Thursday, August 4, 2016

An Answer to India's Olympics Medal Drought

On the eve of Rio 2016, a BBC‬ writer managed to tie the words "Olympic", "losers" and "India" all in one headline

Cringe worthy? Indian papers say India has it's strongest contingent yet (this includes a 43 year old Leander Paes in the tennis squad!). Critics on the other hand argue ‪that ‎India‬ has a long culture of sublime laziness, kicking athleticism down in the priorities and engaging kids to be studious so they can be doctors or lawyers and a perhaps a better "value" proposition in an arranged marriage. 

Those things aside, in progressive cities like Bangalore, people are "discovering the sports" and a new means of ego-boosting. I doubt the next wave of Indian super-athletes will come from wide waisted middle managers riding expensive carbon fiber bicycles or aunties/uncles running marathons and brandishing their "also ran" medals. It keeps the spirit up but IMO there's little to show performance wise when they compete with athletes from Western countries. 

So what are the options? You can take the current crop of sportstars and keep hammering them to do better. However, there is no substitute to raw talent if you want to beat the best. 

Which is why I maintain this idyllic sense that it's in the cold high mountain states of North India or in poor and isolated foresty villages of Central and South India where people with statistically anomalous genetic potential reside. You would hope that in these parts of the country, teachers, sports coaches and sports governing bodies are keeping ears and eyes open to tap into this potential in a sustainable way, i.e giving new people an opportunity into sports without subjecting them to exploitation.

Ultimately, I think you can, with an outpouring of lots of money, organize fantastic training camps and bring up athletes over a long term to be world champions. But you can't organize training camps without first correctly identifying that golden potential by technically adept coaches.  Its a challenge but it's a big part of the answer to winning more ‪medals. Perhaps there ought to be a serious national hunt for athletes (and even coaches) in the same rigor as we search for beauty pageants, singers and dancers. 

In the following video, Indian coaches compare the Indian runner to the Kenyan runner by going over key physiological attributes required for maximum performance. It's an enlightening discussion on what's missing in Indian athletics by using running as an example.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Renovation of a Spitfire MK.1 by Guy Martin

Turns out that British television has some genuinely interesting technical shows. 

The following is a well meaning Ch 4 production to the satisfaction of airplane gear-heads, WW veteran pilots and their families. It chronicles the two-year restoration of an excavated WWII Spitfire MK.1 to more than just a bill of flight-worthiness. 

The goal to the build is nothing less than absolute perfection with accuracy to every single detail just as how engineering drawings specified in the 1930's. It would then be demonstrated to the family of a nationally celebrated RAF pilot Jeffrey Stevenson who flew it in the Battle of Dunkirk but crashed it on a beach during the Dunkirk evacuation.

The Spitfire was one of the few instruments of war that changed the dynamics of World War II. A beautiful hand crafted machine of war, it was powered by a mammoth 1000hp RR Merlin 12 cyl engine drinking fuel upto a gallon a minute for an hour's worth of flight. It's 7 x 303 automatic guns and a top speed exceeding 300 mph became a serious deterrent to the German Luftwaffe in the skies over Britain.

The facts given in the video are stupefying. For example, the Castle Bromwich Aircraft Factory where they were made was 80 football fields in size and housed around 14000 factory workers. The plane had more than 3000 different parts. 40% of the workforce who build these aircraft were women, who worked every single day of the week and interestingly, earned equal pay as men. Around 60 Spitfires were built every single week at Castle Bromwich.

Guy Martin, a speed freak of the Isle of Man TT fame, makes it all the more entertaining to watch. I don't know if anyone could else could be as incredulous and resourceful a co-presenter as he, getting his hands dirty in the build operation himself but who obviously can't contain his amazement of the facts behind the plane. I'm frankly not so concerned if he stopped racing the TT, just as long as he got involved in efforts like this.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Mechanical Cheating in Pro Cycling : An Analysis

The controversy of mechanical cheating in professional cycling is building up like an orchestra crescendo. Like the beginning of Lance Armstrong's infamous doping saga, reporters in Europe are mostly driving the exposé of this recent development. It sounded like a ridiculous claim to many until for the first time this year, a female Belgian rider was caught racing professionally with a motorized bike. Therefore, further attention to this issue is validated.

6 years ago when I explored a newsbreak by Rai TV's Davide Cassani on Cozy Beehive (see link), I looked into a power assist e-motor called 'Gruber Assist' just to find out the state of the art in pedaling assists. I estimated then that the 900 gram motor-control unit powered by a 1000 gram Li-Mn battery could supply a nominal 135 Watts for an hour from a 4.5 Ah capacity battery. There is a sleeker version of the Gruber Assist called 'Vivax Assist' which can reportedly supplement 110 Watts with a 6 Ah capacity battery. 

The motor’s maximum power can be calculated with a stall current and a nominal voltage and is about 50% of the stall torque for DC (see illustration on left). On assuming that Gruber's maximum short-term power was close to 200 Watts, it sounded like an appreciable supplemental power to use on a decisive cobbled climb. Such was the allegation from Cassani atleast.  

News broke a few days back that two French reporters, using infrared cameras, were able to track signals of "hidden devices" within certain bikes at the Strada Bianche and Coppi e Bartali races this year. No cyclists were officially named to the public. Five or more bikes were reportedly found emitting heat signals, with 5 of them at the seat tube and 2 at the rear hub and cassette.

At this point, the curious question might be : what is an estimated peak power necessary in cycling, for example, in an attack? Secondly, what are the required forces and crank torques? With those questions answered, one could begin an attempt to look for a motor. 

These questions was explored in a rough but fun estimation in a post titled Anatomy of a Cancellara Attack. As the title suggests, I was interested in plucking apart the physics behind a Cancellara attack using a video playback analysis technique. The focus was on a decisive segment in the 2010 Paris Roubaix when Cancellara attacked a pack of breakaway riders including another venerable specialist Tom Boonen. Cancellara would go on to win that race.

According to the estimations I made then, the speed transient in the attack went from 49 kph to around 58 kph (+/- 2 kph due to the error from the video analysis) in less than 5 seconds. The full results from the transient analysis based on estimations of Cancellara's racing weight, cadence and chosen gearing were as follows :

The 1190 Watts was reasonable for a Cancellara attack (infact just before this race, he had reportedly put 1400 Watts in an attack on the Muur at the 2010 Tour of Flanders). To drive this power at the estimated 100 rpm required an estimated 92 N.m of crank torque. 

