A longtime leader in oil production, Abu Dhabi is working to change its impact on the world. "Abu Dhabi has been a leader in fossil fuel for the past few decades" and is now striving toward "a leadership position in the renewable energy sector," Abu-Zaid says.
The $22 billion city is being built by Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company. Designed by a British architectural firm, the city will rely entirely on solar energy and other renewable sources.
Goodarz Ahmadi was a professor at Clarkson when Abu-Zaid was a mechanical engineering doctoral candidate. Ahmadi, who is now Clarkson's dean of engineering, remembers him as being "bright" and "hard-working."
Ahmadi and Abu-Zaid have stayed in touch over the years. "He was a great student. I was really impressed with his work," Ahmadi says.
Abu-Zaid received his master of science degree in mechanical engineering from Clarkson in 1987 and his Ph.D. in the same major in 1991.
He remembers his time at Clarkson, too. "Although my research at Clarkson was not directly related to my current job, my education at Clarkson gave me the foundation and the ability to research and apply new ideas," he explains.
Abu-Zaid has always been fascinated by renewable energy. After working as an engineer in New York City, Oklahoma and Silicon Valley, he saw that things were beginning to change. "I saw the global revival of interest in renewable energy, and decided to take courses and workshops in solar photovoltaic."
When Masdar was founded in 2006, Abu-Zaid submitted his resume, was granted an interview and was offered a job. He started as project manager and was promoted to manager of the department of power and distribution. Abu-Zaid says he enjoys his work. "Even though working at Masdar is very demanding, it is enjoyable because of the exposure to new innovative ideas on a daily basis."
Masdar promotes renewable energy by investing worldwide in companies that specialize in renewable energy. The city is heavily involved in research and development of innovative technologies and constructs its own renewable energy projects. Masdar also established the region's first graduate-level institute, the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, which focuses on renewable energy and sustainability.
Abu-Zaid believes Masdar will pave the way for similar projects in the future. "We are setting the standards for future sustainable cities and we will be able to apply the lessons learned from Masdar City in cities that will be following the Masdar City model."
Masdar will also provide opportunities for scientists and engineers to test their theories in real life. "Masdar City is a living laboratory for all the generous ideas that spring up around the world."
Still, building the world's first sustainable city is not easy. "The biggest challenge is the fact that no such city of this size has been built before, hence, finding construction materials, methods and standards to meet our sustainability goals is a challenge."
Abu-Zaid plans to stick with the project and see it through to the end. "I hope to continue with Masdar and see the completion of the city," he says.
Exterior rendering of Masdar headquarters. Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill are the design architects of the project.Photo Credit: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture.