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In the booming United Arab Emirates, a green city built on sand.

Powerland: Masdar City
July 24, 2011 - 7:33am

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates - The UAE may be sitting on the sixth largest reserves of petroleum in the world, but the leaders in this tiny Gulf sheikdom know that their oil wells will dry up sooner than later.

On the outskirts of Abu Dhabi, engineers are racing to construct a greener, more sustainable design for the way new communities are built in the Middle East, one that will not have to rely on cheap, subsidized fuel.

It's called Masdar City.

"The vision is for Masdar to be the most sustainable city we can possibly build, using today's technologies [and] to improve those technologies and to continue on as we work our way through the project," said Alan Frost, an Australian engineer and the director of Masdar City.

Masdar City will one day be powered and cooled entirely with a mix of solar, wind, and geothermal energy.

The town's 40,000 residents will live in a pedestrian-friendly mix of urban housing and commercial zones, all built compactly and low to the ground to provide additional shade from the scorching desert heat.

Normal gas-powered cars will not be allowed inside Masdar, helping to create a completely carbon-free environment.

"A successful project will be for, you know, Masdar to be able to look back and say that we really did change the way design was done here in the Middle East," said Frost.

Building a green city in the middle of the desert is certainly not cheap. Construction is estimated to cost around $19 billion.

But for the Emirati government, which is funding Masdar, the investment for the future may be worth the price tag.

The UAE is eager to maintain its position as a leading energy provider to the world long after its oil disappears.

"It sees the future as being based around renewable energy," said Frost. "The idea is to use oil-based revenues now to generate a renewable energy industry here in Abu Dhabi."

After more than three years of construction at Masdar City, only a few initial buildings are in place.

Planners say that lower demand for housing following the recent global financial crisis is contributing to the delay.

Masdar expects to be completely finished around 2030.

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