Some years back, Andy Coggan Ph.D had shared plots from his "quadrant analysis" in which raw power meter data files were used to extract average effective pedaling force and circumferential pedaling velocity, which were then plotted on an x-y axis. Being a lover of all things technical in cycling, I quickly saved these for later reference and now they become useful.

The plots presented below show the signature of the preferred neuromuscular response of a rider to the stress of the riding scenario. Over several thousands of pedal strokes, a map is drawn out on the pedal force vs pedaling velocity chart specific to the racing scenario.

The first plot is from a flat 40k TT at an average power of 294 W at 80 rpm average. One finds variations are less and force is more or less concentrated around 200 N for majority of the time. Using 200 N yields a torque of 35 N.m using an assumed 175mm pedal crank. A high value of 550 N in the plot corresponds to a torque value of 96 N.m. This comes very close to the torque number from my own calculations into Cancellara's Paris Roubaix attack (see above). 

The second plot is from an actual road race on flat to rolling terrain at an average power of 250 W at at 78 rpm average. Here, unlike the sustained efforts of the TT, pedal force shows much more variations. 

In this plot, observe there were excursions in pedaling force upto 600 N and beyond. 600 N at 1.5 m/s pedal velocity using an assumed 175 mm crank length is still only 930 Watts at 105 Nm of crank torque. 

From the above discussion, one finds that crank torques in excess of 100 N.m are visible on a rider's pedaling signature, so the earlier estimate is not unreasonable. For the race winning attack at the 2010 Paris Roubaix from Cancellara, the first few seconds required 102-103 N.m at 110 RPM (assuming a 175mm crank length). 

Now what remains is to find a suitable motor able to deliver  approximately 100 N.m. My understanding of the precision motor market is limited, however there are very compact motors and planetary gearsets available. 

Below is a preliminary selection for a 4 pole x 200 W brushless DC motor. At 60-65 mm in length and just 30 mm in diameter, it's a tad smaller than an oversized road bike seat tube.  At a stall current of 171 A, it produces a maximum short term power of 171A x 36V = 6000 Watts, providing safety margins for cycling application. 

Since nominal motor torque is low, the motor has to be coupled with a precision ground gearset to be able to amplify torque at the low cadence of around 100 RPM. My previous experience in planetary gearsets have shown that "planetaries" offer low footprints with low noise generation. 

The preliminary gearset I could find was 80 mm in diameter. At 93:1 reduction in 3 stages at 70% efficiency, it can deliver a max continuous torque and power of 120 N.m and 410 Watts. Note that I had to go to the biggest gearset in this particular OEM's range to ensure the calculated torque estimate from earlier fell within the range of the device. At 81 mm, I suppose it could fit within the oversize 90 mm bottom bracket area but this needs checking.

Finally, a 90 degree 1:1 bevel gear is required on the gearbox output shaft to convert vertical downwards rotation to sideways rotation of the crank. A thorough investigation might yield a more optimal motor and gearing selection than shown below. 

What is interesting is that my preliminary selection totaled around 4 kg in weight, excluding weight of the battery pack and other required accessories.  A 45000 mAh powerbank I recently bought weighed 0.9 kg. So if we added another 1 kg, you're left with a total of 5 kg conservative that the cyclist has to carry. In a world where we have sub 7 kg carbon fiber bike frames, this exceeds 70% of that weight. I'm surprised that a commercial offering, if at all, could deliver attractive specifications within the weight and dimensional requirements of professional cycling.

That said, a custom built motor package specifically for someone intending to cheat makes sense. However, a package built in someone's garage could end up producing appreciable levels of heat due to low efficiency, unless the individual(s) making it knew what they were doing.

For example, a 200 W motor at 75% efficiency will produce, according to one chart online, 0.2 kW x 250 W/kW = 50 Watts heat loss which is 25% of the nameplate power rating. If this is the case, then using the given value of housing-air thermal resistance of 7.4 K/W and an assumed air temperature of 25 degree C, one expects the temperature of the motor itself to cross 300 degree C. Since the motor is constrained inside a sealed tube, that heat will build up within the space. Motor heat loss increases with efficiency drop.

Therefore, the claim that French reporters picked up heat with thermal detectors warrant a full fledged investigation.

Motor Selection (Example) 

Reduction Gear Selection (Example)

Heat vs Efficiency - Electric Motors

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Monday, April 11, 2016

Countering the Criticism of Electric Cars : A UAE Context

Being an engineer and an automotive enthusiast as past blog articles might tell, I'm in general very interested in transportation related sustainability initiatives that attempt to plant seeds now for a long-term alternative energy future. Within the UAE, this long term vision, that I think is very well outlined in the UAE State of Energy Reports (SEOR), can be considered nothing short of a sea-change. 

First, a pertinent reminder is that transportation accounts for some 17-20% of UAE’s total CO2 emissions according to aggregated statistics in World Bank Indicators.   

Secondly, the positive sectoral energy trends in UAE transportation are worthy of mention. The UAE Supreme Council of Energy has made it a long term policy to enhance sustainable transport. Both Abu Dhabi and Dubai have made headway into understanding the transportation emissions issue and solutions have been implemented. Some examples are required to put this into context.

Announced in 2015 was the development of a Federal energy policy, which aims to supplement the Climate Change Strategy for the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and the Dubai Integrated Energy Strategy (DIES). Another historic development in the same year was the nationwide reforms of fuel subsidies to better reflect real energy prices vis-√†-vis world trends. Even though fuel is currently cheap, it is no longer pegged and is subject to increase. Therefore, drivers will have to live with the idea of paying out of pocket for what was previously externalized - the energy security of fuel.  

The Dubai metro and Dubai Tram systems, since their introduction, have diversified public transportation infrastructure in a way that doesn’t tax the road traffic system. According to earlier numbers from the RTA, the Dubai metro serves around 500,000 persons a day. That's 500,000 people kept away from the roads by being offered another mode of transport. This is significant.

Within road transport, the initiative towards introducing CNG into the transportation fleet and diesel made with a portion of waste cooking oil are worthy of mention. The RTA’s current fleet of buses are designed to Euro 4/5 emission standards and low sulfur diesel (10ppm gasoil) has been made available to maximize the benefit from these systems. Alongside the push towards alternative fuels, there are official moves to introduce EVs and hybrid vehicles and a network of charging stations as infrastructural support. 

