The mastermind behind Qatar 2022’s air-cooled stadiums
Standing proudly at Al Janoub Stadium, Sudan-born Dr. Saud Abdulaziz Abdul Ghani explains to a crowd of journalists that cooling a stadium is just like cooling a car. Nicknamed 'Dr. Cool', the engineer behind the outdoor cooling technologies for FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ stadiums, tells reporters he was inspired by his PhD study on air conditioning for the Ford Mondeo.
He said: "These cooling technologies use the same tools, but on a much bigger scale."
Dr. Saud joined the Qatar 2022 project in 2009 when the country was bidding to host the 22nd edition of global football's showpiece tournament. The Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (SC) reached out to Qatar University (QU), where he is a professor at the College of Engineering, to find solutions in curbing Qatar's summer heat during matches.
He said: "When we were preparing our submission for the World Cup in 2022, we wanted a unique bid that would stand out among other bidding countries. Most countries would usually present their stadiums as a design idea and not a technology. We presented our stadiums in a new way – as a technology."
In 2022, Dr. Saud's different cooling technologies will be used across the eight World Cup stadiums, with cooling at Al Janoub Stadium and Khalifa International Stadium already fully-functional.
Using a combination of insulation and what Dr. Saud calls 'targeted or spot cooling' – which means that cooling only takes place where people actually are – the stadium acts as a barrier which contains a cold bubble inside.
Cooled air comes in through grills in the stands and large nozzles on the pitch. Using the air circulation technique, cooled air is then drawn back, re-cooled, filtered and pushed out.
"We are not just cooling the air, we're cleaning it," said Dr. Saud. "We're purifying the air for spectators. For example, people who have allergies won't have problems inside our stadiums. We have the cleanest and purest air there is."
Dr. Saud's cooling technology is an estimated 40% more sustainable than existing techniques. His method means stadiums only need to be cooled two hours before an event, which significantly reduces the venue's energy consumption compared to existing methods.
Additionally, the technology works with the stadium's design in mind, making it more efficient and environmentally friendly. Dr. Saud's version works hard to keep the cool air in and the hot air out.
He explained: "The most important thing to cool effectively is that you don't want the outside wind to enter the stadium. That's why the size and design of the stadium have to be studied and altered accordingly so that they block warm air from entering the stadium."
Khalifa International Stadium, the only pre-existing stadium to undergo renovation for Qatar 2022, was completed in 2017, making it the first tournament-ready venue. Renovations included a canopy which protects seating areas from the sun and a version of Dr. Saud's cooling technology. As the remaining seven stadiums are being built from scratch, Dr. Saud was able to provide bespoke solutions for each venue. This begins in his lab, where a 3D model of the stadium is placed in a wind tunnel and tested with smoke – representing wind – which is pushed out at different pressures.
He added: "We test how the model reacts to wind at different speeds. Then we use cameras to zoom in to see where air is entering and where it's exiting the stadium. It's a way to see how air interacts to the stadium's design."
However, designing the first cooled World Cup stadiums is not an easy task.
He explained: "The biggest thing working against you when you're trying to cool a stadium is the opening of the stadium's roof because that is where external hot air enters. That's why studying where air can exit and how we can push and pull back air differs from stadium to stadium as it depends on its shape, height and width."
Dr. Saud highlighted that such studies are crucial in aiding the development of cooling technologies and eventually making them more sustainable. Al Bayt Stadium, which was initially designed with a darker façade, now features a lighter one – a change which brought down the temperature inside the stadium by approximately 5C, according to Dr. Saud.
Additionally, designs are made to ensure fans' maximum comfort during matches. Already in use at Al Janoub Stadium, under-seat diffusers push air out at an angle to deliver it in a gentle manner.
He said: "When we started designing for the thermal comfort of spectators, we considered that we will have people from all around the world attending the matches. We wanted to ensure that all these people would have thermal comfort during games."
In 2022, stadiums will be cooled to a comfortable 18-24C.
Despite the fact Qatar's World Cup will take place in November and December – when the temperature is around 20C; perfect for players and fans – the SC has continued to develop cooling technologies in order to provide a strong tournament legacy.
Dr. Saud explained: "Our stadiums can be used 24/7, all year round, leaving a legacy for Qatar after the tournament – and leaving no white elephants."
In addition to cooling stadiums, the next step is to cool other public spaces in Qatar. Katara Plaza has recently been unveiled as Qatar's first open-air, air-conditioned commercial plaza. Another project in Aspire Park features a cooled walkway, which uses solar panels to generate energy.
Going forward, Dr. Saud hopes his technology will be adopted in other countries with warm climates. His line of under-seat diffusers is not patented – a choice he made to serve the scientific community.
"The reason I joined the 2022 team was to serve the Arab region so that people here appear to others around the world in a different light," he said. "The Middle East has a lot to offer and there's nothing better than football to show that."