Research centres support industrial innovation in Qatar

 

Qatar is pushing forwards with its goal of becoming a centre for research and development, after establishing a new government agency aimed at encouraging and nurturing innovation. The Qatar Research Development and Innovation (QRDI) Council is chaired by Khalid bin Mohamed Al Attiyah, the deputy prime minister and minister of state for defence affairs, with Sheikha Hind bint Hamad Al Thani, the CEO of Qatar Foundation (QF), serving as deputy-chair. The QRDI Council, which is based at QF, was created in 2018 with the aim of aligning research and development activities with national priorities while maximising the impact of research undertaken in local universities and research centres. “Qatar is investing large amounts into producing programmes for schools to increase interest in research. There is a need for a stronger capacity for critical thinking and engagement with advanced technology, creative activities and independent thinking,” Donald Baker, former executive dean of the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Qatar, told OBG.

Qatar National Research Fund

Much of the groundwork has been laid by QF, with the establishment of the Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF) in 2006. The QNRF supports researchers at all levels in both the public and private sectors. To this end, it has developed a range of funds with specific target groups or areas of research. The National Priorities Research Programme (NPRP), the main funding programme of the QNRF, aims to select and support research projects with the potential to have a positive impact on Qatar’s economy and society. It also aims to promote partnerships between academics and end-users of their research, as well as to identify the challenges and needs of those end-users.

As part of its work, the NPRP also coordinates with the country’s universities to attract, develop and retain skilled faculty members, while also providing incentives and enabling institutions to support researchers. To this end, the QNRF has established a number of joint-funding programmes targeting specific issues. For instance, along with the Ministry of Municipality and Environment, it offered funding up to $750,000 over three years to support research projects on local food production, supply chains, and resilience among people and agri-food systems. The QNRF also runs capacity-building and development programmes to support research in universities such as the Undergraduate Research Experience Programme (UREP), the Qatar Research Leadership Programme and the Graduate Sponsorship Research Award. It also has similar schemes for school pupils, such as the National Science Research Competition.

Qatar University

The impact of the QNRF can be seen in the research record of the national university. In the 2018/19 academic year, under the NPRP’s 11th cycle, Qatar University (QU) researchers submitted 142 proposals and secured funding for 37 projects, representing a 26% success rate. The winning proposals included 16 from the College of Engineering, four from the Centre for Advanced Materials, and four from the College of Arts and Sciences. That year the NPRP selected 77 projects overall, with QU’s successful proposals accounting for 48% of the total. Of QU’s proposals, 33 involved applied research, three basic research, and one based on translational research and experimental development. In the same year QU student projects received 20 of the 60 awards bestowed in UREP’s 23rd cycle, and 37 out of 97 in the 24th cycle.

Research Centres

QU has a number of research units supported by its central laboratories. The KINDI Centre for Computing Research, for instance, focuses on cybersecurity and emerging technologies, and works with several universities in the US. The Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) conducts applied and basic biomedical research in metabolic diseases, infectious diseases and genomics. Its researchers collaborate within the university and with government departments, hospitals and medical research centres. In 2018/19 the BRC had research collaborations with University of Nottingham, the American University of Beirut and Qatar Petroleum. QU’s Environmental Science Centre is devoted to monitoring and modelling the marine, atmospheric and terrestrial environment in Qatar. It has strong links with local industry, as well as academic collaborations with McGill University in Canada and the University of Tasmania in Australia.

In 2007 the College of Engineering at QU launched the Gas Processing Centre (GPC) in order to provide applied solutions for the challenges faced in the oil and gas industries. The centre hosts three major pilot plants: the CO Capture Project Plant; a forward-osmosis pilot plant for produced water funded by the QNRF and ConocoPhillips, a US multinational energy company; and the Heat Exchanger Pilot Plant funded by Qatar Fertiliser Company. Muftah El Naas, director of the GPC, has led a number of research projects, including one that has the potential to offer a combined solution to two separate problems faced by Qatar, both with implications for the environment. The GPC team developed a process in which high-salinity water, such as the reject brine produced in desalination, is mixed with 1-2% calcium oxide to raise the water pH to above 10 before bringing it into contact with CO -containing gases. The CO reacts with sodium chloride and calcium hydroxide to form soluble calcium chloride and insoluble sodium bicarbonate. This chemical process captures CO and stores it in solid sodium bicarbonate, but also reduces the salinity of the reject brine. In doing so, it enables carbon capture as well as treated brine to be used for irrigation. The management of brine poses a serious challenge for countries that rely heavily on desalination as a source of potable water – such as those in the Gulf region. “The university has significant resources in terms of people and facilities, and we have undertaken a range of projects that benefit Qatari society in different ways. This has taken on much greater significance in the last decade,” Darwish Al Emadi, chief strategy and development officer at QU, told OBG.

Qatar Foundation

In addition to serving as headquarters for the QNRF, QF also hosts three research institutes: the Qatar Biomedical Research Institute; the Qatar Computing Research Institute; and the Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute. Sidra Medicine, a medical facility for women and children, is also part of the QF research and education ecosystem located at Education City. Its research plan includes investigations into molecular, cellular and organ biology, while broader areas of interest include genomics and genetics, rare diseases, diabetes, heart malformations, autism and stem cell medicine. QF has also developed a number of new innovation centres to draw expertise from academia, industry stakeholders and public bodies. These include Qatar Science and Technology Park, Qatar Biobank and Qatar Genome Programme. From 2007 to 2018 QF invested $1.4bn in 2300 research projects through the QNRF, generating a total of 331 inventions, 15 patents and 20 start-up companies.

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