The market for hybrids has already been set into motion this year.  The Toyota Prius Hybrid, a road worthy hybrid car well established in the U.S, was officially launched in the U.A.E in January. After seeing the 1.8L hybrid on a test drive, it comes to my knowledge that it has nearly 71 HP of output from just the motor generator and an impressive 121 HP from combined engine + motor operation. Having personally driven this vehicle, I can tell you that the transition between engine and e-motor operation is as smooth as a baby's bottom.

At present, the hybrid car is a suitable answer for those in the UAE looking to travel medium to long distances without having to become battery charge anxious. Those who could could care less can opt for PHEVs and BEV's that are fully electric. While there are reports of people privately importing Teslas and other electric cars into the UAE for personal use, the market in this segment has yet to go mainstream in the emirates.

Analysts who are fairly entrenched in old style economics look at these developments and cite various reasons to stay away from electric cars. The Tesla, in spite of significant developments that come as a technology disruption for conventional cars, has unfortunately become the poster child for critics.

For example, Robin Mills in an article to the National, is partly correct in stating that electric vehicles are only as clean as their energy source. But he stops short of developing his title any further than the headline, while the body of the article is mostly centered on Tesla, a car not sold in the UAE.

While the fully electric vehicle might take longer to be introduced in the UAE, the cost conscious Mills overlooks the interim development of the introduction of a hybrid vehicle in the country. Infact, the first cost of a Toyota Prius Hybrid is on par with that of a basic 2016 Honda Accord LX, with the latter's price significantly increasing for add-on options. Therefore, it's 92,600 and change for the Prius vs 100,000 AED or more for the Honda. We can also assume some level of dealership programs incentivizing potential buyers of the hybrid since it is the first introduction in the UAE. This has potential to knock off additional numbers from the sticker price of these cars.

Critics like Mills often point to the out-of-pocket first costs of these cars as a reason to be cautious of adoption. But as I mentioned before, this is old style economics that does not work for a post COP21 world anymore.

Consider the fact that there is a growing body of research into the climate forcing aspects and human health effects of GHG and air pollutants. Some widely cited atmospheric research studies talk about coupling between GHG and air pollutants in a way that further enhances the overall net climate forcing. Therefore, one is forced to re-think a "black and white" approach for a more nuanced understanding of our climate system where myriad sources, sinks and interdependencies are more complex than previously thought.

Looking to the past 3 National Communications that the UAE has submitted to the UNFCCC, the last emissions inventory done for base year 2005 reflects the fact that that transport sector CO2, N2O, NOX, CO, NMVOCs and SO2 emissions were 23%, 5%, 18%, 36%, 28% and 40% respectively of the total emissions profile of the energy sector. 

This should not come as a surprise because at the root of this challenge is population growth, the growing vehicle numbers in the UAE and the growing use of transportation fossil fuels over the last several years. One study I did recently looked into this trend over a multi-decade timeline. I present two plots below (forgive me for how busy they look). Note that the black circles show the number of total vehicles in the UAE for the years in which data was available. Fuel consumption is indicated in Terra Joules to associate emissions with the absolute energy content burned in the transport sector.

The plots shown above are distinct to the national and local urban circumstances of the UAE but as indicated before, the initiatives taken within the various UAE sectors to move away from these unsustainable trends should be commended, rather than criticized. 

The introduction of hybrids in the UAE are a tiny drop in the ocean of what can be broadly called strategy. I personally don't see fully electric vehicles for pas-car being introduced until the energy source for charging EV's and their charging stations come predominately from clean sources of energy. At-least this is what makes sense from a well to wheel standpoint.

The numbers to be remembered are 7% and 5%, i.e in Abu Dhabi, the leadership has committed to secure 7% of its total energy needs from renewable sources by 2020 while Dubai has committed to a 5% target. Therefore, I see a push into marketing full EVs falling in line with those targets whenever they materialize. On this basis, I see little cause for concern just yet and it is premature to criticize a Tesla adoption in the UAE.

The other aspect that I reminded Mills on Twitter about are the external costs of using conventionally fueled cars, which his article fails to make a note of. 

Studies on air pollution costs have recognized impact categories in health costs, building and material damages, cross losses in agriculture and impacts on the biodiversity and ecosystems. Experts in Europe have already put monetary numbers into these damages. Just as an example, chronic health effects are valued at a recommended value of €50,000 while acute health effects have a recommended value of €75,000 per year of life lost

Now multiply that with the number of people admitted as respiratory and cardiovascular patients and years of life lost and one should get an economic perspective on the magnitude of one category of air pollution costs.

Moreover, we also know from WHO studies that Ischemic heart disease which happens to be the number one killer of people in the world has statistically significant association with air pollution. Total person deaths in six GCC countries due to respiratory infections, respiratory and cardiovascular disease are shown below for year 2012.

I rest my case that to even begin to understand how some initiatives like electric vehicles contribute in the long run means to come to the table and frankly discuss all the social and monetary damages that using clean energy offsets. It is definitely not over-hyping anything. Looking at the current state of affairs, I observe that critics of clean energy have yet to shift away from short term rudimentary types of analyses which is quite unfortunate. Here's hoping that this mindset shifts quickly in the UAE and elsewhere in the world.

Friday, March 4, 2016

American Plutocracy

I often find Noam Chomsky's take on American politics interesting and warranting attention. Chomsky addresses the Republican party antics as not representing a normal political party but a radical insurgency. I don't spend too much time discussing politics, however this is still a nice video.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

An Independant Assessment of Glasspoint's Enclosed Trough Solar EOR Plant in Oman

The following paper was presented for a graduate class on Renewable Energy Systems at the Rochester Institute of Technology on November 17, 2015. I hold all rights to this text.

An Independant Assessment of Glasspoint's Enclosed Trough Solar EOR Plant in Oman


Solar thermal enhanced oil recovery (STEOR) methods are a group of developing technologies aimed at using the power of the sun to help in steam flooding operations for heavy oil fields. The enclosed trough architecture introduced by Glasspoint Solar encapsulates the vision of STEOR by enclosing a concentrated solar plant (CSP) within a glasshouse structure. This article reviews the 7 MW Amal West Plant, the first glass enclosed STEOR plant in the Middle East. It was built and commissioned for Petroleum Development Oman (PDO) by Glasspoint Solar in May 2013. Both companies were jointly recognized for the best oil & gas innovation at ADIPEC 2015. Similar projects are being discussed for Kuwait. 

