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Environment

Introduction

Countries all over the world encounter growing environmental challenges caused by increasing populations, accelerating urbanization, industrial, and economic growth. Therefore, it is vital to develop technologies capable of mitigating environmental issues.

 

Introduction

The Kingdom recognizes the importance of addressing environmental issues and providing suitable technologies. As a result, environmental technology was included in the Kingdom’s development plan and in the National Science and Technology Strategy as being one of the most important areas for future sustainable development. KACST significantly encourages scientific research related to the environment and its current issues in the Kingdom, through transferring and developing advanced environmental technologies capable of enhancing the country’s competitiveness in the global market.

On a national level, the strategic plan for the environment satisfies the Kingdom’s vision for the environmental technology program that aims at creating sustainable environmental development by making strategic cooperation and partnerships agreements, leading to developing and localizing various advanced environmental technologies. These include air quality monitoring technologies, greenhouse gas mitigation technologies, wastewater remediation and reuse technologies, ground water treatment technologies, and desertification mitigation technologies.

Future environmental technology projects will focus on devising and developing the proper solutions for environmental issues and creating sustainable environmental development through on going and future projects.

Projects

Based on previous experience in fly ash treatment due to burning fuel in desalination plants, it was found that thermal plasma technology can be used to treat a wider spectrum of waste including municipal solid waste, medical waste and a large amount of industrial waste. The technique has many advantages over traditional methods of burning such as the ability to destroy toxic substances that can not be destroyed by conventional combustion such as dioxins and furans which result from traditional waste burning process. Depending on the type of waste, it is possible to produce synthesis gas in appropriate quantities suitable for the operation of power plants, with a high efficiency cycle that contributes to reducing the cost of treatment. Alternatively it can be modified to liquid fuel used in transportation applications of all types, and to solid substance that can be used in construction. Although this technique has promising features, it still needs some development to overcome technical difficulties such as high initial cost, operating expenses, handling of high humidity waste and faults during operation. Several types of reactors use plasma for waste treatment.

During the reporting period, a mini-reactor was built using a plasma torch that is capable of processing waste samples from a variety of sources in a simplified manner. A more advanced project was also introduced within the National Transformation Program, which aims to develop a solid waste treatment pilot plant to test the aforementioned characteristics on an appropriate scale in regions around the Kingdom.

The proposed project consists of several phases. The first phase aims to evaluate a number of existing proposals and choosing the most appropriate ones for their development and application in the Kingdom. Second phase is the construction of a pilot plant of a suitable size to identify the expected problems during semi-commercial operation.

The third phase is to start operation of the plant that can process different types of waste and to develop technologies that utilize this waste in various applications. The final phase is a financial feasibility study based on the actual operation of the pilot plant.

This project aims at designing and developing a diagnostic alarm system for air pollution, using air pollution observational monitoring data for identifying air quality issues at early stages. This will facilitate sound planning and enable the right decisions to be taken concerning land use and industrial developments, thus avoiding continuous air pollution exposure.

This system incorporates various parameters including measurements of airborne particles and associated heavy metal, cation, and anion concentrations, as well as concentrations of the criteria pollutants. The system also identifies the spatial distribution of air pollutants over Riyadh urban area. For instance, the concentration levels of nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and volatile organic compounds such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene, and their impacts on ozone formation and its distribution, have been quantified and investigated in the various areas of Riyadh. In addition, concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and their sources and temporal and spatial distributions have been characterized and their source apportionment has been quantified.

According to a recent articles published in Nature Climate Change in 2015, extremes of wet-bulb temperature, a combined measure of temperature we and humidity, in the Arabian Gulf region are likely to approach and exceed critical thresholds under the business-as-usual scenario for future greenhouse gas concentrations, and in absence of significant mitigation are likely to severely impact human habitability in the future. Recognizing the importance of this, Saudi Arabia has pledged to curb its carbon emissions by 2030.

This project aims to develop a smart system for monitoring greenhouse gases over the kingdom using low-cost monitoring units to help decision makers, and to continuously provide data through a network of sensors. The system also aims to identify the spatial and temporal patterns, trends of greenhouse pollutants and provide inputs required for atmospheric modeling and impact evaluation (on water, land, healthy and building materials), providing data trends in real time and ensuring compatibility with international measurements.

Air pollution is a serious issue that is affecting our environment. This project is one of the initiatives of the National Transformation Program that aims to find innovative solutions to air pollution and greenhouses gases at the national level.

In order to achieve the balance between the industrial growth in the country and protecting the environment, the Kingdom gave environmental technology exceptional importance.

Air pollution and greenhouse gas technologies are critical to ensure environmental protection and proper conditions for a habitable planet and sustainable development. The expected outcomes of this project are:

  • Identifying pollutants and attributing them to their sources, and identify the ideal strategy for pollution mitigation.
  • Forecasting air quality in growing residential and industrial environment.
  • Identifying ideal sites for future industrial developments to mitigate their environmental impacts.

In this project, a technology was developed by the injection of chemical oxidants underground, supported by an activation zone of Nano-materials. Nano materials are spread around the injection well and attached on soil grains to create an activation zone.

