“BEEAH is an innovation-driven organization,” begins Nasir Al Shamsi sitting down with Truck and Fleet Middle East for the first time. BEEAH Group was talking sustainable transportation in the UAE before electric vehicles were even in the market and was the first in the Middle East to place an order when Tesla first announced the Semi five years ago. It has even run its own fleet of performance EVs.
The Managing Director of BEEAH Transport added that the company believes that innovation is the key to staying ahead of the curve in today’s fast-paced business world, and to ensure that we’re always at the forefront of our industry.
This is a PPP company that has grasped the sustainability mettle from its beginnings as Sharjah’s principal waste management operation in 2007, to becoming a region-spanning proponent of being green. It is sharp, ambitious, and willing to put its money and its resources into achieving its goals. A true pioneer with purpose which has taken risks which are beginning to pay off.
T&FME is talking to Al Shamsi following a year that saw the Group make significant progress in its commitment to supporting the UAE’s Net Zero by 2050 strategic initiative, while recording its highest ever growth. Over the past year, BEEAH had participated in the COP 27 meeting in Egypt where it became a signatory to the ZEV Declaration, inaugurated its waste-to-energy plant, and completed a move into its stunning new headquarters in Sharjah.
As Managing Director for BEEAH Transport, Nasir Al Shamsi’s story is a perfect demonstration of the evolution underway at the BEEAH Group. Al Shamsi’s career at BEEAH started 10 years ago and he has gradually worked his way up to managing the organization’s sustainable mobility division. This grounding has proven useful in understanding that there must be a technical and pragmatic side to the ambition of the BEEAH Group.
“I am responsible for driving forward the vision of green mobility and sustainable transport future for BEEAH,” he says while describing the role. “We believe that low-carbon mobility solutions are the future of the transportation industry, and it is really essential to achieving sustainable development.”
He pauses, and says ruefully: “looking back to then, attitudes towards sustainable mobility were very different.”
The UAE entered the second half of the last decade taking its first tentative steps towards greener mobility. A revolution in cloud-based technology like app-driven personal mobility solutions or aggregated fleet contracting, was still a few years away. Electric vehicles were just as rare. Al Shamsi draws a direct link between the disruptive revolution underway now and the intervention by the UAE government that kick-started the mobility revolution.
“There has been a major shift in attitudes ever since the government started to introduce incentives for e-mobility in 2015. Gradually, you had free registration, free salik tags, and then you had DEWA subsidising the use of EV chargers – and this has attracted a lot of consumers, because previously there was a concern over whether this was a beneficial thing to do. Was it cost-effective even if (ultimately) it was more environmentally friendly?”
Al Shamsi says that even before BEEAH Transport became its own entity within the wider Group, BEEAH was realising that transportation would need to move in parallel with this green movement on the consumer-side.
“We identified the need to push the sector towards greener alternatives. BEEAH Transport did not exist back then, but when we saw the need, the business vertical was created.”
Al Shamsi recalls early talks within the Group in 2017 which soon led to an acceleration of its sustainable transport strategy. “The section was started really as a project back in 2017 with the launch of ION,” he states.
Truck and Fleet Middle East readers may recall BEEAH’s partner on the project CE:Creates talking to the magazine in those early months. Still a pilot at that time, ION joined BEEAH with the start-up incubator to launch on a platform that was also just getting started at the time in the UAE – Careem. Together they put electric taxis in the market for the first time. “Their Careem electric category was exclusive to our fleet,” adds Al Shamsi.
Famous for their Teslas and the tourqouise livery, the pilot scheme was successful enough to run for over three years. But, it was also clear that if the service or product was right, a broader demand for a greener way to get around was there – but needed the right support or strategy to be cultivated.
“During those three and a half years, we started brainstorming on why adoption was not as fast as it should be. We started looking at the pain points for consumers. We know everyone needs an EV charger but is it the right one? Is there a standard charger people can rely on?” He states “So we had a mission, a mission where we needed to provide a like-for-like experience. So, for example if you drive a gasoline vehicle you can go to a gas station, fill up your car, five minutes, ten minutes max, and you’re out. Can we do the same with an EV?”