While the Amal West plant appears to have run successfully during its first year, long term studies of the enclosed plant’s performance and reliability in conditions specific to the middle east are few in formal literature. This is understood due to emerging level of STEOR implementation. This article conducts an independent assessment of Amal West based on a few of the plant’s performance reports that are available in the public domain. Relevant questions are raised on specific issues which seeks to keep in line with viewing the technology implementation from a life cycle perspective. It is hoped that this work can help create a platform for additional conversation addressing the implementation of unique renewable energy concepts in Middle Eastern oil fields.


The global demand for energy over the next two decades is expected to increase by nearly 50%, reaching around 778 EJ by 2035.  In the search for near and long term solutions to increase oil production from existing assets, hydrocarbon exploration is reaching global frontiers. Conventional primary and secondary oil recovery methods capture only about 40% of the original oil in place (OOIP) while the rest is left behind [1]

Primary recovery methods, which rely on either the natural rise of hydrocarbons to the surface of the earth or via pump jacks and other artificial lift devices, have a limited recovery potential of 5-10% of the heavy OOIP. When natural lift methods are no longer sufficient, secondary recovery methods are used which involves pumping external energy into the reservoir to produce the missing lift pressure. These artificial methods include water injection, natural gas reinjection and CO2 injection. Inclusive of primary recovery methods, total oil recovery will range from 10-20% on average in most heavy oils [2].

Enhanced oil recovery (EOR) is a broad term given to a group tertiary recovery technologies that help target the remaining 30-50% of the OOIP. These methods are particularly suited for heavy oil. 

By definition, EOR implies a reduction of oil saturation below the residual oil saturation (Sor) [3]. Recovering heavy oils and tar sands, which have a viscosity of less than 1000 cp upto 100,000 cp, is only possible with the reduction of the oil saturation below Sor

Currently available EOR is based on either increasing the capillary number and/or lowering the mobility ratio, compared to their water-flood values. The capillary number choice of attack aims at reducing oil-water inter-facial tension which is done by using a suitable surfactant or by the application of heat. A 50% reduction in Sor requires that the Capillary Number be increased by 3 orders of magnitude. The reduction of mobility ratio attack is aimed at increasing water viscosity, reducing oil viscosity, reducing water permeability or all of the above.

Reservoir geology and fluid properties determine the suitability of a process for a given reservoir. Using the nomenclature adopted by the Oil and Gas Journal, current EOR processes are classified based on the nature of their injection fluid. These are summarized in Table 1 [4]

Thermal EOR methods lower mobility ratio by decreasing oil viscosity. Among these, steam-based methods have been more successful commercially than others. According to a 2000 Oil & Gas Journal survey, steam based projects accounted for nearly 418,000 bpd, or 56% of the total for all tertiary EOR methods [3]. However, in world sensitive to lifecycle cost and environmental concerns, any EOR is poised to face challenges competing with conventional recovery methods if they don’t show the similar (or lesser) costs to produce energy (Figure 1) or display an acceptable level of environmental burden for the same oil output.  

In steam based thermal EOR, reservoir heating is done by steam injection which translates into the formation of a swept zone of some shape and an oil bank consisting of a migrating zone containing the displaced oil (Figure 2) [5]. Two general concepts have been proposed to describe this process. Field projects usually include features of both frontal advance and bypass processes. 

Figure 1: Oil production costs for various resource categories [6]

Table 1: Classification of tertiary EOR processes for oil production

Figure 2: Illustration of steam EOR

Due to economic and environmental concerns, thermal EOR based methods (top left hand column in Table 1) are being increasingly explored, particularly aiming towards the substitution of solar energy instead of gas to produce the steam. Proponents claim the advantages of reduction of gas based heating, its associated CO2 emissions and the isolation of natural gas fired steam generation costs from fluctuations in the price of natural gas [7]

A small privately owned company based out of California called Glasspoint Solar is pushing this technology from what were just drying applications like those used for gympsum wall boards to the EOR steam-flooding arena. The unique aspect of their product is a solar CSP plant that is completely enclosed inside a glasshouse with it's own automated washing system. 

Glasspoint is not new to the STEOR arena, having delivered the world’s first commercial STEOR plant, the 21Z installation for Berry Petroleum in California in February 2011. However, it wasn't until 2013 when the first pilot plant in the Middle East was built and commissioned for PDO at Amal West, Oman. This pilot plant was constructed between January and December 2012 and transitioned to full production on February 1, 2013. 

The company claims that interest in STEOR stemmed from the falling gas reserves in Oman, coupled with expectations of volatile gas prices. The motivation for seeking a glass enclosure was to figure out a way to avoid dust infiltration [7] and decrease plant downtimes due to cleaning related stoppages in the Middle East. 

Reportedly, wind is the chief cost driver for an enclosed STEOR plant. Being able to withstand gusty winds without an enclosure requires the use of more material and a robust structure. However, with the enclosed STEOR, the company claims that it can bring down costs by cutting down material usage to around 10 kg of steel per sq.m of mirror area relative to a traditional CSP trough's figure of 18 kg per sq. m. 

Construction and short term performance reports for PDO’s plant are available for public viewing on Glasspoint’s website. In all, four pieces of literature were consulted in writing this article. The literature inventory is listed in Table 2. Based on these, an independent assessment of the glass enclosed STEOR is pursued in the rest of this paper.

Reviewed Literature

The literature review comprised of four documents available on Glasspoint Solar’s website. The first document describes the construction schedule and challenges faced in commissioning the Amal West Plant. The second document reviews the short term performance of the same plant. Both these papers were presented at SolarPACES in 2013. The third document is relatively new, discussing the economic screening aspects of solar based EOR methods. The fourth document is a magazine article that throws light into specific areas of the Amal West plant that was not seen in the two SolarPACES paper.

Table 2: Literature inventory reviewed for assessment. Source [9].

Enclosed Trough STEOR: System Description 

Enclosed trough solar EOR (STEOR) is a hybrid variation of the steam flooding concept shown in Figure 1, wherein the major fraction of steam is solar generated while the backup steam is gas generated. Steam is produced exclusively by natural gas at night, although it is not known to what extent the hot water storage at the facility helps.

The Amal location of Oman (Lat 18.3233, Long 55.6738) reportedly receives 2,057 kWh/yr of solar DNI (direct normal irradiance). Due to Oman’s low latitude, solar irradiation does not show large seasonal variations.

