The oval ring-shaped Museum of the Future is currently being constructed only a short distance away from a forest of city skyscrapers. Lining Dubai’s busiest highway, its standalone circular design is an apt representation of how modernity, innovation, and digitization can do away with society’s traditional dependence on lines.
Like the buildings that comprise them, modern cities were also constructed in linear systems. In linear economies materials are sourced to produce and develop finished products and structures, and subsequent wastage is disposed of and managed. Increasingly though, the concept of the circular economy is promising a new future for smarter, more sustainable cities. Maybe even cities that are “future-proof.”
Linear economies produce alarming amounts of structural waste with high economic costs resulting from the under-utilisation of materials, and poor waste management and collection practices. The negative environmental impacts, i.e., greenhouse gas emissions, low air quality and ground pollution, though corrected where possible, are often conceived of as necessary by-products of urban growth and development.
With 70% of all buildings that will exist in 2050 yet to be built in newer and emerging economies, such as India and the U.A.E., there is a strong will among stakeholders to shift toward a circular economy. A linear path to our future development is finite, and we can no longer move forward without transitioning toward a circular, more sustainable, system. Definitions of a circular economy differ across the board, but as Dr. Steve Griffiths, VP for Research at the Masdar Institute, explains:
“Simply put, a circular economy is one that achieves growth that is decoupled from natural resource consumption. This is achieved through the use of transformative new technologies and business models that emphasize multiple-lifecycle products, resource recovery, product life extension, sharing platforms and products as services.”
Amsterdam’s Smart City in the Netherlands, Circular Glasgow in the United Kingdom, and Florida’s The Venus Project in the United States are just a few of the pioneering projects that have adopted actual policy strategies creating circular economies that preserve and enhance natural capital, optimize resources and foster system effectiveness.
Circular cities can be created top down through the implementation of legislation and regulations, but there are numerous enablers that can help any city make the shift to circularity from the ground up as well.
Researchers in sustainability, design and innovation from the Delft University of Technology and Loughborough University call for specific business actions to enable the transition circular economy:
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, with its “mission to accelerate the transition to a circular economy,” calls for big business, local government, and SMEs to all work together to “design out” waste and pollution where possible, and to keep products, components and materials bio-based, at their highest value and in use. The Foundation also advocates for innovative designs that enhance natural capital and regenerate natural systems, coupled with the application of digital technologies, as essential means of achieving these objectives.
UAE-based Eco-Structures International is one local business doing its part to be a key enabler of circularity in the construction of cities in the GCC. Eco-Structures provides a unique technology called TermoDeck, a digitized HVAC design that functions as a service rather than as a product for new builds and selected retrofit building projects.
Eco-Structures works with the engineers at TermoDeck on the designs needed to modify existing construction materials, ie. concrete slabs, and essentially “design out” energy waste by efficiently “designing in” the capacity to store and conserve energy.
This service-based system leaves the design flexible enough to work with almost any product, as greener forms of concrete and 3D printed structures become more accessible with technological advancement.
By modifying the concrete slabs to enhance natural capital, specifically the inherent thermal storage capabilities of the slabs, and accessing both day-time and night-time air when it is at its highest value, (as TermoDeck’s unique technology alerts engineers when to draw in the air when its at its coolest, based on very specific calculations and 24-hour system monitoring), cooler, dehumidified, and treated air is continuously stored, and circulated within the fabric of the building itself.
This process is proven to reduce installed cooling capacity by 40-50% in GCC conditions, and also cuts peak demand energy usage by up to 90% producing significant cost savings and resulting in a lowered carbon impact and producing minimal waste.
No small feat for a region where 75% of all power produced is consumed by air-conditioning.
The TermoDeck system can also be used in conjunction with solar energy (both PV panels and CSP), i.e., in harmony with other energy saving technologies and natural energy systems. This can help relieve pressure on municipal services and budgets and also increase liveability by improving IAQ and minimizing the detrimental effects on OAQ.
TermoDeck’s technology has been praised by the World Wildlife Fund and featured as a global climate solution by the WWF sponsored "Climate Solvers." To quote the Climate Solvers video on "TermoDeck":
If this technology were used in 1 out of 10 of newly constructed buildings, annual CO2 emissions could be reduced by 114 million tonnes by 2020.
The capital costs of using TermoDeck are lower than the capital costs involved in ordinary construction and the lifetime savings in operations and maintenance are significant. Thanks to innovative technologies like TermoDeck, businesses no longer have to choose between the legal duty to maximize profits owed to shareholders and the ethical duty owed to society (i.e. their CSR).
Businesses like Eco-Structures International are helping build a greener world through technological advancement, favouring Blue Ocean Strategies, cooperation and innovation over stagnant competition in saturated, short-sighted and inefficient markets.
Thanks to forward-thinking green government initiatives, and future friendly business models like the one at Eco-Structures International, the shift toward circularity, innovation, and cooperation in Dubai's economy, and many other regional economies, is happening today.