A desalination project signifies the potential of business-academia partnerships in Saudi Arabia 

Special ACWA Power's Sakaka solar plant in Saudi Arabia. (Supplied)
ACWA Power's Sakaka solar plant in Saudi Arabia. (Supplied)
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Updated 06 June 2022

A desalination project signifies the potential of business-academia partnerships in Saudi Arabia 

A desalination project signifies the potential of business-academia partnerships in Saudi Arabia 
  • Partnership between KAUST and ACWA Power to spur adoption of solar energy for water desalination
  • Business leaders eager to tap the Kingdom’s top research universities for carbon-cutting solutions

DUBAI: The worlds of business and academia are too often viewed as mutually exclusive. But as nations search for scalable solutions to the climate crisis, while also attempting to meet the demands of ever-growing populations, there is certainly merit in working to combine the efforts of these two forces.

Take the recent partnership between ACWA Power and Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, which has already carried out new research into the scaled use of solar power in sustainable desalination of seawater.

Last month, a joint delegation of the two organizations hosted the inaugural Innovation Days event, a platform that brought together leading business executives, innovators and researchers to showcase their expertise in solar energy, green hydrogen, artificial intelligence, and desalination.

The event looked at the critical issues facing green sources of energy and the desalination process, including how to accelerate the adoption of sustainable technologies to advance the integration of renewables and hydrogen in the process.

“We entered into the local innovation system and we started this journey into innovation by identifying a top-notch university in the region,” Thomas Altmann, the executive vice president of innovation and new technology at ACWA Power, told Arab News.

The company, which is owned by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and has its headquarters in Riyadh, is a leading developer, investor and operator in power generation, desalination and green hydrogen in the MENA region. KAUST is one of the Kingdom’s foremost education and research institutions.

Since 2019, the two organizations have jointly operated a research and development hub called the KAUST-ACWA Power Center of Excellence for Desalination and Solar Power.

“KAUST had several advantages for us,” said Altmann. “(Our initial work) is a collaboration in desalination and solar, and we have already expanded to new areas. The original idea was to improve the operational efficiency of our plants.”

Already, he added, the company has been able to make incremental improvements to its operations and designs as a result of the partnership.

“We have made significant design improvements,” said Altmann. “This academic support drills into some topics a lot deeper, to do lab and pilot tests.”

Partnerships such as this represent an exciting convergence of academia and industry, according to regional experts. Abhayjit Sinha, a strategic advisor at the Middle East Solar Industry Association, said such arrangements are mutually beneficial.




KAUST's MoU signing with ACWA Power. (Supplied)

“On one hand, KAUST researchers receive a real-world test bed to test their hypotheses,” he told Arab News. “On the other hand, ACWA Power benefits from an extended and external research and development facility.

“A critical success factor is balancing the bold, albeit sometimes theoretical, ideas of academicians with economical value sought by industry players.”

Raed Bkayrat, another strategic adviser at MESIA, believes the partnership will have the added benefit of accelerating research into more sustainable desalination, a process that can be extremely energy intensive.

“Worldwide, seawater desalination is producing an ever-growing carbon footprint and is having a wider ecological impact, if left to current commercial solutions,” he told Arab News.

“Such a partnership will help provide mitigation methods as well as new solutions that can produce desalinated water with a minimal carbon footprint.”

FASTFACTS

 

* Partnership between KAUST and ACWA Power is spurring the adoption of solar for water desalination.

* Business leaders are eager to tap Saudi Arabia's top research universities for carbon-cutting solutions.

Saudi Arabia is one of the larger desalination markets in the Middle East and North Africa region. About 2,000 million cubic meters of water are desalinated each year to meet the freshwater needs of the Kingdom’s population and agricultural sector.

Bkayrat believes that combining the efforts of advanced research institutions such as KAUST with major players in the desalination industry could prove key to ensuring the Kingdom meets its net-zero emissions goal by 2060.

“The model of engaging industrial players with research institutions and creating a strong dialogue that helps shape and guide the research work done by the scientists at KAUST is the proper model,” he said.

“It enables industry adoption of new technology and helps bridge the gap between the laboratory and real-world implementation.




