CleanTech innovation offers opportunities for Saudi investors
Innovation is needed to achieve a net-zero future and this is something the recently launched Saudi UK Tech Hub plans to deliver with CleanTech.
The collaboration, formed last October, was inspired by both countries’ determination to leave our natural environment in better condition than we found it, and is a unique opportunity to forge strategic partnerships between Saudi firms and British innovation.
“Green is good, green is right, green works,” said British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the Global Investment Summit held in London, also last October.
British companies seem to have certainly got the message and are making waves when it comes to innovation in green technologies.
Electric vehicle battery maker Britishvolt, a startup raised £1.7 billion in funding in January to build a plant in Blyth, 13 miles northeast of Newcastle. The ambition of the startup is to create some of the world’s most responsibly manufactured battery cells.
Highview Power is another example of British excellence and expertise in CleanTech. The company’s cryogenic storage technology delivers long-life energy storage at half the cost of lithium-ion batteries while releasing zero emissions.
Meanwhile, public commitment to support net zero is also firmly on the agenda in Saudi Arabia.
Ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference, or COP26, held in Glasgow last October, the Kingdom pledged to reach net zero by 2060 and strengthen its carbon target this decade. The country has also announced that half of its electricity will come from renewables by 2030 — up from less than 1 percent today.
We have recently seen a few landmark developments for Saudi Arabia’s CleanTech sector — the world’s largest green hydrogen plant, and the announcement that Saudi Aramco’s corporate venture capital arm’s new $500 million (SR1.9 billion) fund will invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy solutions.
However, more is needed, and a Saudi-UK strategic clean growth collaboration provides a unique opportunity to help Saudi companies partner with cutting-edge CleanTech technology from the UK
The opportunity for collaboration is spread across a large number of sectors.
It runs from low carbon power generators to more efficient farms, from better batteries to factories placing them in vehicles that cause less pollution, from builders making our homes cheaper to run to businesses becoming more productive.
University, industry collaboration
With a tradition of excellence in academic research and a leading entrepreneurial ecosystem, the UK has a proud CleanTech record and is an ideal partner for Saudi Arabia.
Importantly, the UK also has a strong track record of collaboration between its first-class academic research and business.
Highview Power’s liquid air energy storage concept was developed in collaboration with the University of Birmingham’s School of Chemical Engineering and the company’s pilot plant is now at the Centre for Cryogenic Energy Storage to support further testing and academic research.
Britishvolt works closely with the University of Warwick and its research partners at Warwick Manufacturing Group.
Saudi Arabia is also fully aware of the importance of university-industry collaborations.
Last year, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology was the first university to become a member of the Saudi Venture Capital and Private Equity Association.
The collaboration is expected to allow KAUST Innovation Ventures, the KAUST-based investment fund that focuses on nurturing tech start-ups and entrepreneurs, to play a greater role in Saudi Arabia’s deep-tech ecosystem.
However, a key pillar of a more effective partnership between the UK and Saudi Arabia is to broaden the scope of each country’s existing university-industry collaboration to find innovative solutions to global challenges.
An example of successful university-industry collaboration between the UK and Saudi Arabia is Red Sea Farms, a GreenTech company that grows food using saltwater rather than freshwater.
A spinout of KAUST, based at KAUST Research and Technology Park and founded by Mark Tester and Ryan Lefers who met at KAUST where Mark is a professor of plant science and Ryan is a research scientist specializing in agricultural engineering. But Red Sea Farms also has deep links to Birmingham University’s research centre.
Following its early success in the Saudi market, the company is now preparing for a Series A round later this year to support the expansion of its saltwater-based controlled-environment farming systems from Saudi Arabia to other markets facing water scarcity.
Innovation, especially technology innovation, is not a solo act but a multi-player game. It is seldom about lone geniuses slaving away in narrow trenches before finding a moment of inspiration.
Instead, taking a good idea forward relies on input from different people and perspectives, and needs the contributions of multiple partners who play critical roles in getting things done.
When it comes to climate change and delivering a net-zero future, we need partnerships and collaborations to make a daring leap towards achieving our goals.
That is why CleanTech is one of the three strategic sectors in the recently launched Saudi UK Tech Hub whose mission is to connect the tech ecosystems of the UK and Saudi Arabia by amplifying existing initiatives that help create new ones.
The UK’s broad and diverse tech ecosystem is often overlooked due to the dynamism of London.
However, Britishvolt’s plant near Newcastle proves that the UK’s cutting-edge innovation does not stop at London’s M25 orbital motorway. The country is home to innovation clusters such as the Midlands, the heartland of the UK automotive industry, or the Northeast, a growing tech hub on a global scale built around Newcastle’s vibrant tech cluster.
By leveraging local knowledge and networks through targeted events, and creating opportunities to connect the ecosystems, the Saudi UK Tech Hub offers a platform to share insights on UK industry opportunities and best practices.
Here’s an unprecedented opportunity looking us straight in the eyes. The chance to seize clean growth and leverage the power of technology, the chance to capture every economic opportunity we can from the global shift to green technologies and services. Let’s ensure that we are ready to grab these opportunities.
- Roxana Mohammadian-Molina is Board Member of the Saudi British Joint Business Council, Chief Strategy Officer of UK FinTech company Blend Network, Board Member and Special Adviser to several organisations in the fields of technology and digital transformation