Literature states that if the rate of steam injection is held constant, gas consumption can be reduced by up to 25%. By injecting more steam during the day and less at night, gas consumption can be reduced up to 80% without the need for costly thermal storage. The plant has a design peak output of 14.8 tons of steam per hour and an average output of 50 tons of steam per day.

From Source [8], the schematic shown in Figure 2 and the process flow diagram in Figure 3, a brief description of the system can be provided here.

The pilot project deployed at Amal West is a 17,280 sq.m 7MW solar thermal plant that utilizes parabolic trough mirrors (part #4) suspended within an agricultural glasshouse (part #2). These mirrors track the sun using a simple cable drive system and intensely focus sunlight onto specially coated receiver tubes (part #3) carrying water, which is heated to produce 80% quality steam at 100 bar. The tracking angle of the reflector mirrors are measured by inclinometers with 0.01 deg accuracy. The weight of the mirror and frame is stated to be 4.2 kg per sq.m.

Figure 3: Illustration of parts in a glass enclosed steam generation system

The receiver tubes are of non-articulated design and are suspended from the glass enclosure by steel rods (part #5) in tension. The reflectors are suspended from the receiver tubes using similar rods, also in tension. The receiver is based on a standard, 2-in. carbon steel boiler tube. The receiver tube is polished and coated, with a selective absorber coating that is designed to maximize the absorption of solar radiation, while minimizing the losses via the emission of infra-red radiation. Tubular glass shields are stated to minimize heat losses from convection [8].

A once through steam generator (OTSG) incorporates features of a standard oilfield boiler and accommodates feed water with total dissolved solids (TDS) as high as 30,000 ppm. Boiler feedwater is usually either “produced water” separated from production oil or is pumped from brackish or saline aquifers. A distinct advantage of the boiler is that it isn't recirculating, therefore it doesn't demand the use of demineralized water. 

The control system tightly calibrates the steam quality to avoid precipitating scale deposits within the evaporator tubes. According to the literature, some scaling might still occur in the boiler, due to excursions in water quality or chemistry. The system design incorporates features to enable receiver cleaning by pigging in the same manner as a standard oilfield boiler. Closed loop pointing control delivers < 0.5 mrad pointing error at hundreds of points within the glasshouse. Pointing accuracy is maintained without regard to wind velocity, as collectors reportedly operate in a zero-wind environment always.

Steam quality is controlled via a separator and re-mixing system. The steam is separated in a vessel, and the flow of steam vapor and liquid is measured. The two streams are then re-mixed at the target steam quality

The system has an automated roof washer (part #1) with a claimed capacity to clean the entire roof surface each night while the collectors are offline. The majority of wash water is returned in the gutter system and can be recovered for re-use. 

An air-handling unit (part #6), supplies filtered, dried air at slight overpressure within the structure in all conditions to reduce dust infiltration. This is designed to cope with intense dust storms of long duration. 

A pump skid pressures the feed water into the solar field. 

Literature states that an 80 cu.m upright insulated water tank was added to the system during the year to improve overall performance. The tank removed direct dependence on water supply, and allowed the recovery of waste heat into the feed water during transient periods. This replaced the initial idea of a heat exchanger which reportedly caused transients in the receiver pipes and led to unstable operation.

Enclosed Trough STEOR: Operating Philosophy

Figure 4: Process flow diagram of enclosed solar EOR plant

Detailed operating philosophies are not available in the public domain for this plant, however the following points are understood from reading the sources of literature in Table 2. The plant process flow diagram (PFD) in Figure 4 is referred in this discussion.

1. Two on-site calibrated shadow band radiometers measure and calculate solar DNI. Based on average DNI recorded for each minute of plant operation, a model predicts and calculates the plant performance, including start of steam export and steam output in tonnes. 

2. After the previous night’s wash cycle, water is circulated at a minimum flowrate every morning. The system is to brought to an operating temperature of 310 deg C and level established in the steam separator drum before start of export can take place. It takes anywhere from 40-70 minutes to bring the system upto operating temperature. 

3. A feedforward control loop modulates water flow to the plant based on incident DNI and modeled efficiency based on current position of the sun. 

4. The separator is used to accurately meter the saturated steam as well as condensate production. Temperature, pressure and level readings are taken from the separator. 

5. Steam flow is measured across an orifice with a differential flow meter. 

6. Output steam quality is kept strictly at 75% +/- 5%. This is done by metering water and steam and mixing them both downstream of the differential flow meter 056. If quality were to fall below the target, a control valve on the condensate line tagged V030 is opened to maintain level in the steam separator vessel. The excess water is stored in the 80 m3 water tank to avoid wastage. If the quality is more than the target, the control valve V112 is opened to allow more water to mix and bring down quality. Both V112 and V030 are normally closed valves according to the PFD.

7. The export steam is then introduced into the oilfield steam distribution header, where steam from the gas boiler and solar plant come together before being introduced into the injection well. 

8. It is understood that the solar EOR is designed to deliver an average steam output of 50 tonnes/day but this when taken as a percentage of the total steam capacity of the field is a small number. Therefore, it does not lead to significant pressure or rate variations in the steam distribution network. 

9. Cleaning of the roof is done every night by automatic roof washing system. Literature states that at least half the roof has to be cleaned every day for optimal performance.

10. The primary control interface at the site is a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) PC on which all operating data is recorded in one minute intervals.

Assessment of Enclosed Trough Solar EOR

After reviewing the literature in Table 2 and some additional literature on this subject, the following are the results from the author's assessment.

1.    Long Term Performance Studies

The study period in Glasspoint’s SolarPACES paper appears to be around 3-4 months in 2013. During this time, the plant is stated to have been commissioned on time and within budget constraints. The performance of the plant was within 1-2% of the modeled performance and from the 100 days of monitoring, the plant exported a cumulative of 5000 tonnes of steam. 

However, longer periods of time are required before a clearer assessment of plant efficiency, plant reliability and lifecycle operating costs can be made. Components fail, are replaced and lessons are learned during longer time periods. Some specific reliability issues are highlighted by Glasspoint in a supplementary report (Table 2 item#4). This shows that longer time periods in operation can catch more flaws.

