Cooling the World Cup stadiums.. The Sudanese engineer who achieved a surprise

A mechanical engineer at Qatar University 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 comfortable.

The system’s designer is Saud Ghani, a Sudanese engineer who works in one of the engineering department’s many labs studying thermodynamics—or, to put it more simply, the science of keeping people comfortable in a hot world.

This quiet center was where Ghani and his colleagues oversaw the design of the systems that adapted eight outdoor World Cup stadiums in and around Doha.

A solar power plant supplies the cooling system with electricity

During an interview with The New York Times, Ghani said: “People think, ‘We have a lot of money and we’re just pumping cold air,’ but that’s not all at all.”

Starting with the architecture of the stadiums, Ghani was there to calculate the best designs to get the hot air out. He says the stadium is designed in such a way that “people don’t feel hot or cold, just a normal feeling”.

Ghani, 52, has 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.

Players get blasts of cool air through giant holes scattered on the field

Players get blasts of cool air through giant holes scattered on the field

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 above, but he insisted it didn’t matter much.

Seven of the stadiums will be used year-round for major events, for club teams, for college athletics, and perhaps even as part of a bid to host the Olympics.

There are, of course, financial and environmental costs associated with 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 listened to critics, including climate concerns. More than half of Qatar’s electricity production goes to air conditioning, and while a FIFA analysis claims the World Cup could be carbon neutral, critics question the claim, citing everything from new construction in the past decade to the thousands of flights to and of Qatar during the tournament..

Cooling holes under the audience seats

Cooling holes under the audience seats

Ghani and World Cup organizers declined to provide costs or data on stadiums or cooling systems.

How did the stadiums cool down?

The prevailing concept in the design is a simple scientific principle, warm air goes up, cool air goes down.

Ghani did not 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 to 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 huge water tank, hundreds of thousands of litres, is hidden outside the stadium, out of sight and the stadiums use cold water to cool the air.

Ghani said 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 jets under the uprights. Air is drawn from the stadium into an exchanger with cold water, and then returns cold to the stadium.”

When it came to providing cool air, Ghani wanted precision. He didn’t want the airplane’s method of delivering cold air: blowing it in your face through a nozzle.

The system includes infrared sensors and cameras to make adjustments and direct more cool air to different locations as needed.

Some fans complained about the heat

Some fans complained about the heat


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 the Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, where the temperature was around 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius), Welsh fans stood for the entire game staring at a spot of sunshine and sweating.

Some hid from the sun under Welsh flags, while others were given free masks to wear.

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