In a country as dense and urban as the UAE, geographically placed in one of the hottest regions of the world, the issue of city surface temperatures was always going to be an inevitability of human progress and development. But it doesn’t have to be.
FortyGuard, an Abu Dhabi-based cleantech startup, is working to combat the urban heat island (UHI) effect, which is an environmental phenomenon that occurs in dense metropolitan areas in which the clustering of roads, buildings and other manmade structures leads to diminished heat release and airflow, trapping heat within urban surfaces and pollutants in the immediate atmosphere, decreasing the quality of life of citizens.
The origin of FortyGuard’s name
The Hub71-based startup is currently working with Masdar City, a planned city project that is underway in Abu Dhabi, gathering data and developing solutions for widescale deployment.
Essentially, FortyGuard’s solutions revolve around collecting data on elevated city temperatures, formulating solutions based on predictive analytics and models, then deploying tailored solutions to fit the urban setting in question, through adding alternative coatings to city surfaces developed via material science technology. Added to a surface (asphalt or concrete) at the time of mixture, the final, dry surface would become re-engineered to deflect solar energy, which reduces both surface and ambient temperatures.
FortyGuard's core solutions
A graphical illustration depicting a city before and after FortyGuard's solutions were implemented
The Abu Dhabi SME Hub spoke with Jihad Sadiq, Founder & Chief Visionary Officer, and Alan Wildes, CoFounder and Chief Technology Officer, to learn more about their company and entrepreneurial journey so far.
Alan Wildes, CoFounder and Chief Technology Officer (left) and Jihad Sadiq, Founder & Chief Visionary Officer (right)
Can you tell us about your previous professional experience, and why you decided to set out to create FortyGuard?
Jihad Sadiq, Founder & Chief Visionary Officer: As an entrepreneur, my passion revolves around the impact I can bring to people, enhancing their 'feeling of health,' which can be achieved through technology. While I didn’t study engineering, I have worked within the business side of the consultancy sector overseeing many infrastructure & engineering projects over the past 12 years. This has allowed me to think outside the box of conventional practices while working with many inspiring engineering minds.
By using my 16 years of experience and a Masters degree in International Business, I have enjoyed working in Media, Management, Investments. I have been able to blend a vision and strategy that engages the cleantech market and build a team to ‘work backwards’ and innovate high-end services required for an environmental issue.
Alan Wildes, Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer: My background is in landscape architecture and urban design where I worked as a consultant internationally. FortyGuard has made it possible to blend my passion for outdoor design into a data informed process that has the ability to serve many heat impacted cities around the world.
Having spent 15 years working in the consultancy sector, I always believed that the skillset would be useful for integration within the technology space. FortyGuard’s vision to improve the lives of people on a broad and impactful basis triggered my desire to join Jihad on this journey. With our team, we continue to develop this target of developing livable city environments in a way that improves many lives in our increasingly urbanized existence.
When you created FortyGuard as a CleanTech startup, why did you decide to focus on reducing city temperatures as your key business objective as opposed to other environmental issues?
Jihad: Humans are intimidated by outdoor heat without understanding the huge impact it has on our health and finances. Although cooling cities is an unusual business, the problem of urban heat is not a new challenge and is closely related to urban sustainability including issues such as global warming and climate change.
By establishing a dollar figure next to the problem, asset owners and operators can begin to see the loss in millions of dollars they suffer from due to the heat outside their buildings and throughout their roadways and public realm. It became obvious for many of our clients that the lack of data and understanding of the problem prevented decision-makers from making key choices that can mitigate the risk of heat. Without such data, it was difficult to implement an outdoor cooling strategy without a measured ROI.
Unfortunately, human comfort often loses out to value engineering. Many companies do not have access to outdoor data and cannot make the correlation to attribute how many millions of dollars they lose in CAPEX and OPEX due to heat, or decide what would be the best outdoor solution with a dollar return.
Reduced costs for cities that address their UHI effect include energy savings, lower costs for water treatment and flood damage, and reduced health risks and heat-related deaths.
Eng. Muyasar Abulkhair, FortyGuard Industrial Director, applying ambient sensing station at site
What tangible solutions has FortyGuard created to help cool city temperatures? Can you share some examples of your work so far?
Alan: We started with a huge body of research on material science, energy demands and methods to enhance roadways while maintaining the specifications required by regulators and clients. We assessed the market offerings in the cleantech sector for an entry point of impact for the urban heat problem.