These specific issues are summarized below :

1 a) Glass breakage: The supplementary Glasspoint report, item #4 in Table 2, states that 8 glass panes were broken during the operation of the plant. It is not clear what kind of supplementary damage this did to the componentry inside the glasshouse. It was mentioned that the panes were tempered glass that typically shatters to small pebbles. Any breakage is picked up by the pressure and flowrate fluctuations through the air handling unit and operations personnel are alerted for a replacement exercise during the nighttime.  

1 b) Waste heat capture: It was pointed out in the same report that the initial plan of installing a hot water tank in the plant was later replaced by that of a heat exchanger to reduce system costs. Later, it was found that the heat exchanger introduced transients in the solar receivers which became ‘unstable’. Due to this, the original idea of a hot water tank was implemented along with its cost adder. It was stated that in all future designs, the hot water tank will be an essential component because it reduces downtime and water consumption. A more detailed discussion of the problems created by the heat exchanger is however missing in the literature.

1 c) Electronics reliability: One of these reliability risk points that perhaps will be made clear from long term performance monitoring center around the instrumentation used inside the hot glasshouse environment. It is not clear how many failures or malfunctions have been factored into the operations by Glasspoint. All the given literature states that all such electronics underwent accelerated life testing before installation, which is a way to validate designs. Verification of those validated designs, i.e performing the stated function under real working temperatures and operating conditions, haven’t been mentioned in the literature. 

1 d) Steam leakage due to cyclic operation: An interesting point in the Glasspoint report are observations of steam leakages in NPT connections. They found that steam leaks were more of a problem than in a traditional fuel-fired steam system, which they attribute to the daily cycles of operation from hot to cold. Leakages were found to take place even when the fittings fully complied with standard codes for design. As a solution, welded connections were used. The report also states that in future, where welds cannot replace flanged connections, engineered compression washers will be used. Wedge gate valves also caused leakage problems, and sliding gate valves or metal-seated ball valves were recommended for future installations. 

1 e) Roof sealing system issues: Plastic weather strips were used in the roofing initially. These failed due to thermal gradients and intense temperatures. They were subsequently replaced with an all-aluminum sealing system. It is not clear in literature what the cost adder of this modification must have been. 

2.    Losses from The Roof, Receiver and Structural Shading

The peak efficiency of the Amal West plant is stated to be 66%. When compared with EUROTrough, a European parabolic trough project for power production, this efficiency is reportedly around 5% lower. The SolarPACES plant performance paper attributes this reduction to roof structure shadowing, glazing losses, the use of an air-stable selective absorber coating and non-evacuated receiver. But the paper fails to expand on these issues even though they are stated to cause efficiency losses.

The author’s own assessment here is that CSP plants built for electricity generation will tend to emphasize the optimization of losses more than a plant geared for steam flooding, such as Amal West. Perhaps there wasn’t so much of a design emphasis to reduce losses for the enclosed STEOR project to begin with due to what the literature claims were “small losses”.

It is emphasized here that even though the efficiencies relative to EUROTrough were lower, the annual steam output for the 2011 Amal West plant was reportedly 2.25 MMBTU per sq.m, compared to EUROTrough’s 1.25 MMBTU per sq.m.

3.    Operation During the Dust Storm

Although dust storms happen occasionally in the Middle East, the Amal West Plant did go through an 40kph dust storm during April 2013. It is stated that the plant continued to operate during this time and produced 48 tonnes of steam. The report, item #4 in Table 2, stated that after the storm subsided, a 12% degradation in performance was seen. What is not obvious is the percentage contribution of gas and steam during this extreme event. A clearer picture of the performance characteristic of the plant during the storm would be desirable to evaluate the real contribution of the glasshouse. 

4.    Washing System 

The washing system appears to be only for the roof. A dust storm or even a week spent in a normally dusty environment can potentially soil the sides of the greenhouse as well. It is not obvious if the sides also have a washing facility in addition to the roof system. It is also not obvious how the soiled sides can potentially contribute to plant performance degradation. Could there be a shading factor contributed from soiled sides?

5.    Lifecycle Impacts of Oman EOR

The three pillars of sustainability is viewing any technology, such as those used in energy conversion, from a lifecycle economics, energy/emissions and social cost point of view. Although such inventorying is not an easy task, this is a robust way of proving that the when viewed from a cradle to grave perspective, there are benefits in life cycle impacts compared to conventional solutions. Such lifecycle studies are sensitive to where the projects are sited since each phase of that project will be  specific to that site and that customer. 

The enclosed STEOR plant at Amal West is a hybrid design. Nighttime steam production is 100% from gas fired boiler system.  It is a reasonable assumption that gas maybe used entirely for 16 hours in a 24 hour day which equates to 5840 hours of gas usage in a year. Stated in other words, at the minimum gas is used to generate steam 67% of the year (in reality this figure is different because the solar plant works in series with the gas boiler during the day and the hot water storage tank is also a contributor). Nevertheless, the emissions of 5840 hours of gas usage still have to be accounted for.

Brandt and Unnasch have analyzed greenhouse gas emissions from TEOR using natural gas and some alternate fossil fuel sources. Their numbers are useful for comparison. They found that with current recovery techniques, 121 g CO2 / MJ RBOB is the gross average life-cycle emissions for TEOR production in California [9]. This figure includes production, refining, transportation, and combustion of the resulting gasoline. Of these gross CO2 emissions, 24.4%, or 29.5 g CO2 / MJ RBOB, are associated with the combustion of natural gas for steam generation before any emission credits for cogeneration. Cogeneration systems generally consume more gas per unit of steam produced in comparison to direct-fired steam generation, but they produce electricity as well that must be credited in some fashion. 

In a similar sense, solar steam generation might be credited. Literature states that a modest solar fraction of one-third of the total steam generated results in a reduction in emissions of 10.0 g CO2 / MJ. According to the study conducted by Stanford students in [9], an enclosed high solar fraction plant in California showed considerably less lifecycle emissions when compared to a 100% fuel powered TEOR system.

The enclosed STEOR lifecycle study must be specific to the Oman project. For example, it has been stated that manufacturing of glasshouse and well as multiple tests were done at the Glasspoint factory in Shenzhen, China. This may have helped decrease production costs however the emissions have to be inventoried at the China factory and during the transportation phase of those components to site. The glasshouse also necessitates additional civil works to lay the foundation work for the structure, which involves a heavy machinery emissions burden and possibly land based ecosystem concerns due to the foundation (possibly irrelevant for a desert environment). 

Overall, when viewed for the entire lifetime, it does appear that these emissions contributions may be low compared to operational energy and emissions savings. 

