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RIYADH: The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology is making significant progress in the implementation of its new strategic plan, with the aim of enhancing Saudi Arabia’s green initiatives. 

In an interview with Arab News at the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh, KAUST’s President Tony Chan emphasized the commitment to taking a leadership role both for the institute and the Kingdom.  

“We work closely with the Saudi Green Initiative and the Ministry of Energy,” he said. 

Chan mentioned that they aim to practice what they advocate for, adding: “We teach sustainability, we do research on sustainability,” 

KAUST is also focused on fostering global partnerships, with an emphasis on strengthening ties with Shenzhen, a Chinese city known for its economic prowess and technological advancement. 

This collaboration follows KAUST’s comprehensive strategy introduced in August 2023. 

Under this strategy, the institute is unveiling initiatives aimed at strengthening scientific ties, fostering technology adoption, and propelling research commercialization to enhance the Kingdom’s economic competitiveness. 

The partnership is one of the key elements in a series of events where KAUST has actively pursued its sustainable vision. This includes hosting the Times Higher Education’s Global Sustainable Development Congress, participating in COP26 in Glasgow, COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, and the upcoming COP28 in Dubai.  

Chan emphasized that, as part of their new strategy, the 14-year-old institute will be “much more engaged with the Kingdom,” with a specific focus on accelerating their “impact in the Kingdom and the society.”  

Furthermore, he revealed that KAUST has initiated a “venture fund,” referred to as “Capital K.” 

This deep tech fund aims to support “some of the ideas, research products from KAUST,” he explained.

It also seeks to attract companies interested in establishing a presence in Saudi Arabia. The fund has a commitment of $200 million over five years. 

On Aug. 21, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, unveiled the new strategy for KAUST. 

As part of this new plan, the Kingdom earmarked a fund of SR750 million ($200 million) for early investments in both local and international high-tech companies.   

The strategy also aims to transform studies into economically viable innovations by concentrating on national priorities in research, development, and innovation. 

The key focus areas encompassed by the strategy are health and wellness, a sustainable environment and essential needs, energy and industrial leadership, and economies of the future. 

Expanding on their sustainability initiatives, Chan revealed they are embarking on significant projects within the Kingdom, adding: “One project is building the world’s largest coral reef garden in NEOM. So, when it is done in a few years’ time, it will be the world’s largest nursery for corals.” 

He further explained that they are engaged in various areas, including solar energy, petroleum research, water treatment, and agricultural practices utilizing seawater.  

Addressing the challenge of agricultural cultivation in a desert environment with limited access to fresh water, often at high costs, is one of their pursuits. 

“We like to mine, (but) mining is very environmentally disruptive. For example, a lot of people want to mine their lithium because of EV (electric vehicle) batteries. We have a faculty who invented a way to mine lithium from the seawater,” Chan said. 

KAUST’s president also highlighted another innovation that he believes could be a “game-changer” for the entire Saudi Arabian economy.  

He explained the institute has discovered a method to utilize Saudi sand, which was previously unsuitable for making concrete due to its smooth texture. 

“We found a way to absorb carbon into the sand, making them rough, and now you can make concrete,” he said. 

Chan added: “Saudi Arabia has a lot of sand, but it imports sand for building concrete. If successful (in the process), Saudi Arabia can then export sand, it does not have to import, and this technology is invented in the Kingdom.” 

He also provided insights into the recently established KAUST Academy and its objectives, which include the introduction of a new master’s degree program in “Technology, Innovation, Entrepreneurship.”  

Chan explained: “The idea is you’re supposed to build a company in technology.”

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