The recent partnership between ACWA Power and Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (pictured) has already carried out new research into the scaled use of solar power in sustainable desalination of seawater. (Supplied)

“Such models are gaining wider adoption and are helping research universities to make a greater impact and secure additional funding streams while providing a technological and commercial edge to the industry partner.”

Saudi Arabia is transitioning toward renewables in an attempt to reduce its reliance on oil and gas for domestic energy needs. Authorities aim to expand the country’s total solar energy capacity by almost 40 gigawatts by 2025 from the current 455 megawatts.

To achieve this, the government is investing heavily in its research universities and promoting the opportunities for both international investment and domestic entrepreneurism to help stimulate the market for green investments and sustainable solutions.

Business leaders think even more can be done to promote such an environment. Altmann, for example, believes the Kingdom ought to build a platform that allows companies such as ACWA Power to bring new technologies to Saudi Arabia and initially deploy them on a small scale.

“We have proposed something, with any new project, to allow the developer to deploy a new technology up to 1 percent of the total capacity,” he said. “This will allow us to bring in new technology, to scale it, develop it further and make it more mature.

“That would mean a growing independence from the grid, immediately reducing fossil fuel burning in Saudi Arabia by using emerging technologies, many of which are coupled directly with renewable energy.”

Innovation Days, like the one in March, could prove critical to establishing just such an innovative environment in the Kingdom by promoting the bonds between business and leading scientific minds.

“It’s mainly universities, entrepreneurs, corporates like us, and government,” Altmann said.

“We did a lot of innovation in-house and now we opened up about being a technology innovation leader as well.”




Saudi Arabia is one of the larger desalination markets in the Middle East and North Africa region, about 2 billion cubic meters of water are desalinated each year to meet the freshwater needs of the Kingdom’s population and agricultural sector. (AFP)

One of these innovations is hydrogen power, which is regarded by many experts as the clean energy of the future. Green hydrogen, which is produced using solar energy, is a major feature of the energy equation for the NEOM megacity project currently taking shape along Saudi Arabia’s northwestern Red Sea coast.

“We started to expand our cooperation with KAUST in the area of hydrogen electrolysis (which significantly reduces energy consumption), and we are a part of the NEOM project as a shareholder, (with) the largest hydrogen plant in the world under construction,” said Altmann.

“So we have taken a huge step in that direction and now we are doing pilot plants in KAUST with the next generation of hydrogen electrolysis.”

According to Sinha, corporate partnerships are an integral part of KAUST’s business plan, with similar agreements already in place with Lockheed Martin, the US aerospace, arms, defense, information security, and technology corporation, and Elm, a joint-stock company and leading digital-solutions company in Saudi Arabia that is owned by the nation’s Public Investment Fund.

“One benchmark for success is the number of patents filed under such collaborations,” said Sinha. “I expect more partnership announcements in the near future. However, in the long term there will be consolidation where most industry firms will partner with one or two academic institutes.”

Donal Bradley, vice president for research at KAUST, said the university aims to address critical global challenges across energy, water, the environment, food and health, and the digital realm through such research partnerships with industry players.

“We work closely with partners in the Kingdom, including the ministries, NEOM and leading companies,” he told Arab News.

“The Innovation Days event with ACWA Power offers an exciting forum to support the development of technologies that can help solve local and global needs.”

 


Perception at odds with reality of generous Saudi humanitarian support for Ukraine

Perception at odds with reality of generous Saudi humanitarian support for Ukraine
Updated 15 August 2022

Perception at odds with reality of generous Saudi humanitarian support for Ukraine

Perception at odds with reality of generous Saudi humanitarian support for Ukraine
  • Kingdom’s track record belies lack of recognition of its donations for displaced Ukrainian refugees
  • A $10 million aid package has just been signed off by the UNHCR, WHO and Saudi Arabia’s KSrelief 

JEDDAH: The perception that Saudi Arabia is not helping Ukrainians affected by the war with Russia is completely at odds with the reality. 

The firmness of the Kingdom’s commitment to supporting refugees and resolving the conflict has been evident since the outbreak of hostilities. Aid pledges have been matched by donations that are already making a big difference.