6.    Screening Process for enclosed solar EOR 

The enclosed solar EOR appears to be a product for niche implementations. For a start, steam EOR is strictly based on pattern size and the geologic background of the site, and particularly suited for heavy oil. It may not be suitable for all sites. Literature [3] shows that thermal EOR is on the decline. The total EOR production in USA is declining (Figure 5). The major contributor was thermal methods, and that is also on the decline, mainly because most attractive reservoirs have already been exploited [3].

Figure 5 : Relative contributions of EOR processes to oil production, 1986-2006

That said, STEOR may make sense for Middle East sites with heavy viscous crudes and sandy desert environments. It may also make sense for clients who want to reduce their gas usage, and who could sell that saved gas instead at a premium. However, it is not clear what the future rend in market potential is for the Middle East, particularly with low oil and gas prices nowadays. 

From the economic study in item#3 in Table 2, it appears that STEOR projects are very sensitive to oil and gas prices. Figure 5, taken from the Glasspoint study, compares the fully burdened levelized cost of energy (LCOE) for three methods of steam generation - boiler, cogen and solar - and their relationship to the fuel price. 

Since the true cost of any of the methods are subject to externalities, they are shown banded. But what is clear from the graph is that which method of steam generation to select depends entirely on the fuel cost question. In the Middle East, where fuel prices are subsidized, this analysis becomes slightly more complicated. When viewed from the perspective of the marginal fuel cost, it appears that the cost cost off point where solar steam can be cheaper than cogen and boiler based steam is around US$ 6/million BTU. Note that the cost of solar stays constant at US$ 17/ton of steam because it doesn’t depend on fuel for steam generation.

Figure 6: Levelized cost of energy (LCOE) vs fuel cost for solar, boiler and cogeneration based steam generation. Source [9].

The enclosed solar EOR project is also land asset sensitive and  it is not obvious whether land asset costs have been considered in these LCOE comparisons.

According to Glasspoint literature, compared to a solar tower based heating plant, the glasshouse plant requires 15% more land coverage.  Moreover, there is a requirement that the plant has to be situated close to the point of injection wells since steam deteriorates with distance. In the author's experience, oil field plants tend to be tight with respect to system integration and footprint and QHSE concerns set up minimum separation distances for the balance of plant. All this sets up unique, sometimes conflicting requirements that are dependent on the project and the stakeholders.

7.    Availability of skilled labor

It has been stated in the SolarPACES construction paper (Table 2 Item# 1) that initially there were manpower productivity issues because of labor inexperience with laying the solar trough and glasshouse. This is a project risk point to be highlighted for not just solar STEOR, but for the introduction of any emerging renewable energy technology in the Middle East. Therefore, to a client, in addition to the cost of setting up the enclosed STEOR, training unskilled workers and risking time slippages due to decreased productivity are to be factored in. This point seems applicable for the screening issues discussed in point 6 above.


An enclosed trough STEOR plant, built by Glasspoint Solar at Amal West (PDO) in 2012 is the subject of this article. In Table 2, it was highlighted that a limited number of papers and reports were reviewed to make the assessments. 

Enclosed STEOR appears to be a niche product for site specific geology and oil viscosity. It is not a technology that is applicable everywhere. From the SolarPACES paper however, it does appear that the Amal West plant performed exceptionally and within 1-2% of the expected efficiency. Several of the challenges that the company faced during the installation and commissioning phase, particularly relating to failures of plant equipment and productivity issues centering around labor in Oman, were honestly highlighted in the papers and reports. These have been taken into consideration as lessons learned topics for future implementations.

That said, the performance reports in Table 2 are still short term. Long term studies can reveal the true reliability picture of enclosed STEOR installations. Some of these concerns were highlighted in the assessment section of this paper. The author had approached Glasspoint in order to get a better understanding of these concerns, however a response is still pending from Glasspoint's Business Development Manager. 

Enclosed STEOR is particularly sensitive to the oil and gas prices. Unless fuel price subsidies are removed in the Middle East, this solution, and in general solar based steam generation, will face continued pressure from conventional fossil fuel based methods of steam generation. This ironically may dampen the additional spread of enclosed STEOR to other parts of the Middle East, potentially preventing enclosed STEOR cost reductions due to additional scale and added field experiences.

In conclusion, as a pilot project commissioned for the first time in Middle East, and for helping a country like Oman save precious gas reserves, it appears that the ADIPEC 2015 award to Glasspoint and PDO for Best Oil & Gas Innovation is well deserved. It appears that there are more positives than negatives for this technology. In addition, the fact that additional enclosed STEOR projects are being discussed, particularly a larger implementation in Oman (MIRAAH 2015) and another for Kuwait, proves that investor interest in this technology is growing. 


[1] Shlumberger. Enhanced Oil Recovery. Available at
< > Accessed on Nov 2015.
[2] Halliburton. How Heavy Oil is Captured. Available at < >
[3] S. Thomas, EOR – An overview. Available at
< >
[4] Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) Field Data and Literature Search. Available on
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[5] Petrowiki, Thermal recovery by Steam Injection. Available at < > Accessed on Nov 2015.
[6] Sandler et. al. Solar-Generated Steam for Oil Recovery: Reservoir Simulation, Economic Analysis, and Life Cycle Assessment. SPE Paper# 153806. 2012.
[7] IEA. Resources to reserves 2013—oil, gas and coal technologies for the energy
markets of the future. International Energy Agency. IEA: Paris; 2013 Available at
< > (accessed on 4/10/2013)
[8] D. Palmer, First enclosed-trough solar steam generation pilot for EOR applications. Available at < >
[9] Sandler, Solar-Generated Steam for Oil Recovery: Reservoir Simulation, Economic Analysis, and Life Cycle Assessment. Available at
< >

Friday, October 23, 2015

Mars One Needs a Dose of Reality in the U.A.E

I'd taken a stand not to spill digital ink about Mars One on this blog. That was until two days ago, when the crew of Dubai Eye 103.8 - Alex Hirschi and Tim Elliot - invited Mars One chief Bas Lansdorp to speak on the evening's Drive Live show. I started to shake my head. 

In 2014, Mars One had pinched some local nerves when the grand mufti of Dubai issued a fatwa (an Islamic ruling) prohibiting Muslims from being volunteers for one-way interplanetary travel.

But on the radio show, there was little sign of defeat. With continual praising of the U.A.E and it's forward thinking stance, Mr. Lansdorp's tireless dance for manned one-way trips to Mars might have gotten more than a few listeners, albeit expats, breathless. 

