Deep tech innovation is the answer to climate change

Deep tech innovation is the answer to climate change

Changes in our global climate are accelerating. The KSA is likely to see the serious impacts of climate change as soon as 2041—like water shortages, extreme temperatures and dangerous flooding. While the world has focused on cutting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to stop climate change, this won’t solve the issues already affecting us worldwide.

In the next 20 years, we expect to see higher-than-average warming trends and a significant decrease in rainfall for a large portion of the country. As sea levels rise, we also stand to lose significant land along our coasts.

To truly address the impact of climate change, we need innovative deep-tech solutions that reverse the damage already done. Alongside public policy changes, increased private investment and development in climate change tech will get us on the right track to saving the world.

Current climate change technology only slows carbon emissions

Current technology is focused on reducing our use of fossil fuels and adopting renewable energy technologies to limit the effects of climate change. Slowing down the harmful effects of climate change is necessary to adhere to the United Nations Paris Climate Agreement. Still, it won’t fix the challenges already here, like higher global temperatures and increased ocean acidity.

Innovation is happening in climate-related tech—low-emission and electric vehicles are prime examples of well-funded research areas. This is undoubtedly essential work—improving our environmentally-friendly mobility and transport options will go a long way toward global emissions reductions, which aligns with the KSA’s goal of achieving net zero by 2060.

KAUST startup Mirai Solar

Much of the climate-related tech that’s in development is intended to increase sustainability, especially through clean energy innovations like efficient air conditioning, heat pumps that draw geothermal energy out of the ground and increased usage of nuclear energy. Many of our KAUST startups are contributing their own innovative solutions:

This tech offers valuable solutions to one part of the challenge: preventing further harm to the environment. But what can we do to protect ourselves from the current fallout of climate change?

KAUST Photolibrary 2021
KAUST startup Red Sea Farms

Researchers say we can take a multi-pronged mitigation approach that continues to fund prevention-focused solutions while we invest in new technologies from the private sector that reverse climate change.

Climate change reversal is a core part of climate goals in the KSA. We’re working toward building an infrastructure to support carbon capture on a national scale, and, through deep-tech innovation, we’re looking for additional ways to reverse climate change.

Deep tech research promotes innovation focused on reversing climate change

Deep tech focuses on solving big problems—like reversing climate change and preventing further natural disasters. Deep tech is capable of addressing incredible challenges at a rapid pace. For example, Saudi-based KAUST startup Edama solves two problems with its unique composting solution: the build-up of organic waste and the difficulty of growing food in an arid, desert ecosystem.

Edama Organic Solutions composting facility at KAUST

If we can harness deep tech’s power to solve big problems, we can make strides in addressing climate change. While global policymakers create regulations and offer incentives and subsidies to reduce CO2 emissions, private-sector deep-tech startups can develop unique solutions for reversing climate-related damage.

Global funding for climate tech, in general, is growing. The best-funded climate change reversal option is carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS), which drew in around $949 million SAR (USD $253 million) in the first half of 2021. The total funding for climate tech reached 225 billion SAR (USD $60 billion) for that same time period—comparatively, CCUS is certainly an underexplored facet of climate change tech.

CCUS is a promising decarbonization approach for addressing a root cause of climate change: an overabundance of greenhouse gas emissions in our atmosphere. CCUS tech captures carbon dioxide emissions from industrial processes and directly from the atmosphere itself. That captured carbon is then either stored safely or used to power other industrial processes. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), we currently have the global capacity to capture more than 40 megatons of CO2 annually. We now use around 230 megatons of CO2 each year.

Innovators have also uncovered other options to reverse climate change, like:

  • Solar geoengineering uses light reflection to reduce the amount of sunlight (and heat) that can reach the earth’s surface
  • Ocean fertilization methods that use phytoplankton to offset problems with acidification

More research and funding in this area will likely uncover new options for reversing climate change and Saudi Arabia is poised to take the lead.

Saudi Arabia will become the technology and research hub in the MENA region

Saudi Arabia represents an opportunity within the MENA region for economic growth due to technological innovations in climate change reversal. We have the location, people and resources to devote to cutting-edge deep-tech work.

The Kingdom has an educated populace, strategic trade location and growing water and energy sectors. The KSA is already home to innovative startups devoted to combating climate change. With the right investment, we can grow our deep tech capabilities and establish a global hub for climate change reversal tech.

According to a 2022 whitepaper commissioned by the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGC), our region is primed to support CCUS because we have the space to establish large-scale operations and industries that lend themselves to carbon capture. We also have storage space available near high-emissions areas.

Research also suggests that nations in the MENA region stand to benefit from implementing CCUS tech. The KSA and neighboring nations are particularly vulnerable to the effects of the climate crisis. We already face water shortages, food scarcity and extreme temperatures. Without deep-tech solutions, we will face the worst effects of higher temperatures and volatile weather and some areas will become completely uninhabitable. CCUS could help reverse that trend.

Our KAUST Innovation research facilities are poised to promote and encourage ground-breaking work in our region, supporting the future leaders in climate change tech.

Develop new climate change technologies with KAUST Innovation

There is a huge challenge before us: we must fix the damage done to our climate.

At KAUST Innovation, we collaborate with cutting-edge industries focused on finding solutions to the world’s biggest challenges—climate change included.

We’ve established a collaborative research university to connect deep tech innovators with the support and resources they need to solve global problems. We don’t yet have the answer to reversing climate change, but with an investment in new approaches, we stand the best chance of finding it.

If you’re interested in joining KAUST Innovation to develop this deep tech, find out more about our available opportunities.