? " QSTec will use the Siemens Process to manufacture its polysilicon. This process involves the chlorination of metallurgical grade silicon (MG-Si) to produce TCS (Trichlorosilane).
This is then reacted with hydrogen in high-temperature reactors to produce high quality, solar grade polysilicon." Basically QSTec will be purifying MG-Si to make polysilicon, which is the key ingredient for producing the world's most efficient solar technologies such as cells, ingots, wafers and solar modules, which are utilised by a wide variety of applications to capture the energy from the sun. Initially, QSTec will produce 8,000 metric tonnes per year (MTPY) of polysilicon, but it is designed to expand as demand grows.
This amount of polysilicon is enough to produce solar energy to power approximately 240,000 homes per year. Built on 1.2 million sq m of land in Ras Laffan Industrial City, the QSTec plant can expand capacity to more than 45,000 MTPY and has been designed to seamlessly incorporate ingots, wafers, cells and module manufacturing facilities. MGSi is derived from silicon - the second most plentiful element on earth after oxygen - and is used extensively in the aluminium and steel industries so it is a common material.
Can this technology complement Qatar's natural resources and become an attractive export option for the Qatar economy? " QSTec will become Qatar's newest energy exporter," said Al-Hajri. "In phase one, we will sell polysilicon to our global customers, which will then be manufactured into solar energy products and technologies that will provide a sustainable source of energy. "In subsequent phases, we will move along the solar value chain and produce these products in Qatar for use locally and for export across the region and world.
QSTec is aiming to become a world leading integrated solar company in much the same way that Qatar has become a world leader for LNG exports. The possibilities for solar are many and we have only begun to scratch the surface of what this technology can do," he added. Would polysilicon, solar panels and solar power be effective in countries which haven't the same power from the sun as Qatar? Can QSTec export their solar produce to countries like the UK or China?
Surprisingly, the answer is yes. This is due to the fact that it is daylight and solar radiation, and not heat, that makes solar energy work most effectively. Of course Qatar is blessed with an abundance of sunshine so modules here and in sunnier parts of Europe will produce more energy than in the UK or China, but solar is still quite effective in these countries and it is an industry which keeps growing. In the GCC, the energy payback time, which is the time that the module must spend in the sun to produce the same amount of energy that it took to make it, is under 12 months. In the UK, this energy payback time would be around two to four years. In both cases the module will continue to produce power for 25-30 years.
Whilst there have always been extreme temperatures in Qatar, solar technology is certainly a new industry and brings with it a fresh learning curve. Other global companies involved in renewable energy resources have plenty of experience and intellectual capital in store, so this is what QSTec is leveraging, to not only catch up, but to also start innovating itself. With Qatar Foundation backing the project, Qatar's climate is a very attractive playground for experts of the industry. Al-Hajri stresses that there are still many Qataris who are pushing the project along.
"The global solar industry is enormous and continues to grow exponentially," said Al-Hajri. "It experienced a huge surge in demand in 2011 with global installations increasing by 50% from 2010. QSTec hires experts from around the world, but a lot of our senior professional staff are from Qatar - specifically from the oil, gas and chemical industries. They have many transferrable skills that are highly suitable to the solar industry."
But what about the future? If this project is part of the 2030 vision, then there must be some form of sustainability involved? How are QSTec inspiring the Qatari youth to get involved in solar technology, to innovate and help take this industry to its apogee? "In December 2011, QSTec hosted the world's largest solar-powered boat at the Pearl pier for its longest stopover during its round-the-world voyage," said Al Hajri. "During that time, thousands of people turned up to see the boat and learn about solar energy.
There were also visits from school children as well as from the Qatar Scientific Club and the Qatar Chamber of Commerce and Industry. This is just the start for QSTec and in the future you will see a number of exciting awareness projects and applications that really show the benefits and potential uses of solar technologies. As a result of the boat coming to Doha, many students approached us about teaming up on solar school projects and course work. One student even wanted to build a solar bus."
Research and development
One of QSTec 's main objectives is to develop and export technologies and patents. Qatar has many advantages when it comes to research and development, such as the support from Qatar Foundation and the Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF). "Right now, our attention is on construction of the polysilicon plant," said Al-Hajri/ "Once the plant is operational we will look to expand our research capabilities to improve quality and efficiencies.
As we expand along the solar value chain to make ingots, wafers, cells and solar modules we will increase our research areas. This is a high technology business and to be a leader you need to be researching new methods, techniques and products."
The polysilicon produced by QSTec will enable solar energy companies and organisations around the world to produce products that reduce greenhouse gases, protect the environment and provide clean renewable energy. QSTec are also researching the possibilities for Qatar's critical issues such as air conditioning and water desalination. "We have also been in discussion with the World Cup 2022 committee," added Al-Hajri.
"We hope to provide the stadia and fan zones with the solar solutions and technologies to power the air conditioning. As part of the bid, a test stadium was built which successfully used solar energy to cool the stadium so this technology already exists, but we see many opportunities to further develop it. This is a relatively new segment of the industry, but Qatar is well placed to become a leader"
© Copyright Zawya. All Rights Reserved.