A $10 million Saudi humanitarian package for war-displaced Ukrainians has just been signed off by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the World Health Organization and Saudi Arabia’s leading humanitarian aid agency.

 

 

About half of the $10 million grant has been allocated for distribution through the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre (KSrelief).

In April, King Salman directed KSrelief to provide this amount of support for immediate assistance and give “urgent medical and shelter aid” to Ukrainian refugees, giving priority to those arriving in Poland.

KSrelief chief Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah visiting Poland’s Institute of Tuberculosis and Lung Diseases, which is supporting refugees in Warsaw. (Supplied)

Delivering on the Kingdom’s promise during his ongoing visit to Poland, Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, adviser at the Royal Court and supervisor general of KSrelief, also discussed the humanitarian situation with Polish, UNHCR and WHO officials, according to a Saudi Press Agency report.

It said Al-Rabeeah visited several health establishments and facilities, taking time to speak to some Ukrainian refugees who had fled to Warsaw from their war-torn country.

 

 

“Thank you very much, and thanks to the center for helping us. The situation is as you can see,” a Ukrainian resident of a refugee center told Al-Arabiya news channel.

“All of us came from Ukraine, and we were in a very bad way. Thanks to you, our situation has improved. Thanks a lot, and we wish peace to the whole world.”  

At the Poland-Ukraine border, Al-Rabeeah lauded the collaboration between the WHO, KSrelief, and the Polish government. “We highly appreciate the partnership with the WHO. Our work together has made great support to refugees and those in need here and elsewhere,” he said in a video released by WHO Poland.

KSrelief chief Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah meeting with WHO officials in Poland. (Supplied)

KSrelief has donated funds to support the critical response efforts for Ukrainians in Poland, with the delivery of emergency medical supplies and equipment benefiting more than 1 million people in need.

The Kingdom’s support for Ukrainian refugees is an extension of its well-known humanitarian efforts in more than 85 countries, yet several reports have hinted that Saudi Arabia has picked sides in the conflict because of its ties to Russia as a fellow OEPC+ member.

Despite the political and humanitarian initiatives taken by the Kingdom, urging all parties to come to the negotiating table to resolve the conflict through dialogue and diplomacy, the Kingdom’s efforts have been viewed with skepticism in some quarters.

A March report by the Wilson Center, a US government-linked public policy think tank, claimed that Saudi Arabia “has decided to side with Russia” and “chose Putin over Biden,” accusing the Kingdom of playing political games to keep oil prices high.

The remarks came despite the Kingdom’s repeated offers to both mediate between the warring parties and increase oil production along with neighboring Gulf countries.

Millions of Ukrainian refugees suddenly left their country in February after Russian troops invaded. (AFP)

The differences between the Western and Arab positions on the question of how to end the war have not stopped either side from addressing the humanitarian emergency.

For its part, Saudi Arabia has reiterated that though ending the ongoing war in Ukraine is no easy feat, the Kingdom has treated the issue just as any ongoing crisis in the region, stressing that human suffering is the same in all conflicts and that violence is not the solution.

In March, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told Russian President Vladimir Putin that the Kingdom was ready to exert all efforts to mediate between the two nations.

Saudi Arabia has sent millions of dollars in humanitarian aid for Ukrainians forced to stay in evacuation centers in Poland. (AFP photo)

In May, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, met with his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to discuss the crisis.

Less than a week later, Prince Faisal bin Farhan met with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov during the latter’s visit to Riyadh, where he underscored the importance of reaching a political solution to achieve security and stability for all involved.

Though scant details on Lavrov’s visit and meeting with Gulf Cooperation Council ministers were released, the trip was still misinterpreted as evidence of Saudi Arabia’s support for Russia, even though the Kingdom and other Gulf states had opted to stay neutral, treating the war in Ukraine in “a fair context” and providing aid to the needy.

In June, Prince Faisal bin Farhan clarified the Kingdom’s position further: “Our stance as Gulf countries regarding the Russian-Ukrainian crisis is unified,” he said on June 1 during a speech at the opening of the 152nd session of the Ministerial Council of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Millions of Ukrainians were forced to leave their country since February after Russian troops invaded. (AFP photo)

“Today we had two fruitful meetings with the Russian and Ukrainian ministers, during which we stated our unified stance regarding the Russian-Ukrainian crisis and its negative consequences, namely the food security of the affected countries and the world.”

