Desert Harvest

The oil-abundant emirate of Qatar depends on trade and technology for its water and food. Texas A&M researchers are helping to secure Qatar’s supply of both.

By BRADY CREEL

qatarIn arid Qatar, every drop of water is a precious natural resource. Faculty at Texas A&M University’s Qatar campus are researching ways to make water practical for agricultural use in order to secure the nation’s food supply.

Qatar, an Arabian Gulf emirate on a peninsula about the size of Connecticut, has immense energy resources, mostly in the form of natural gas, and is home to one of the world’s fastest-growing economies.

Qatar has almost no domestic agricultural production, however, mainly because of a lack of water—less than two percent of the nation’s land is arable. The nation imports most of the food for its 1.5 million residents, and Qatar’s leaders are taking steps to ensure that the nation can help feed itself.

“Without trade or technology, Qatar would have almost no water to drink and no food to eat,” says Patrick Linke, whose research focuses on efficient utilization of natural resources. “Qatar always will need fresh water, and today there is a critical need to secure its food supply by enabling domestic agriculture.”

Linke and Ahmed Abdel-Wahab, associate professors of chemical engineering at Texas A&M at Qatar, launched the Qatar Sustainable Water and Energy Utilization Initiative (QWE) to tackle such problems. QWE researches desalination technologies, as well as water management and environmental impact assessment approaches, that support the development of solutions that sustainably provide water to agriculture.

“Qatar has the resources and the ambition to be able to provide for itself,” Linke says. “Texas A&M at Qatar and QWE are helping with that.”

Under the leadership of Linke and Abdel-Wahab, QWE is quickly establishing itself as a leading center for sustainable water and energy use, backed by a team of 12 research staff and state-of-the-art laboratories and computational facilities. QWE is an umbrella for several research projects that have a common theme: maximizing efficiency and sustainability of Qatar’s water and energy resources.

“The nation cannot gamble with the availability of fresh water, and so we must explore novel ways to ensure the integrity of Qatar’s supply of water.”

One key area for this research is production of potable water. In a place where summer temperatures often exceed 130°F, a reliable supply of fresh water truly is a matter of life and death.

“Qatar relies on desalination facilities for almost all of its drinking water,” Abdel-Wahab says. “The nation cannot gamble with the availability of fresh water, and so we must explore novel ways to ensure the integrity of Qatar’s supply of water.”

Desalination yields hazardous by-products, though, such as brine and brackish water. QWE researchers are looking at ways to desalinate water without damaging the environment or the water supply itself. Work in this area is leading to new desalination and water processing technologies that are more environmentally friendly and more practical for Qatar’s thriving industrial base. This endeavor includes studies of the environmental impact of cooling-water discharge from industrial plants along Qatar’s 350 miles of coastline.

“Qatar’s energy and industrial resources ensure the nation will continue to grow for decades,” Abdel-Wahab says. “Texas A&M will play a part in that growth by providing new knowledge to support sustainable utilization of water and energy.”

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