Gulf states gear up for life after fossil fuels

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The Independent Online

A striking example of the Gulf states' efforts to secure a long-term economic future beyond the oil age is to be established today. Alongside the development of aviation hubs, financial services and free-trade zones, states in the region are also concentrating on becoming international centres of hi-tech research and development, based on the Western model of the science park. So some of the world's largest transnational corporations including Shell, Microsoft and General Electric (GE) are in Doha today for the formal opening of the science park Qatar hopes will secure its place as a world centre of research.

The purpose-built, $300m (£215m), 45,000 sq m Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP) is part of a multi-decade "national strategy" to invest the Gulf state's oil and gas wealth for economic stability, social development and non-carbon revenues.

The futuristic architecture houses laboratories, training facilities and office space for research in fields considered central to the diversification of the tiny state's economy – energy, health, environment and IT. Private sector participants including Total, Chevron, EADS and Rolls-Royce are among the 21 companies that between them have already committed to project funding of $225m over five years, which will be matched by the Qatar Foundation that oversees the QSTP. The park will house the first stem-cell bank for the Middle East.

The research facilities are next door to Qatar's "Education City", a 14 million sq m, newly built campus. The plan is for an education system allied with applied, commercial research.

The oil majors are particularly well-represented on the QSTP scheme. Shell, for example, is focusing on two areas. One is the use of sulphur – produced as a by-product of the gas industry – in new types of asphalt and concrete. The other, in partnership with Qatar Petroleum and Imperial College London, is looking at carbon capture and storage technology.

Total is to build an air-quality research centre at the Doha park. Christophe de Margerie, the Total chief executive, said: "I expect to see QSTP become an international technological and scientific cluster in the years to come."