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As Good as ‘Agre’ Gets

Written by  Author |   Thu, 19 February 2015 15:15


The gulf in general and Qatar in particular, are rightly considered to be some of the most aggressive environments for construction. That being said, construction continues to be the mechanism of choice for governments determined to achieve their ambitions at any cost. Dr. Khalid Hassan, regional manager of the UK Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) has been working hand in hand with public sector authorities in Qatar. Operating from Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP) at Qatar Foundation, TRL initially started working with the authorities to bring innovative technology to Qatar and more importantly, innovations in the construction industry in general, to specifically deal with the harsh environment in Qatar.

With numerous mega projects such as Qatar Rail, Qatar2022, Lusail and others in planning or underway, mega quantities of waste will be accumulated with absolute certainty. Research and experiments aimed at promoting self sufficiency through recycling construction waste locally provided an alternative solution towards meeting domestic demand and it is in this direction that Dr. Khaled Hassan has been working closely with Ashghal, Qatar Construction Standards, QPMC, Qatar Rail, and a number of other stakeholders from the Government and the construction industry.

“The main purpose of TRL’s presence here,” Dr Khalid points out, “is not merely to introduce or provide evidence of new technology but more importantly to evaluate, monitor and ensure that innovations in the industry can be effectively adapted to the local environment in Qatar.”

“Extreme temperatures and humidity as well as large amount of airborne salt accumulated near the sites and in the underground waters together greatly impact construction technology and practices used in the country. And to top it all, the challenge in Qatar is intensified considering there is also a steep shortage of raw materials. Aggregate, which occupies the greatest volume of materials in concrete and asphalt, is in shortage, with the country relying mainly on imported material, primarily from the UAE and other neighboring countries,” Dr Hassan announced in his keynote address at the recently held Future Concrete conference in Doha which brings together leaders in the field of construction, to discuss and debate all aspects of the industry. Highlighting the problem of scarcity of material and possible local solutions, Dr. Hassan explains, “estimating Qatar’s aggregate consumption in the last five years, maximum usage has been about 20 million tons a year, which until recently was being imported. With major projects in the pipeline, the demand for aggregate will be at least twice or thrice what is being currently consumed. So whether the domestic production capacity can accommodate all of this increased demand is definitely a concern. And the other thing of concern is the quality of this material. Being an imported material, it becomes even more crucial to ensure that it will fit our purpose and local conditions.” “Taking into account the quality and the price of the material, this could be a major challenge which needs to be addressed and requires an alternative solution.”

Dr. Hassan continued: “So with that end in mind, we started working to identify and utilize local resources. As to be expected, Qatar has been producing huge amounts of construction waste. According to our estimates, there are about sixty to eighty million tons of that available here in Qatar. Now, if that figure describes good quality and fit for reuse waste, it could potentially cover the country’s requirements for the next three to four years. But of course, there is great concern about its consistency as it will be originating from diverse projects i.e., demolition waste, road construction and etc. Hence, it will require a certain manner of processing and treating the material to make it into good quality aggregate. And with funding from the Qatar National Research Fund, this is the end we are working towards.”

“TRL is a part of the main project team. We have worked very closely with QCS which is part of the Ministry of Environment, the academia of Qatar University, Ashghal and a number of stakeholders from the industry – the contractors who are using this material, material suppliers, as well as with consultants, to find out how this material could be treated and converted into a standard format that can be re-used,” Dr. Hassan revealed in his presentation at the Future Concrete Conference in Qatar.

“As long as we can produce good quality material, which we have already demonstrated is possible, the contractor stands to gain considerably. Project delays arising out of late delivery of material supplies will no longer be an issue.”
This might seem to be a simple solution to a lot of the issues revolving around project delays. Whether this end product will actually be of a reliable and robust quality that can survive the wear and tear of Qatar’s harsh environment is going to be the biggest challenge! The vision has already been put forth to the test with very successful results, informs Dr Khalid.

