A mechanical engineer at Qatar University has used giant tanks of cold water to create a cooling system in one of the hottest places on the planet, to keep spectators of the world’s hottest competition at ease.
The system’s designer is Saud Ghani, a Sudanese engineer who works in one of the engineering department’s many laboratories where he studies thermodynamics — or, to put it more simply, the science of keeping people comfortable in a warm world.
This quiet center was where Ghani and his colleagues oversaw the design of the systems that have adapted eight outdoor World Cup stadiums in and around Doha.
And during an interview with The New York Times “People think, ‘We have a lot of money and we’re just pumping cold air,'” Ghani said, “but that’s not all at all.”
Starting with the architecture of the stadiums, Ghani was there to calculate the best designs for getting the hot air out. He says the stadium is designed so that “people don’t feel warm or cold, just a normal feeling”.
Ghani, 52, holds a PhD in mechanical engineering from the University of Nottingham in England.
Married and a father of three, he came to teach at Qatar University in 2009, just as the country was preparing to bid to host the World Cup.
And one day he received a call from a higher authority in Qatar asking him: Can you design a system that keeps people cool, even in the outdoor stadium, in Doha, even in the summer?
Ghani answered the caller: Of course.
In 2015, recognizing that high temperatures, both inside and outside stadiums, can be dangerous, FIFA moved the competition from its traditional summer dates to late autumn.
The change may have made Ghani’s job easier, with daytime temperatures of 35 instead of 48 and higher, but he insisted it didn’t matter much.
Seven of the stadiums will be used throughout the year for large events, for club teams, for college athletics, and perhaps even as part of a bid to host the Olympic Games.
There are, of course, financial and environmental costs to cooling the stadiums, which Ghani and Qatari officials will not disclose.
Some estimates put the cost of the eight stadiums at $6.5 billion, a price that does not include the human cost in lost lives and the chronic health problems of the low-paid migrant workers who built them.
Ghani has listened to critics, including climate concerns. More than half of Qatar’s electricity production goes to air conditioning, and while a FIFA analysis claimed the World Cup could be carbon neutral, critics question that claim, citing everything from new construction in the past decade to the thousands of flights to and from Qatar during the tournament. .
Ghani and World Cup organizers declined to provide costs or data on stadiums or cooling systems.
How did the stadiums cool?
The prevailing concept in the design is a simple scientific principle, warm air goes up, cool air goes down.
Ghani didn’t need to cool the entire size of the stadium – just six feet or so above the ground where the athletes played and in the sloping stands where the people sat.
The cool air is placed low and directed directly into the stadium (for the players) or to each row of seats (for the fans).
Each stadium is designed with a permanent white canopy to protect spectators from the sun at most times of the day.
A giant water tank, hundreds of thousands of gallons, is hidden outside the stadium, out of sight and the stadiums use cold water to cool the air.
Ghani said that on the nights before matches, the water in the tank is cooled to 5 degrees Celsius, and he said the power comes from a solar farm outside Doha.
“I only have two pumps,” Ghani added, and we have a lot of heat exchangers, like car radiators under the stands. Air is drawn from the stadium into an exchanger with cold water inside, and then returns to the stadium cold.”
When it came to providing cool air, Ghani wanted precision. He didn’t want the plane’s method of delivering cold air: blasting it in your face through a nozzle.
The system contains infrared sensors and cameras to make adjustments and direct more cool air to different places as needed.
Not everyone liked the system, according to the newspaper, as a Brazilian player complained that the air conditioners were making his team sick, and others complained that it was too hot or too cold.
And in the afternoon match between Wales and Iran at Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, with the temperature hovering around 90, Welsh fans stood the whole game, staring and sweating at a patch of sunshine.
Some hid from the sun under Welsh flags, while others were given free masks to wear.