The Middle East–North Africa (MENA) region has always played a central role in global energy supply, given its abundant oil and gas reserves. Given that global energy demand will double up to 2050, the region will continue to maintain this critical role. The MENA region will still, however, be characterised by diverging income levels between resource-rich states such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar along with hi-tech states such as Israel, and the other lower-income states. The future challenge for the entire region will be the need to diversity its economic base through new development policies. At the FIDIC (International Federation of Consulting Engineers) Annual Conference 2011, Nabil Chater, president of the Tunisian Consulting Engineers Association, said that new infrastructure was needed to create positive socio-economic opportunities in the MENA states. Against this backdrop, over $1 trillion of engineering infrastructure will be required in the region over the next 20 years.


Saudi Arabia is addressing the increasing needs of its population through flagship development projects such as the new King Abdullah Economic City on the Red Sea coast, which will cost $93 billion. The new city and port will cover 168km2 and will provide one million new jobs and accommodation for two million people. In the United Arab Emirates, Saadiyat Island residential and tourist area is being developed at a cost of $27 billion. The project is aimed at the international tourist market and will include branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums, along with the Zayeed National Museum. In Morocco, the National Sanitation Program 2020 is being progressed to connect 10 million inhabitants to an upgraded sanitation network in 260 cities and towns at a cost of $5.2 billion, while the National Solid Waste Program 2020 will facilitate re-use of waste at an investment cost of $4.8 billion. From the Atlantic Coast to the Persian Gulf, new urban projects will facilitate future socio-economic growth in the region.


New rapid transport links are being developed in the region to enhance economic connectivity between developing cities. A key state in this sector is Turkey, where aviation, maritime and rail projects are currently being developed. Congested land transport links between the sea port Istanbul and Ankara in central Turkey are being upgraded with the implementation of the country’s first high speed rail project. The rail project will have a top speed of 250km per hour, reducing transport time between the two cities from six to three hours. Air transport will be enhanced in the region through the planned construction of the world’s largest airport west of Istanbul, which will have a 150 million passenger capacity per annum. The airport will be constructed in four stages at a cost of $6 billion, with the first phase accommodating 90 million passengers by 2018. Turkey’s geographical position between Europe and Asia has enabled it to act as a key corridor for maritime trade. Every year, some 140 million tons of oil cargo is transported from the Black Sea via the Bosphorus Strait at Istanbul, which creates shipping congestion. The US Department of Energy has referred to the Strait as a global ‘energy chokepoint’, which also explains the related concerns about possible environmental damage. The proposed Istanbul Canal, a 45km sea-link west of Istanbul, aims to create a safer passage for shipping. This diverse range of transport projects will enhance Turkey’s role as a key bridge for trade and tourism between Europe, Asia and Africa, while also protecting marine and other environmental habitats.


The issue of regional environmental impacts has been highlighted in recent reports by the Arab Forum for Environment and Development, which state that the environmental bio-capacity of the MENA region had been in decline since 1975. A key pioneering project to address environmental sustainability is Masdar City in the United Arab Emirates. Masdar City is a zero-carbon emissions city, with sustainable energy, transport, water and waste systems. Hilary Clinton, the former US Secretary of State, said Masdar City represented a sustainable solution not only for the region, but for the entire world.