This technique enables the breaking down of chemical bonds in the toxic organic compounds to convert them into non-toxic or less toxic compounds. This technology has a wide range of applications on several toxic and hazardous organic compounds including petrochemical materials, petroleum byproducts, industrial solvents, agricultural pesticides, and others.

Moreover, this technology is considered faster in remediation period compared to other competitive technologies, however, it is still at the preliminary stage of development.

This technique can be used to remediate the leaking from gas stations without the excavation of soil or the removal of underground storage tanks, and can be applied under industrial buildings without demolishing the structure.

This project aims to develop advanced chemical oxidation techniques used in treatment of carcinogenic organic compounds by using a group of synthesized metal Nano-materials as catalysts of different oxidants. These materials are expected to be more stable and environmental friendly. The project is divided into several stages:

  • Synthesizing mono Nano materials.
  • Characterizing the synthesized Nano-materials to identify the properties using electron microscopies.
  • Examining the reliability of synthesized materials as catalysts in chemical batch reactors. 

The outcomes of this project are expected to have a positive impact in treatment of the carcinogenic organic compounds that might be present by leaking from underground storage tanks and petrochemical industries.

Two patents were filed so far from this project. One of them for the invention of an instrument to synthesize Nano materials under reduction conditions, and the other is for the invention of chemical laboratory equipment to dry Nano metal particles. 

In this project, the laboratory at the National Institute of Applied Physics, has been equipped with Nano-deposition facilities to develop Nano-based sensors that are capable of detecting dangerous and poisonous gases at very low concentrations. For instance, metal-oxide Nanostructured semiconductors have been used as active material to sense some chosen gases. Further, some researchers from KACST have taken short training courses in making Nanostructured metal-oxide sensors and operating sensing characterization systems in both Korea and Shanghai Universities. The laboratory also has several metal oxide samples such as ZnO, SnO2, LSMO and WO3, that were prepared using different deposition methods in particular sputtering and hydrothermal reaction techniques. Finally, a home-made circuit has been built for outdoor gas detection which needs to be developed in future research projects. The performances of the fabricated sensors, which is affected by morphology, crystallinity, porosity, deposition technique and other properties of the Nanostructures, will be studied.

Located in one of the warmest and driest regions in the world, Saudi Arabia’s harsh climate presents unique obstacles to meeting the energy and water needs of the country. We rely on desalination to provide more than 1 billion cubic meters of water each year, and as we build new infrastructure to meet demand, it can impact the surrounding environment in ways that are complex, expensive, and often unplanned. To effectively design sustainable and efficient infrastructure, it is crucial to account for the dynamic interactions between human activity and the surrounding environment. This can be captured by coupling detailed simulations of the Saudi climate with models of physical infrastructure such as water desalination and solar energy generation. Starting with desalination plant located in Al-Khafji as a fully integrated model to study the interaction between seawater desalination using solar energy and the impact of current and projected climate conditions on production.

The project relies on accurate climate simulations validated with satellite measurements and coupled with accurate simulations of water desalination plants and solar power plants. It also relies on experimental studies for dust characteristics and its deposition rate on solar panels, to determine the effect dust has on power generation.

The goal of this project is to study the interactions between the environment and built infrastructure. Using a set of models to simulate the dynamics of engineering processes and the surrounding environment, we are studying the effect of climate variation on desalination activity and the impact of brine discharge in the Gulf. To expand our understanding of the Saudi climate, we are using a combination of field studies and experiments to understand the physical and chemical characteristics of the region’s dust and evaluate its impact on solar potential and the broader dynamics of our climate. In addition, spatial and temporal variation of dust and the increase rates on different regions across the country, are studied using satellite data and a network of ground based stations. This data is used in simulation models of different environmental processes and the performance of physical systems under such climatic conditions.

With the advanced developments in software, hardware, and satellites scientists are able to predict and monitor changes in the earth’s surface and distortions caused by geological or industrial activities. These deployments aid in producing maps of the Earth’s deformations, which can be used to mitigate natural hazards. This project aims to produce deformation maps in the Kingdom’s surface due to natural and human-made disasters, using interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR) technology. This project will help to strengthen the relative research infrastructure in the field of satellite imaging using InSAR technology by introducing hardware, software, and qualified staff to KACST.

To achieve these objectives, the research project requires the acquisition of high-resolution satellite data from different vendors to cover the entire area of interest, and then, this data will be analyzed by a geographic information system. Using continuous geodetic monitoring stations distributed throughout the Kingdom will validate and correct the final results.

The computing and processing environment has been built to include operating systems, several servers, and data storage. Although the study area will cover the entirety of Saudi Arabia and surrounding borders - the so-called Middle East Map (MEM) - the Riyadh region has been selected as a sub-region for processing the available Sentinel-1 A\B satellite data. The total size of the necessary data increases depending on the satellite orbit and its mission.

So far, the data size has reached 15 terabytes for the selected area. For interpretation proposes, we have communicated with many government agencies locally and globally to gather all relative information and establish a uniform database that includes geological maps, faults, soil types, seismic events, etc. We aim to use the Generic InSAR Analysis ToolBox (GIAnt) to produce temporal deformation maps of the Earth’s surface for the area of interest. This study is a part of a collaboration agreement made between KACST and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) through the Joint Centers of Excellence Program at KACST.