Saudi Arabia’s decision to remain neutral and prioritize humanitarian engagement during the war also ought to be viewed in the context of public opinion. In a recent Arab News-YouGov poll, of the more than 1,000 Saudis who were asked for their opinion, 14 percent blamed US President Joe Biden for the conflict while 21 percent blamed NATO.

While a high number of Saudi respondents expressed skepticism about NATO’s involvement with the conflict, 41 percent of Saudis said they did not know or were not sure who was to blame.

Throughout the conflict, more than 40 countries, organizations, and individual donors have made pledges and commitments, some of which have made their way to the 6.3 million refugees fleeing Ukraine as well as those who remained. But there is a striking gap between pledged and delivered support.

In this April 9, 2022, photo, Ukrainian refugees fleeing war stay at a gymnasium in Tijuana, Mexico as they await permission to enter the US. (AFP)

Thus far, most Western governments have given priority to military assistance over humanitarian aid.

According to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, the US has pledged $23.8 billion in military aid, the highest number to date, but has only allocated $8.9 billion in humanitarian assistance.

According to the center, that number has since increased but by a relatively small percentage. Similarly, the EU pledged $12.3 billion in military aid but just $1.4 billion has been siphoned for humanitarian response and aid packages.

Since the outbreak of the conflict, Western and Arab governments have been under no illusion that the need for a resolution of the conflict is no less pressing than addressing the humanitarian emergency.

Last month, President Biden visited Jeddah and met with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The two sides discussed several topics of concern, including energy, security and the crisis in Ukraine.

King Salman bin Abdulaziz meets with US President Joe Biden, witnessed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and US State Secretary Antony Blinken at al-Salam Palace in Jeddah on July 15, 2022. (SPA)

Soon after Biden left the Kingdom, Adel Al-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia’s minister of state for foreign affairs, spoke to CNBC to set the record straight. “We have said from the very beginning, we supported the UN General Assembly Resolution and the inadmissibility abuse of force, about the sovereignty of nations and respect for that,” he said.

“We have called for a peaceful resolution to this; stop the fighting and get to the negotiating table and work out your differences peacefully.

“The concern that we have is that escalation on one side leads to escalation on the other side and before you know it, things are more likely to spin out of control and we all pay the price.”

For good measure, Al-Jubeir said: “We’ve reached out to both Russia and Ukraine. We’ve urged them to move towards a ceasefire settlement and their conflict peacefully. We continue to be engaged with them as are a number of other countries, and our hope is that they will be able to recognize that it’s better to argue across the table from each other than fight across the battlefield, because of the unintended consequences of war and conflict.”

 

 

Meanwhile, when it comes to humanitarian giving, Saudi Arabia’s pledges continue to be matched by its actions.

On Friday, accompanied by Saad Al-Saleh, the Saudi ambassador to Poland, KSrelief’s Al-Rabeeah visited the UNHCR’s warehouse facilities in Rzeszow in Poland. They jointly inspected the aid already provided as part of the Kingdom’s $10 million grant to support Ukrainian refugees.

 

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Saudi Crown Prince receives call from Pakistani PM

Saudi Crown Prince receives call from Pakistani PM
Updated 14 August 2022

Saudi Crown Prince receives call from Pakistani PM

Saudi Crown Prince receives call from Pakistani PM

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman received a phone call on Sunday from Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif, prime minister of Pakistan, Saudi Press Agency reported.

During the call, they reviewed the brotherly and historical relations between the Kingdom and Pakistan, in addition to discussing opportunities for cooperation between the two countries and ways to enhance them in various fields.

Also on Sunday, King Salman and the crown prince congratulated Pakistani President Arif Alvi on Saturday on the occasion of Pakistan’s 76th Independence Day.

“The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has sent a cable of congratulations to President Dr. Arif Alvi, President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, on the anniversary of his country’s Independence Day,” SPA said. 

