Nuclear: The future of Egyptian energy

“Major companies like BP and Shell will sooner or later be labeled energy companies. I believe we need to move on to alternative energies, especially the nuclear one.” These were the words of Dr. Ashraf Sabry, Professor of Thermo-fluids at the American University in Cairo and Cairo University, during his interview with Egypt Oil and Gas Newspaper, concerning his views regarding the future of energy in Egypt.

1. How far is “Fluid Mechanics” applied in Egypt’s energy sector to generate energies other than oil and gas?
Fluid mechanics is a major part of energy, its course falls under the umbrella of thermo fluid division. In the energy sector, you have a medium of liquid or gas; this medium can either require the addition or extraction of energy. For example, with pumps and compressors, you are adding energy to fluid. Even in the case of oil and gas, you need to add energy to them. In other cases, you subtract energy from fluid like turbines in order to generate power.
Of course, fluid mechanics studies, thermo dynamics and heat transfer courses are related to the concept of renewable energies, such as wind and solar energies. The problem is that the required techniques to generate these energies are very costly compared to oil and gas.
Concerning wind energy, it is already generated here in Egypt, near Hurghada, but on a small scale, however, it is more feasible economically. It has become a more reliable and successful method to generate energy.

2. Fuel Cell, a new energy-saving technology to generate electrical power for our homes and cars, how far is it used here in Egypt?
Fuel Cell is based on hydrogen energy; it is a new era all over the world. But, as we know we will have a scarcity of oil and gas within around 20-50 years, the world in general has started searching for equivalents or alternative energies.
Because of the high cost of using fuel cells, this technology is not applied here in Egypt yet. There are currently researches conducted in Egyptian universities to study possible solutions to reduce fuel cell costs and implement them in the Egyptian society.
Currently, the School of Sciences and Engineering at AUC is studying the establishment of a new department of petroleum and energy for undergraduates. The objective of this new major is to specialize in the petroleum field, which is one of the most demanded majors all over the world. Most of engineering graduates travel abroad for post-grad studies and usually they don’t come back. This major will be designed to set the basis for this science needed for oil, gas and energy, especially that major oil companies, such as BP and Shell will be labeled later on as energy companies. Throughout the courses, students will learn how to conserve energy and study the concepts of energy conservation and co-generation.

3. What do you mean by co-generation?
Co-generation promotes the concept of efficient usage of energy; for instance, in factories like steam ones for example, they need both electric power and heat energy. First, they use gas to handle a gas turbine that will operate by its turn to generate electricity; this is the first generation. However, exhaust gas coming out of the turbine is hot, thus we can use this medium to generate steam. As a result, the plant efficiency becomes higher. Thus, using the resulted hot gas instead of returning it to the air and burning other fuels to produce steam is much more economic and environmentally beneficial. This process illustrates the co-generation concept.

4. What are the pros and cons of implementing fuel cells in Egypt?
Concerning the pros, fuel cells will definitely save us more energy and we can consider it a main source of alternative energy in the future. Also, it will help in diminishing the present pollution level that resulted from burning fuel, as it is an environment-friendly type of energy.
On the other hand, the disadvantages so far lie in its high cost, which is not affordable for the time being.

5. Do you think utilizing alternative energy will meet the energy demand compared to oil and gas?
The consumption of oil and gas is increasing, while their resources are decreasing, thus sooner or later we will have to search for alternative energies. I believe we should turn to nuclear energy which is capable to provide us with huge energy quantities.

6. In your opinion, what are the factors needed to develop the nuclear program?
There is a Chinese proverb “the road of 1000 miles starts with one step.” Thus, it is better to start now to avoid facing oil and gas scarcity. Back in the 1980s, we had a nuclear program that was due to begin, but it was postponed due to the Chernobyl incident and fear of lack of safe techniques. However, nowadays we have developed techniques that are much safer. We just need to take the first step especially that we have the privilege of having many experts in the nuclear energy field, mainly in Alexandria University. Also, Cairo University is studying the possibility of initiating a new nuclear engineering department. What we need now is to start working on the project.

7. One of your current researches is about “Computational Fluid Mechanics and the modeling and simulation of solar chimney,” what is your vision concerning the use of solar chimney in Egypt?
Solar Chimney is basically a structure that absorbs heat from the sun and produces air at high temperature and velocity, which can drive a turbine and produce energy from it. This method has been used in Spain since the 1980s. We do have the potential to use this technique as a means to generate energy, but once again, its implementation is restricted by economic hindrance.

8. Highlighting economic constraint, do you believe it is better to focus on developing alternative energies regardless their high costs or to continue working on research and studies within the available economic resources?
Spending money to fund research for the aim of finding alternative energies is definitely an investment for the future. Renewable energy studies are needed to determine types of energy that can be generated in Egypt whether solar, wind…etc and their location, in order to secure energy for coming generations. Unfortunately, we lack the ideology of spending money on research as it is costly and time consuming.

9. Being a member of the International Conference on Thermal Issues in Emerging Technologies’ organizing committee held this month in Cairo, how will it help develop Egypt’s energy sector?
This conference is based on research and usually we issue a final report and some recommendations, which are sometimes adopted by the government and some private companies.

10. Based on your studies and research, what are the alternative energies Egypt should look for?
From my experience, we should pay more attention to wind and nuclear energy. I believe we have to produce our own fuel through uranium enrichment for peaceful and civil use in order to become independent like Iran.

11. What are the major problems facing Egypt’s energy sector?
We lack the awareness of how to produce energy in an efficient way on production and consumption levels. Within the existing facilities, we can improve our efficiency through the concepts of energy conservation, co-generation…etc

12. What is your advice to develop the energy sector in Egypt?
There should be new laws to encourage people to change their attitudes in terms of energy consumption. Also, incentives should be granted to people who efficiently produce or use energy whether at homes or in factories. This will not help the energy sector only, but it will save the environment as well.

Dr. Ashraf Sabry is a professor of Thermo-fluids, Mechanical Engineering at the American University in Cairo (AUC) and Cairo University. His educational achievements include a B.Sc. from Cairo University, 1979, M.Sc. from Cairo University, 1983, M.Sc. from Brown University, 1986 and a PhD. from Brown University, 1987.


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