The 12-day United Nations Climate Change Conference allows Qatar to showcase efforts at greener energy. Skeptics would certainly be right to question the legitimacy of Doha, Qatar as a host city for the conference given the country’s woeful environmental record. Designers with the Gulf Organization for Research and Development (GORD) unveiled a converted Chevy Blazer that could offer a path to greener transportation in Qatar. GORD, an offshoot of the Qatar Diar Real Estate Investment Company, focused on combining existing machinery with fuel-cell technology. A single fuel-cell prototype cannot change Qatar’s standing but this small nation has the wealth and growing public attention to promote greener alternatives.
The converted Chevy Blazer shown at the UN Climate Change Conference uses photovoltaic layers around the engine to capture heat. Heat produced during operation is recovered by the layers and used in concert with recycled water to create hydrogen necessary for on-the-fly refueling. GORD did not make any substantial changes to stock parts and machinery, thus demonstrating the simplicity of this fuel-cell system. A production version of this prototype would reduce emissions by 50% compared to a traditional Blazer. Representatives from GORD also note that hydrogen power can be swapped out for diesel and compressed natural gas (CNG) with advanced notice.
GORD narrowed on fuel-cell technology with a view to Qatar’s growing appetite for electricity and water. The Qatari government provides both utilities at no cost to residents thanks to a significant largesse created by oil exports. Demand for fresh water has played a role in rising utility costs with electrical costs increasing 7% per year due largely to water desalinization. A production version of the fuel-cell Blazer would allow a driver to recharge the fuel cells without contributing further to rising utility costs.
The prototype offered by GORD no doubt attracts scowls and puzzled looks from attendees familiar with Qatar’s record. Growing vehicle use along with tremendous extraction of oil has led Qatar to the top of the list in terms of carbon emissions per capita. Qatar’s per-capita emissions are three times the amount produced by American consumers. The humming economic engine in Qatar depends almost entirely on oil with 70% of government revenues coming from oil exports. These facts raise concerns about Qatar’s prospects for even the mildest developments in green vehicle technology.
Qatar does contain the economic power as well as the motivation for global esteem to promote green technology. A population of 1.9 million holds significant wealth with about 14% of Qataris holding onto assets equaling at least $1 million. This wealth could be used to offset price premiums for green vehicles that have stopped early adoption elsewhere in the world. Qatar is currently third in the world in natural gas reserves, which could encourage development of CNG vehicles. The football community looked askance at Qatar’s successful bid for the World Cup in 2022 due to perceptions of backroom influence. Qatar should spend the next decade investing heavily in alt-fuel transportation to create a model market for alt-fuel transportation suitable for such a sizable event.