Saudi Arabia is a land of extremes—extremely hot climate, extremely limited fresh water, and extreme reliance on fossil fuels. But new deep tech startups are creating sustainable solutions to these extremes, through years of research and support from KAUST’s venture capital arm—Innovation Ventures.
Deep tech focuses on turning advances in engineering and scientific discovery into tangible products and services that solve our most pressing global challenges. Entrepreneurs in deep tech take research and advancements from scientists into fields like agriculture or power generation when developing their startups. And it’s already happening—investment in deep tech jumped from $15 billion in 2016 to more than $60 billion in 2020. In this article, we’re going to dive into the tech behind four major deep tech startups that will change the Middle East.
- Salt tolerant plants are changing agriculture
- Less energy-intensive desalination
- Solar glass for cleaner energy
- AI-driven security technology
These four deep tech startups will change the Middle East by reducing carbon emissions, making business safer and reducing the usage of limited resources like water and oil.
Salt-tolerant plants reduce the need for fresh water on farms
Agriculture is responsible for 24% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. And though the AgTech industry has come far, one ongoing limitation—especially for Saudi Arabia and the GCC—is a reliance on fresh water and nonrenewable energy. AgTech startup Red Sea Farms is reducing the impact farming has in the arid Saudi Arabian desert by developing salt-tolerant plants and salty water greenhouses that lower emissions by cutting both fresh water consumption and electricity usage.
Red Sea Farms developed a solution that reduces the fresh water usage and energy cost of growing crops by 95%—helping to address the issue of water scarcity within Saudi Arabia. Their model uses salty water in specially designed IoT greenhouses to reduce the burden crop growth has on limited resources like water. At the same time, it takes advantage of natural resources like solar power to minimize greenhouse gasses and limit strain on the electrical grid. Red Sea Farms uses organic salt-tolerant organic crops and IoT technology to produce more food in less space—feeding more people within the Middle East and the world.
Desalination lessens the strain on access to fresh water
Only 1.2% of Earth’s water is easy-to-access fresh water, and very little of that is within the arid Saudi Arabian environment. So right now, Saudi Arabia relies on desalination for everything from drinking water to irrigation. In fact, Saudi Arabia is the world’s number one producer of desalinated water. Traditionally, desalination is an energy-intensive process that requires many moving parts to create new fresh water. Deep tech startup Medad Technologies’ desalination technology requires very little energy input and is free of moving parts.
Current desalination technology requires many moving—and therefore breakable—parts and massive amounts of energy at large water treatment plants. The Medad desalination system has no moving parts and requires a lower amount of heat (and therefore less energy) to create potable water from saltwater. Medad’s technology is perfect for setup and use in small towns and cities in the Middle East.
The benefit of a more sustainable desalination option is obvious—better water efficiency in a water-limited environment and more potable water for citizens. Additionally, advancing desalination technology helps minimize its effects on our ecosystem and keeps water accessible for cities that see less and less rain per year.
Solar glass allows more buildings and regions to use clean energy
Sustainable energy solutions like solar power are great at replacing nonrenewable sources. However, traditional solar arrays suffer from a few major flaws—including the need for a reinforced roof-top or a very large open space. One alternative designed by KAUST startup iyris is solar glass for use in greenhouses and buildings.
The main problem with current solar arrays is the space required to produce solar power at scale in cities. iyris developed a new type of solar panel that functions as a glass window rather than a panel system. Their unique solar window works in any place you’d normally use glass. Any home or business, from houses to skyscrapers, could become a solar farm. They’ve even merged with Red Sea Farms to develop greenhouses with solar panels.
This new solar glass is more efficient at capturing energy versus a traditional solar panel. And, due to the material, they take up no space in the city or on roofs. Finally, using them in greenhouses significantly reduces the energy requirements of food growth and farm operations.
AI-driven security makes businesses safer
Security details are prone to bad days, burnout, and human error. Cameras and rotating shifts are often used to combat this issue. However, AI-driven security solutions can run 24/7 and maintain the highest level of accuracy the entire time. One KAUST startup, UnitX, developed an AI security software that’s ISO compliant and uses drones to monitor events and businesses.
Unlike traditional cameras—which can’t change location or get better angles on potential security risks—UnitX’s Vizard uses drones that can change locations. In addition, UnitX uses machine learning to tell whether or not an event is a security risk or business as usual, in real time. For example, if someone is walking through a warehouse, Vizard could determine whether or not they’re an intruder based on their lack of uniform and the time of day.
AI-driven security solutions like Vizard don’t need time off or scheduled breaks, reducing the need for security personnel. In addition, machine learning and the ability to get different angles increases security and reduces risk, as threats can be detected faster and with higher precision.
Dive into deep tech trends at KAUST Innovation
Traditionally, growing crops in an arid environment requires energy-consuming greenhouses and lots of fresh water. And keeping homes cool in the hot Saudi Arabian climate requires lots of electricity from power plants. But advancements in deep tech by KAUST researchers and entrepreneurs are pointing Saudi Arabia toward a more sustainable future.
KAUST Innovation works to bring together deep tech researchers, venture capitalists, and entrepreneurs to build successful startups and tackle some of the biggest challenges of our time. If you’re an entrepreneur that wants to make a difference or an investor looking for the technologies of the future, get in touch.