The electricity supply for the city is from photovoltaic solar cells on the building roofs. The required area of solar cells is determined by their efficiency and the peak energy demand. The structural design of buildings must account for the extra loading from the solar cells. However, the cells also provide a cooling benefit due to shading. The interaction of the energy generation, structural loading and temperature control parameters in the design of Masdar City require close inter-disciplinary co-operation between the electrical, structural and building services engineers on the project. Solar heating cells are used for heating water and supplying energy input for the chilled water cooling system. Cooling requirements for buildings are determined by heat and humidity levels. In Masdar City, the use of low heat devices and liquid dehumidifiers, in parallel with the insulation specification, all combine to determine comfort levels and the associated cooling demand for the buildings. The lower cooling demand levels will result in a higher operational temperature of 9OC for the cooling system, which enables a 40% energy input saving. In terms of transport, the key element for preventing CO2 emissions is the Passenger Rapid Transport system, which utilises 3,000 automatic electric ‘podcars’ for all local journeys in the city. This is indicative of Masdar City’s pioneering approach in enabling safe transport without carbon emissions. Water is recycled in the city to enable a 75 per cent reduction in water demand. This is a particularly important technical development for cities worldwide, given that the percentage of the world’s population experiencing water shortages will increase from 40 per cent today to 75 per cent by 2050. Masdar City thus represents a model solution for addressing global urban expansion. This growth is being driven by the need to accommodate the extra two billion people who will move to cities worldwide over the next 20 years. In parallel with sustainable energy developments in the Gulf Region, North African states such as Morocco are aiming to produce 2,000 megawatt (MW) of electricity based on a $9 billion investment in solar power systems at a number of Atlantic coast and other inland sites. In the wind-power sector, the Moroccan Wind Plan will involve a $3.5 billion investment to produce 2000 MW by 2020 at a number of coastal sites. Sustainable energy systems will thus form a key energy supply element in the MENA region in future.


The traditional types of petrochemical infrastructure for extracting and processing oil and gas supplies will continue to play an indispensable role in developing economic opportunities in the region. In resource-rich states such as Qatar, the capacity of annual liquid natural gas production has increased from 15 million tons in 2003 to 77 million tons by 2011, based on $70 billion of investment. A key project in the petrochemical sector in Qatar is the Shell Pearl ‘gas to liquid’ plant, based on the development of the offshore North Field gas reserve in the Persian Gulf. The Pearl plant encompasses technology to convert gas into a variety of energy and oil products. The conversion of gas to liquid products involves a number of chemical processes. Initially, the natural gas is cleaned though gravity separation with natural gas liquids such as propane, butane and ethane being removed. Methane, the pure natural gas, is then heated with oxygen to 2650 degrees Fahrenheit in a gasification unit to convert the gas to a mixture of hydrogen and carbon Monoxide known as synthesis gas, or syngas. The syngas is then mixed with special catalysts to convert it to waxy hydrocarbons, which are mixed with hydrogen and cut down into smaller molecules of different lengths and shapes in the hydrocracking process. Distillation processes then enable the extraction of a range of products including gasoil, base oil, kerosene aviation fuel and naphtha for plastic production. Qatar’s gross domestic product (GDP) per capita is now the third highest in the world, based on the demand for liquid natural gas and condensate products. Further investment in the industrial, transport and education infrastructure sectors will maintain an economic growth rate of at least 4% for Qatar in future years.


srael has traditionally been a key MENA state in terms of its high-level technology and engineering industries. Israel invests 2.2% of its GDP in research and development across a range of scientific sectors. This focus on technology for economic development in Israel was essential in the past, given its limited natural resource base. This resource constraint is set to change, with the discovery of offshore gas at the Leviathan and Tamar fields in the Mediterranean. This will facilitate the transition to natural gas use in the country, with the benefits of lower-cost energy use and reduced CO2 emissions. Israel used 5.3 billion cubic metres of gas in 2010; by 2030, this will increase to 18 billion cubic metres when gas will constitute 68% of resource supply for energy generation. This new resource base will compliment Israel’s engineering research in clean technology production in the southern Negev Desert, which will aim to produce materials in an environmentally friendly manner. The clean technology developments in the Negev and the new Mediterranean gas fields will contribute to Israel’s economic growth rate of 3.6% in 2013. The petro-chemical engineering and clean technology sectors will continue to evolve in tandem with the sustainable energy sector to meet supply needs in the regional and global contexts.


The MENA region is facing huge challenges in the engineering sector, with the shift to a diversified economic model of sustainable development and industrialisation to meet socio-economic needs. Government and private-sector investment will facilitate this economic development through new pioneering projects which will transform the Middle East-North Africa Region.

Paul MacDonald BSc(Eng) BSc (Politics) MIEI is a highway engineer/training officer with Kildare National Roads Office. He has over 19 years’ experience in highways, water and environmental engineering. He is a member of the Council of Engineers Ireland and is involved in the Engineers Ireland STEPS school liaison programme. MacDonald has a keen interest in topics such as urbanisation in the emerging states, international engineering contracts and project finance.