In his message, Prince Mohammed “wished the President constant good health and happiness and the government and friendly people of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan steady progress and prosperity.” 


Hundreds of women benefit from Saudi virtual health sessions

The virtual clinic contributes to achieving the university's strategic goals of providing a campus life. (SPA)
The virtual clinic contributes to achieving the university's strategic goals of providing a campus life. (SPA)
Updated 14 August 2022

Hundreds of women benefit from Saudi virtual health sessions

The virtual clinic contributes to achieving the university's strategic goals of providing a campus life. (SPA)
  • The sessions are provided in cooperation with the Saudi Charitable Association of Diabetes to the university’s students and employees

RIYADH: Almost 330 women have benefited from virtual health sessions provided through the Nutrition Unit at Princess Nourah bint Abdul Rahman University, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The sessions aim to highlight diabetes prevention, adopting a healthy lifestyle to reduce the risk of infection, spreading awareness about diabetes, the stages of diabetes, correcting misconceptions, answering inquiries, and providing the necessary moral support and awareness for those with diabetes by opening a reliable advice channel.

The sessions are provided in cooperation with the Saudi Charitable Association of Diabetes to the university’s students and employees.

Every month, the clinic hosts an association member who gives medical consultations and holds awareness sessions.

Families of university employees who wish to benefit from the counseling sessions can also attend.

The virtual clinic contributes to achieving the university's strategic goals of providing a campus life that supports people’s health and well-being for better productivity.

The efforts come within the framework of cooperation between the university and organizations that seek to achieve the goals of Saudi Vision 2030 by keeping pace with the needs of female students, promoting health, and moral support.

 


Saudia concludes Hajj 2022 operations

Saudia concludes Hajj 2022 operations
Updated 14 August 2022

Saudia concludes Hajj 2022 operations

Saudia concludes Hajj 2022 operations
  • Flight SV5712 from Madinah airport, carrying 347 Hajj pilgrims, was bid farewell on Sunday
  • Saudia’s Hajj plan began with arrivals to the Kingdom on June 6 and continued with departures on July 14

RIYADH: The Kingdom’s flag carrier Saudia concluded its global Hajj 2022 transport operation with a flight to Ahmedabad, India on Sunday.

Flight SV5712 from Madinah’s Prince Mohammed bin Abdulaziz International Airport, carrying 347 pilgrims, was bid farewell by Saudia’s chief Hajj and Umrah officer Amer Alkhushail.

Saudia’s operational plan for Hajj began with arrivals to the Kingdom on June 6 and continued with departures on July 14.

More than 350,000 pilgrims were transported over the two phases, of which 120,000 traveled on 300 Hajj flights. A further 230,000 pilgrims traveled on scheduled and additional flights.

The airline revealed that 280,000 pieces of luggage were handled as part of its free “luggage first” service that was launched this year.

As part of the free service, pilgrims’ luggage was collected from their hotel or other accommodation in Jeddah, Makkah or Madinah 24 hours before their departure and delivered to the correct airport baggage center where it was checked in before they arrived at the airport.


OIC chief receives Somalia’s special presidential envoy in Jeddah

OIC chief Hissein Brahim Taha receives Somalia’s special presidential envoy. (Supplied)
OIC chief Hissein Brahim Taha receives Somalia’s special presidential envoy. (Supplied)
Updated 15 August 2022

OIC chief receives Somalia’s special presidential envoy in Jeddah

OIC chief Hissein Brahim Taha receives Somalia’s special presidential envoy. (Supplied)

JEDDAH: Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation Hissein Brahim Taha received Special Envoy of the Somali President for Humanitarian Affairs and Drought Abdul Rahman Abdul Shakour at the headquarters of the OIC’s General Secretariat in Jeddah on Sunday.

The envoy delivered a written message from the president of Somalia to Taha.

The secretary-general said that the OIC is deeply concerned about the drought and famine in Somalia.

Taha reaffirmed the commitment of the General Secretariat to implement the resolution adopted to alleviate the suffering of the Somali people and issued by the 48th session of the Council of Foreign Ministers held in Islamabad, Pakistan, earlier this year. He called for intensified efforts to assist those affected by the drought.