Saud Abdulaziz Abdul Ghani conducts a tour of the cooling system at al-Janub Stadium. (Photo by Karim Jafar / AFP)
Qatar has become an almost accumulated word for the scorching heat, but some fans will still take the sweater to the World Cup stadiums because of the latest air conditioning, which, according to its head, will become the norm for mega-sporting events.
Saud Abdulaziz Abdul Ghaninicknamed “Doctor Cool,” has spent 13 years working on a solar-powered cooling system that he says will keep players and grass healthy and even eliminate body odor in a crowded stadium.
Mercury could reach 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit) during a stormy summer in the Gulf state, so this year’s World Cup has been postponed to winter.
But even at a maximum temperature of about 25 Celsius (77 Fahrenheit) for the tournament in November and December, the cool air will still be swinging at players and fans.
The cooling of the stadium is not new. The Superdome, home of the American football team New Orleans Saints, has 9,000 tons of air conditioning equipment.
Dr. Cool, a professor of engineering at the University of Qatar who also helped develop cooling for the Ford Mondeo, but developed a system that World Championship organizers say is 40 percent more “sustainable” than existing methods.
Seven of the eight stadiums are air-conditioned at the World Cup, at which organizers insist it will be carbon-neutral.
At the 40,000-seat Al Janub Stadium, which will host seven games, including the first match of the French owners, Saud said the “completely isolated bubble” of cool air two meters high would envelop the field and the stands.
Inside the bubble, players and fans will maintain a temperature of 21 Celsius (70 Fahrenheit) with the help of aircraft that blow air on the field and under the seats for spectators.
Sensors around the stadium keep the temperature constant and even regulate airflow for places in the shade or sun.
The rising air is sucked back into the stadium cooling system, cleaned with water at 7 degrees Celsius (44 Fahrenheit) and pumped again.
“Players will get the best experience of their lives,” Saud said, emphasizing how chilled air will prevent injuries and illnesses received in extreme heat.
Energy for the system comes from a giant solar farm in the desert outside the capital Doha, he added. The same technology is used in greenhouses, where Qatar grows more and more of its own food.
“We have the best insulation on our cars, the best sensor systems around the stadium,” said Saud.
And air conditioning will still be needed in December, despite the cooler temperatures.
According to Saud, each person generates heat from two laptops and emits 70 grams (2.5 ounces) of sweat per hour.
He cited the example of Luceil Stadium, where 80,000 people will gather for the final of the World Cup on December 18.
“They’ve been there for four hours, so it’s a lot of water. And I have 160,000 laptops in this space. So the heat needs to be compensated whether it’s winter, summer, autumn or spring.”
However, the use of air conditioners in stadiums remains controversial.
Russell Seymour, executive director of the British Association for Sustainable Sport, said that while technology and renewable energy in Qatar could work, he was concerned about the wider message that gives open space air conditioning.
At a time when people are urged to save energy, “quite often people in offices open windows, they want fresh air, but they also have air conditioning, and then everything competes, and that’s when the problems come.”
Saud said he is pleased if any expert will inspect the system and test its claims to sustainability. The technology has been released from patent restrictions for copying.
He is also confident that future World Cups – especially in 2026 in the US, Mexico and Canada – will follow suit.
“In the future, air conditioning will become the norm for the safety of players,” he said.
As global temperatures rise due to climate change, “if you want players to complete the game without water breaks, without breaks, then air conditioning will be necessary.”