By now a relatively experienced partner with suppliers in the mobility sector, BEEAH was soon seeking out a solution to finally break through the potential dead-end of demand for EVs being stifled by a lack of feasible chargers in the market.
“That’s when we actually launched the first ultra rapid chargers in the Middle East with a 350kW total output and capable of charging a vehicle in less than 15 minutes. At the very least it will top up the vehicle,” he explains. “Right now, we’re on a mission to deploy even more of these chargers, because everybody wants something similar or better (than pump refuelling). People relying on standard AC chargers doesn’t solve the problem of getting to mass adoption.
“In order for you to have that mass EV adoption you need to convince people, especially in a market used to convenience.”
BEEAH’s work in electric vehicles and infrastructure is fascinating but it is only one aspect of new mobility it wants to explore. While it is proving that it can use its scale to improve EV adoption, BEEAH Transport’s ambitions stretch into a number of areas.
Few organisations in the market can match its ability to move from pilot scheme to scale. Fewer still own a fleet of 2,000 vehicles and are embracing the concept of autonomous driving. In partnership with ION, BEEAH Transport is now aiming to become the largest operator of Autonomous Vehicles in the region, including for public transport in mixed traffic scenarios. In 2021, the business also became the first to operate an autonomous vehicle on a public road in Ajman as part of the public transit system.
“It was the first to be introduced in the Mena region and a really, really interesting project,” enthuses Al Shamsi, adding that the testing is providing data that should lead the vehicles to being deployed into a wider range of environments.
“You see to what extent an autonomous vehicle can go, entering and exiting only by itself. You know, we’re making u-turns, braking, communicating with traffic lights…. the shuttle will automatically stop and then when it turns green, it will just move again,” he says eagerly. “And we also have some smart cameras to identify pedestrian crossings as well. So, we have really pushed it. When we start (a project like this) we always push to see what the maximum capability is or where the technology can take us!”
Exciting as many of its initiatives are, BEEAH Transport remains committed to ensure that the projects can be financially, as well as environmentally, sustainable. Given its reputation and importance, BEEAH is never short of technology partners but Al Shamsi stresses that it has set a high bar when it comes to the people it works with.
“Ultimately, it should make economic sense,” he says. “Not all sustainable mobility projects make economical sense because, for example, infrastructure upgrades might be required,” he comments.
BEEAH Transport was awarded with a special Outstanding Contribution to Transportation award at the Truck and Fleet Awards, in recognition of its work in low-carbon mobility solutions and the part it is playing in enabling sustainable development and autonomous sustainable transportation, as well as its use of zero emissions vehicles. It marks the end of one of its busiest years and the start of 12 months, which will see it go to yet another level with the UAE officially celebrating the Year of Sustainability, in the lead up to the Cop 28 meeting in November.
“2022 was one of the most successful years we have ever had: starting in February, we had the opening of our HQ, then in May the inauguration of the waste-to-energy facility, then in July, we have the expansion in the UAE with the winning of contracts with Tadweer, then a 10-year contract in Sharm al Sheikh in Egypt. We are celebrating these accomplishments but must capitalize on new opportunities that have come to us.”
One of those opportunities is the development of the region’s first waste-to-hydrogen plant which will utilize technologies from UK’s Chinook Sciences and Japan’s Air Water. The construction of the pilot plant has begun, Al Shamsi tells T&FME. The green hydrogen produced will be supplied to an adjacent fueling station, which will offer yet another opportunity in alternative fuels for vehicles.
“I wouldn’t say this will be a full-fledged project at the first. It is more of a pilot that will be part of the plant that will eventually produce green hydrogen (at scale),” he says, adding that the fuel will be used on BEEAH’s own fleet and should be capable of fueling 1,000 vehicles once it is fully operational.