“Trial studies and experiments have been undertaken to compare and contrast the durability of these new materials. Sample construction has been done as an experiment, using existing practices, done in identical conditions on two different buildings with one using materials that the industry uses at present and the other in exactly the same conditions but using recycled materials. These were built adjacent to each other and without changing any other variable. So they both have the same ground conditions, same exposure to heat and humidity and same location in Qatar. It has also been tried and tested on a very busy road used by 1200-1500 loaded trucks daily. Judging by the performance, we are very happy with the outcome.”

“To recap, we conducted studies of this material, its properties and consistencies using extensive laboratory testing. We went further to demonstrate how to apply that in practice by constructing test buildings. One of these buildings has been made with 100% imported material, and the other with locally recycled material.  This has been done for over a year now and we can confidently say that the building with recycled material is performing at least as good as the one using imported aggregate”, Dr. Hassan assured, while producing various aspects of evidence-based research and its implementation in practice.

“So in fact now we are ticking two boxes. The first being that we can use local resources to compensate shortage of supply thus fulfilling the large demand for the raw material. And the second thing is that the quality of this product is at par with the imported material, which then translates to substantial economical and environmental benefits.”

However, change is never easy, particularly in this part of the world. “Skeptics still exist in certain pockets of the industry and arise mainly due to lack of confidence in recycled material in general,” Dr. Khaled acknowledged.

“Once QCS will certify this material, it will provide assurance to the construction industry that this material is as good as the imported material,” he pointed out. “To take it a step further, we have just been awarded a new project which is mainly looking at the implementation of government projects. We aim to select six of the major projects currently taking place in Qatar involving homes, roads and major construction like tunnels and bridges and we will use recycled material for certain sections of these projects. This will help to further verify the durability of this theory. We are going to work closely with the contractor, client and consultants to explain the changes made and changes required as well as supervision of the construction process. If this is going to be successful, which I am confident it will be, perhaps the government can take the initiative and specify a certain amount of recycled material to be used in all the projects which then will give the industry confidence in the new approach. Once this is achieved, we hope it will greatly aid towards delivering projects in time, as well as have a considerably positive impact on budgets and targets.”

“I am very proud to say that of all the gulf countries, Qatar is taking the lead in the implementation of this practice. I am aware of a number of other candidates in the Gulf who initiated the idea of recycling a long time ago. But I can see that it is not happening there yet. Primarily for the reason that in those cases, the government and the industry haven’t got together. And that’s exactly what Qatar has accomplished. In doing so, Qatar is the first country to bring recycling specification into the national construction specification. In fact I am aware that UAE, Kuwait and other countries in the gulf are very keen to follow the same path as Qatar. The industry as well seems to agree it’s a great achievement and which is reflected in TRl being awarded the ‘Most Innovative Project in 2013’, a recognition by the Contractor Forum for providing effective solutions, which in itself is an endorsement from the industry. Adding another feather to the cap, TRI also received an award for the Most Innovative Green Project in the Arab World. While there are a multitude of ideas floating, Qatar has become the first Arab country in the MINA region to make this happen.”

“The next initiative needs to come from the government,” says Dr Khalid pointing out that “once this innovation is implemented within government projects and an agreement about a minimum percentage of recycled material to be used is reached with government stakeholders, clients will gain faith and understand how it can solve their issues through speeding up project completion rates as well as reducing cost and time issues. Then things will move forward very quickly.” Dr Khalid is confident that Qatar will be turning this page in the very near future.

“The Qatar Construction Standard 2014 is coming into the public domain very shortly. QCS and the Ministry of Environment are trying to encourage more and more companies to come up with new ideas and are extending their support to work together to prove the new technology and improve the environment, thereby speeding up construction plans. Importantly though, QCS2014 is only the minimum requirement.”

The future of recycling construction waste seems to be optimistic, particularly as Dr Khalid points out: “The door is open for everyone to bring forth their challenges and TRL is committed to work together to make it possible.”

Undoubtedly, the theory’s success depends on its wide acceptance and eventual application by industry specialists. performance will naturally be its greatest advocate.

 

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