The American University of Beirut’s Munib and Angela Masri Institute of Energy and Natural Resources (Masri Institute) brought together academics, energy experts and policy makers to thoroughly assess the different energy pathways proposed for the region, including nuclear, with the aim of establishing a Middle East energy network to promote research, outreach activities and connectivity among energy experts.
“The complexity of addressing energy issues and decisions on energy futures require skilled experts able to grasp technical issues and at the same time have a solid understanding of the underlying socio-economic and policy planning complexities,” said AUB Trustee Munib Masri in his welcoming speech for the 5th International Workshop titled ‘Emerging Energy Scenarios in the Middle East: Challenges and Implications’ on May 22, 2015 at College Hall.
“Although the oil and gas resource rich economies are driving human development across the region, the need for energy security and the collective responsibility to achieve sustainable development have accelerated investment in alternative energy systems and services to prepare for a future with an appropriate energy mix,” he added.
FEA Dean Makram Suidan, announced that AUB had recently formulated two new degree programs that specifically address energy issues: an interdisciplinary Master of Science in energy studies, which already has 18 students enrolled for its first year, and a bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering planned to be launched in Fall 2016-17, in addition to graduate and undergraduate programs in chemical engineering, a new bachelor’s in industrial engineering and five PhD programs in engineering.
“Seed funding is a must for faculty to build their research expertise and for the past six years, the Masri Institute has been awarding six to 10 interdisciplinary research grants annually with a yearly budget of around $120,000, with all proposals revolving around regional pressing energy, water, mineral resources and energy management policy issues,” said Provost Ahmad Dallal. “In addition, the Masri Institute in collaboration with AUB Libraries is supporting the development of an online data base for energy resources in Lebanon.”
Final plans are already underway to construct the Masri Institute Building at the Bechtel West side overlooking AUB’s Green Field, which aside from housing the institute, will be home to the chemical and petroleum engineering programs and energy studies.
According to Wissam Zahabi, head of the Lebanese Government Economic and Finance Department, a 2010 US geological survey estimated that the Levant Basin holds up to 122Tr cubic feet of recoverable natural gas and 1.7bn barrels of recoverable oil, with Lebanon’s Exclusive Economic Zone of around 22,700sqkm holding a vast amount of hydrocarbons.
“The Lebanese Atomic Energy Commission (LAEC) is conducting an IAEA project on a feasibility study of a small research reactor and cooperating with potential stakeholders and end users, in particular some universities in Lebanon like AUB, BAU and LU,” said Mohamad Roumie, head of the Nuclear Security and Emergency Department at the CNRS. “The aim of this reactor is to perform mainly neutron activation and neutron diffraction for analysis and characterization of materials which will enable us to build and develop national capacities in the field of nuclear reactor for any possible development in the future.”
Kamal J. Araj, vice chairman of Jordan Atomic Energy Commission’s Commissioner for Nuclear Power Reactor considered that, while surprising, nuclear energy, albeit for different reasons, proves to be one of the best long-term viable alternatives available today for electricity generation and water desalination for both oil-producing and oil-importing countries in the Middle East, with the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan vying for operational nuclear power generation in the very near future.
Maher Alodan, Director of Research and Development and Innovation, King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy confirmed Saudi Arabia’s plans in investing in nuclear and solar power and associated technological and policy challenges.
“What’s most important is to have the suitable energy mix selection based on each individual country’s needs,” he said. “The criteria for such a mix should be: economics and resources; demand patterns including energy savings; technology choices; regulatory and physical infrastructure requirements and environment impact; human capacity development; and value chain development.”
Dmitry Konukhov, Research Associate, Center for Energy and Security Studies of the Russian Federation, who has a number of agreements and planned nuclear centers construction projects in the region, highlighted the additional gains from nuclear power plant (NPP) construction as follows: job creation; electricity export opportunities; development of science and education; tax payment growth; energy security development; country’s reputation growth at a regional level; social infrastructure development; industry and construction sector development; and growth of demand in other sectors of economy.
“If we are looking at an optimistic scenario, by 2030, nine NPPs will be built for six regional countries, with Russia supplying reactor technology to Egypt, Iran, Jordan and Turkey, as well as providing enriched uranium and nuclear fuel cycle services to Saudi Arabia and the UAE,” he said. “A pessimistic scenario will see only three projects implemented in the region, two reactor technology supplies for Iran and Turkey and enriched uranium for the UAE Barakah plant.”
“Many proponents of nuclear energy argue that the reactors can be operated safely without accidents,” said M.V. Ramana, physicist and lecturer at Princeton University in his presentation “Challenges to Nuclear Safety.”“However the question is not whether it can be safe, but will it be safe?”
In closing, Nesreen Ghaddar, associate provost and Qatar Chair in Energy Studies called on the panelists to voice their conclusions and recommendations for the current and future workshops.
“People of the different sides of the energy argument should start speaking to each and suggest recommendations for the future of the energy sector in the Middle East as a whole,” proposed Ali Ahmed, lecturer and research fellow in Nuclear Energy Policy at Princeton.
Giacomo Luciani, co-director of the executive master in international oil and gas leadership at the Graduate Institute of Geneva, highlighted that the political economy had to be taken into account, in view of the fact that most countries in the Middle East were authoritarian systems whose legitimacy was enhanced through having a centralized source of energy, like nuclear or hydro, as opposed to solar and wind power which are highly decentralized and would require extensive interaction with the populace. The fact that certain solutions would be feasible for one country and not another would also have to be taken into consideration.
The need for transparency and regulatory bodies was also emphasized, as well as the need to educate the regional populations who, seemingly oblivious to the costs of subsidized energy bills, are wasting precious resources and heaping millions in losses.
The workshop also took the opportunity to announce the five award-winning research projects and proposals of the Sixth Masri Institute Cycle (2015-16): “Online Learning of 4D Seismic data for Real Time Reservoir Management” by Mariette Awad, assistant professor of electrical engineering and George Saad, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering; “Wireless Energy Harvesting Using Rectennas” by Joseph Constantine, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering; “Coupling Plasmonic and Photonic Effects for Amplification of Solar Energy Conversion in Third Generation Solar Cells” by Lara Halaoui, professor of chemistry; “A Simulation Tool for an Energy Downdraft Tower: Evaluation of Performance under Realistic Environmental Conditions” by Marwan Darwish, professor of mechanical engineering; and “Moisture Buffering Capacity of Hygroscopic Curtains: Theoretical and Experimental Study” by Kamel Ghali, professor of mechanical engineering.