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Egyptian universities are joining forces with MIT in the US to address some of the country’s most pressing energy needs. MIT professor Ahmed Ghoniem1 tells Nature Middle East what the project involves.
Egypt has a long tradition of strong academic institutions, arguably some of the world’s oldest. Recently, the country has faced significant challenges in energy and other vital sectors, such as agriculture and water. Research universities in the USA have been at the forefront of invention and strategy to address such challenges, using interdisciplinary and integrated research and educational programmes.
Now, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is working with a number of Egyptian universities to establish the Center of Excellence for Energy (COE-Energy).
Working with Ain Shams University in Cairo, in collaboration with partners in Mansoura University and Aswan University, and funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), we will endeavour to use MIT’s model—which combines education in the classroom, research in the laboratory, and entrepreneurship in the field—to develop sustainable energy technologies to serve the economic and social needs of Egypt.
Our collaborative project is multi-faceted.
We aim to develop interdisciplinary knowledge that can solve some of the world’s most pressing challenges in energy and its intersection with the production of food and water in ways that are compatible with local resources and needs.
We plan to translate the results of this research into products and services through entrepreneurship, sound public policy and engagement with local stakeholders. We will work towards establishing a new class of engineering graduates that can best serve their community in these and related areas. There are plans to transform university centres in Egypt into sustainable dynamic enterprises that respond to the economic and social needs of their communities.
Beyond energy, we plan to work collaboratively with other centres of excellence to address challenges in the energy-water-agriculture nexus.
The model of a research university that actively participates in delivering science and technology-based solutions is yet to be implemented in Egypt. Establishing the new centres of excellence for energy, agriculture and water is a step toward transforming the country’s academic institutions into partners in economic and social development.
Interdisciplinary teams from MIT and our Egyptian partners will conduct joint applied research projects in new and renewable energy technologies including wind, solar, natural gas, biomass, waste, storage, transmission, transportation, carbon capture and storage, smart systems and building efficiency. State-of-the-art research and development tools will be used to address domestic needs using local resources and products.
Also, new educational paradigms in teaching and learning will be implemented in Egyptian universities to emphasize active learning and problem solving. New education technologies, digital learning and other platforms will be used to expand the impact of this effort, and new subjects and curricula in energy will be added at the undergraduate and graduate levels.
A governance structure for the Center of Excellence for Energy and its different activities will be implemented to ensure timely exchange with the government, public and private industries, academia, and the public. Study tours, research-sourcing workshops, energy policy dialogues, industrial research councils and business plan competitions will be used to create a thriving innovation ecosystem.
New and renewable energy solutions are urgently needed to meet the needs of growing populations and expanding economies, while combating the potential negative effects of conventional technologies. With its own domestic production of natural gas, and solar, wind and biomass resources, Egypt should be able to meet its needs while fulfilling its commitments to low carbon emissions and affordable energy for electricity, transportation, industry, food and water production. Egyptian universities must produce graduates with skills to participate in developing and implementing these solutions using a new entrepreneurial spirit and the latest knowledge and tools, and working towards meeting its Vision 2030 goals.
MIT has had decades of experience of working with universities around the world to build their local capacity to produce high quality fundamental and applied research; educational and learning programmes that promote interdisciplinary problem solving; and graduates committed to advancing technology solutions for the benefits of their community. The Institute has been at the leading edge of producing knowledge and technologies for new and renewable energy systems that enable sustainable development and environmental stewardship. Different units and organizations within MIT embody models of multi-disciplinary research in energy and its intersections with water and food. Several of these units work with partners worldwide, and some focus on technologies for the developing world and rural communities. Several initiatives within the Institute focus on addressing regional needs in different continents, tackling healthcare, energy, water, and food production. Special attention is given to scalable solutions and systems that accelerate their implementation.
Egypt is one of the world’s largest wind energy producers, and it has expanding resources in natural gas and agri-waste. But it needs to address several problems, including the open-field burning of agricultural waste, the need to incorporate renewable energy technologies into water desalination, the development of smart grids, and finding ways to solve its energy needs for the management of smart cities by improving technologies and establishing the appropriate public policies.
MIT is motivated by the challenges facing development in Egypt, and emerging opportunities. Plans for significant expansion of solar energy utilization and the construction of one of the largest photovoltaic plants in the world in Aswan is one such opportunity.