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Firms drawn to ambitious green initiative

An artist's vision of life in Masdar Masdar

A far-sighted environmental project in the oil rich state of Abu Dhabi has attracted the attention of Swiss sustainable energy specialists.

This content was published on January 21, 2008 - 08:54

The multi-billion dollar Masdar Initiative combines a carbon neutral city, a global research network and a venture capital fund. Swiss bank Credit Suisse is a major sponsor with other firms queuing up for a piece of the action.

Two such companies will display their capabilities in the United Arab Emirate that hosts the world's largest interdisciplinary energy summit starting on Monday.

Masdar, meaning "the source", was launched in 2006 by the Crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Although Abu Dhabi is sitting on around 10 per cent of the world's crude oil reserves, the Emirate has started preparing for the post fossil-fuel age.

The project has already attracted international acclaim and picked up a prize last year at the first World Clean Energy Award ceremony in Basel. And its plan for an energy-neutral city was backed last week by the Swiss-based World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

Credit Suisse is one of three organisations to set up a $250 million (SFr275 million) Masdar Clean Tech Fund, offering venture capital to promising early-stage companies. The bank is also principal sponsor of the World Future Energy Summit.

"It is the first time an oil rich country has made such a move on the environmental side - it is a very innovative flagship project," Bernd Schanzenbächer, co-head of the bank's Environmental Business group told swissinfo.

"We see an increasing scarcity of natural resources – be it water or fossil fuels – and this calls for new technology that increases the efficient use of such resources. This in turn generates huge investment opportunities."

Energy summit

The United Nations last year said investments in the sustainable energy sector increased to $70.9 billion in 2006, an increase of 43 percent from the previous year.

Monday will see the start of the three-day energy summit that will hear from 80 speakers, including government ministers, energy company executives and environmental experts.

The event is expected to attract 4,000 guests and will provide a showcase for some 2,000 companies in the sustainable energy sector to show off their wares.

Two of those firms are the Swiss-based Geberit, a world leader in water management systems, and South Pole Carbon Asset Management which supports carbon emission reduction projects around the world.

Geberit believes it is ideally positioned to play a part in the ambitious carbon neutral city project scheduled to be built in the Abu Dhabi desert within the next seven years.

"Water is more and more of a megatrend with people already talking about water as being more important than oil," company spokesman Roman Sidler told swissinfo. "The Masdar zero energy city is a huge project and we could really contribute with our strengths in water saving and hygiene."

swissinfo, Matthew Allen

Key facts

Abu Dhabi is one of the world's major oil producing states.
The United Arab Emirate is sitting on an estimated 10% of the world's crude oil reserves (92 billion barrels) and about 5% of gas reserves.
Oil supplies in Abu Dhabi are not expected to run dry for more than a century.
The price of oil reached $100 a barrel for the first time earlier this month.

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In brief

The Masdar Initiative is run by the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company, that is coordinating the various elements of the project.

These include a six square kilometre carbon neutral, waste free city powered by a 40-megawatt photovoltaic plant and wind farms. The city will provide facilities for the world's leading researchers and manufacturers in the sustainable energy sector, bringing them under one roof.

Masdar has also combined forces with some of the world's leading educational establishments, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), to offer Masters and PhD courses.

The World Future Energy Summit runs from January 21-23.

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