And those listeners might be forgiven. Afterall, October was the month when NASA hyped a bit about the presence of liquid water on Mars. Ridley Scott had also released The Martian, an entertaining but pseudo-scientific space survivalist movie about a lone astronaut fighting for his life on Mars in the wake of a fairytale dust storm.

Mr. Lansdorp wasn't here to merely get cozy with two U.A.E volunteers he'd shortlisted as potential crew members for this future "mission". As it's becoming painfully evident, Mars One is around $15 million short of funding, and it's come to bear that some of it's money making strategies didn't help.

An intelligent listener would have recalled that Mr. Lansdorp had recently admitted at a Mars Society face-off with an MIT team (who happily demolished him for the seemingly brazen lack of any feasibility in the $6 billion dollar mission plan) that Mars One doesn't have the financial capability currently to pay any credible scientific group to undertake full-fledged R&D studies.

The other cat that jumped out of the bag in the same debate with MIT was that, as of August 2015, the Mars One mission had no fixed project scope, no fixed project time-line and no fixed project cost. It was evident that he had little concrete to offer in the rebuttal of MIT's independent feasibility assessment. Unfortunately, Mr. Lansdorp's weak conclusion that day was : "The Mars One mission is not to do the mission the way as it is exactly described on the website."

Sadly, none of his comments from the debate have been posted as an updated disclaimer on the Mars One mission road-map. The "plan" continues to hold that it will send one way manned missions every two years to Mars beginning in 2026. 

Why, pray, is there a need for Mars One if it's own chief calls into questions the Mars One plan? Might it be wrong now to assume that several hundred patrons might have been duped?  I won't be trying to answer how these people justify their return on investment in this case. It's really fuzzy.

But now you say hindsight is 20/20, that I'm just another naysayer piggybacking on the MIT study. While I understand any technical product will not sell without a strong commercial proposal, Mars One is awfully lacking in the former. One wonders whether Mr. Lansdorp truly stays awake at night as he fishes out new reasons to try and oversell this plan, particularly in the U.A.E.

At this point, I'd like to state two things in my analysis. One, I find interesting, is that the Mars One chief appears to take pleasure in bashing NASA's seemingly slow MARS schedule as the basis for his role in introducing Mars One.  

To be honest, this can be forgiven on NASA's part for the U.S Congress' space exploration budget cuts in the recent past. NASA must also get a bit of the benefit of doubt because it follows a prudent systems-validation based approach to assessing technical feasibility in putting people and equipment in space. 

Secondly, Mr. Lansdorp appears to be fixated on a misunderstanding that the Apollo Lunar program had virtually nothing to show technically when Kennedy made his 1961 speech spurring the moon mission. On this basis, he seems to be telling everyone that his Mars One plan deserves a chance as well.

Never mind the fact that the Apollo manned moon program had some 12,000 companies, 400,000 people and a backing of $25 billion to make it happen. Never mind the fact that it had no less than 33 flights, 22 of which were unmanned missions to specifically qualify the launch vehicle and spacecraft for manned flight and 4 of the 11 total manned flights were to man-rate the final 7 flights for lunar missions. Also, never mind the facts that NASA had the Saturn rockets going for them and the genius in Wernher Von Braun to provide technical advice during those years.

What a lot of people will tend to the forget is that the real need for an Apollo mission to the moon was never really scientific. The strongest impetus for Apollo was the uncompromising competition the Americans had with the Soviets in the space race. The Soviet secrecy around it's own space program never made the Americans comfortable that they were any ahead in this race, even to the very day Apollo 11 launched. Rational or irrational, this conveniently placed call of the Cold War captured hearts and minds and turned a nation on it's heels.

In short, yes the moon mission was extremely risky but NASA had a big part of the workable solution already in it's arsenal, which they tested the living daylights out of. They managed out risk. They also had a resounding patriotic call to arms behind the moon endeavor. Both of these are truly lacking in the Mars One plan. 

Mars One, as it currently stands, calls for taking ordinary people on a never-to-return one way trip to Mars in 2026. Due to the nature of this mission, one might be right to assume that these people are to live dull lives to their deaths as technicians - building, fixing and repairing technology - in a mega experiment that has seldom been tried before.

One has to appreciate Bas Lansdorp's energetic parade going around the world flaunting Mars One. But I believe it would be in his best interests to remain truthful about the project realities, re-assess his technical and cost plans and make modifications in the light of technological and procurement readiness. Right now, the Mars One plan rests, at best, on faulty and misleading data.

There are the geo-political challenges of an Outer Space Treaty. In this regard, I predict Mr. Lansdorp will have little option but to sooner or later join hands in cooperation with the rest of the world's space agencies. Countries aren't going to be friendly knowing that a single entity might potentially monopolize the exploitation of areas of Mars, which by his own admission on 103.8,  is a behavior that cannot be controlled from earth once the mission has landed on the planet.

No less important are the unsaid conflicts of interests in demanding the unquestioning service of human volunteers in such a short time and cozying up with investor driven business commitments and schedules. 

We're lacking in the long term understanding of planetary group survival through a longitudinal study here on earth. Some papers written after outpost like simulations exist and do not paint a pretty picture. A 2009 paper by the Mars Society on stress and coping in a 4 month arctic Mars simulation on Devon Island in Canada concluded, very subtly :

"Stress increased for males while decreasing for females. Males consistently used more avoidant coping while females utilized task coping and social emotional coping. Males also demonstrated higher levels of excitement, tiredness, and loneliness. Simulations situated in environments characterized by prolonged real isolation and environmental challenges appear to provoke true demands for adaptation rather than temporary situational accommodation as has been evidenced by shorter simulations in laboratories or more benign environments".

We're yet to take this further and quantify the human capability to cope under long term duress. Hollywood cannot dictate how you will eat , drink, procreate (or whether babies will be mutation free), romance, control criminal behaviors and so on. These have to be tried and tested in environments as close as possible in conditions to Mars.

I doubt the leaders of Mars One will not know all this, but the exploration of U.A.E to build an outpost, where temperatures climb to 45 degree C in summer, is rather strange. More to the point, how this plays out in the context of an active fatwa is a mystery.

Never to be one taken by hype, I stand cautious of the Mars One adventures. There's a lot of things to make Mars One flop. But there's a huge room to correct mistakes now.