Having designed a robust sensing protocol and established our data set requirements, we have been able to secure a partnership with an ideal local client. Our pilot project with Masdar City has enabled us to complete our sensing deployment and test the data collection process in a stable urban setting, with a range of temperatures.
With the assistance of Masdar City's Sustainability Team, we have been able to attain the following achievements:
- Collected over 3 million data points at Masdar City in 3 months with zero congestion and emissions, which enabled us to deliver the world's first microclimate heat-map.
- FortyGuard verified that existing cooling strategies at Masdar City deliver a 10°C reduction compared to locations as close as 1km away.
- Masdar City provided a testbed to pioneer new technology for the UAE's Net Zero 2050 Strategy, helped us define market-fit and enabled FortyGuard to go international.
- Multiple material science MVPs generating IP which can reduce the surface temperature of roadways and pathways by 11°C and the ambient temperature by 3°C.
We believe that putting a dollar figure next to the problem is half the solution and every city asset today can become a data centre to better inform solutions to enable cooling the outdoors strategically.
The environmental services sector is still quite young in the UAE, but it has been growing. What is your opinion on this sector on the local level?
Jihad: As a young country, the UAE has adapted later than others across many sectors and still manages to advance and score first when it comes to trending industries and futuristic settings. We can see this happening around us in Abu Dhabi and Dubai where tech services are being established to benefit this country and the population.
Cleantech in this region is still emergent but rapidly advancing to the point we can expect UAE to become leaders in the environmental tech sector. By establishing and rigorously testing in the harshest summer environment, it places the region in a position for tech export. Wherever we travel we are proud to say that FortyGuard’s technology is built in the UAE and we have the ability to export it to other leading countries around the world in competitive models with market-fit adaptability.
Installing embedded sensors to measure core temperatures of roadway surface
As an entrepreneur, what have the challenges of launching a Cleantech startup been like, and which entities have supported you?
Alan: When we look back at the period that we established FortyGuard during, it all began as the world was suffering from the COVID crisis, which led to extra time at home and enabled us to begin a method of working remotely but collaboratively - often for really long hours! We doubled down on research from environmental market leaders and etched out our focus on mitigating future heat and climate emergencies. From the beginning, we were sure that this would require a demanding blend of technology, material science and the utilization of layered heat mitigation planning.
Naturally, we found it hard to benchmark FortyGuard against other ‘competitors’ in the market, but this was a welcome problem to have. The challenge was to position ourselves in a way that clients could see a data driven solution to a practical heat problem that exists in over 400 cities across the world.
We have benefitted from a range of startup supporters in the region. We were able to establish our license at Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) who were flexible in servicing and made it easier to establish employment visas, bank accounts and operate in a dynamic market.
Similarly, we have benefitted from Hub 71’s generous incentive programme in Abu Dhabi where we are engaged with a powerful startup environment that has given us access to clients who see value in emergent technology.
The Mohammed Bin Rashid Innovation Fund (MBRIF) accepted FortyGuard in its August 2021 cohort and we have benefitted from opportunities at major international events such as GITEX and the Dubai Airshow where we have been able to showcase our technologies to an international audience.
We knew Masdar have been leaders in climate action in pioneering new tech initiative and demonstrating to a UAE climate mitigation startup, and they have been supportive since we presented our initiative to the management team. Their management team have been supportive of our mission to cool cities by understanding data to control outdoor temperatures. Masdar City has provided a testbed to pioneer a new technology for Net Zero Strategy, defined market-fit and enabled FortyGuard to go internationally.
Mobile sensing methodology, human and street levels, utilizing existing tech to gather heat data
What are your company's primary objectives for the next three years?
Jihad: FortyGuard is incredibly excited about the coming year, and we anticipate 2022 will be a huge period in taking our technology to the next stage of development. We are building scalable enterprise partnerships with leading technology providers to enable more automated capabilities as part of our urban data processing.
We anticipate that we will be able to branch into consumer sensing and micro-mobility sensing (bikes, motors, scooters) so that we can integrate our technology with other market leaders and automakers internationally. Our position in the cleantech sector and the valuable data offers a great opportunity to leverage our data sets for carbon capture optimization and sale of data insights from our international subject sites.
Ultimately, FortyGuard plans to ensure that our cooling techniques are mandated into leadership specifications which will allow for broader integration and bring thermal comfort to a broader population.