KAUST and the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) recently brought together world class research and industry experts to the International Workshop of Algae Innovation. Co-organized by the GFCM and Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Environment, Water, and Agriculture (MEWA), the one-day workshop focused on the progress made in microalgae and macroalgae culture and commercialization and future potential for growth in the MENA region.
Algae biomass production is a fast-growing biotechnology sector. There has been an appreciable increase in both knowledge in the field and industries using algae derivatives in their products. In particular, the metabolites obtained from algae, which include essential fatty acids and neutral lipids, have a variety of commercial applications. Examples of these use cases can be found in human and animal nutrition, pharmaceutical and cosmetic applications, as well as energy such as biofuels.
With Saudi Arabia's Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf counting around 3,400 kilometers of coastline, the region is rife with opportunities for algae innovation. The International Workshop of Algae Innovation, hosted at KAUST, was held with the objective of increasing awareness on the potential of algae cultivation in the Mediterranean, the Black Sea and the Red Sea regions. In addition to presentations on the current progress in this area, the workshop identified important research and commercialization challenges. An important goal was to highlight the industry's potential for growth in the region. By promoting networking and collaboration between relevant research institutes, the event aimed at attracting future investors in microalgae and macroalgae aquaculture in the Mediterranean and Red Sea basins.
Chief Operating Officer of KAUST Beacon Development Mark Hull said, “KAUST Innovation is judged on its ability to positively impact the Kingdom's Vision 2030 goals and diversification of the economy. The development of algae technologies supports these goals and provides opportunities for job creation in a new sector. We invest with our partners to develop technology relevant to the kingdom, and algae is a perfect example of what we can do. We believe algae has the opportunity to establish a new industry, create jobs, reduce imports, ensure food security and even positively impact climate change and reduce GHG emissions."
KAUST Beacon Development, the University’s consultancy arm, has been working with MEWA to develop long-term solutions to the Kingdom's sustainable food needs through aquaculture and algae development, a strategy that aligns with the Kingdoms’ Vision 2030. The University has already recently launched a pilot project at the KAUST Research and Technology Park and is on track to deliver a four-hectare proof of concept later this year.
Seaweed production in regions including Europe and the wider Near East has expanded with more attention being paid to specific industrial applications such as the production of bioplastics and the use of high-value metabolites in the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries.
"Saudi Arabia holds and offers to the world untapped potentials and promising investment opportunities to create renewable and sustainable industries through the Development of Algal Biotechnology program overseen by MEWA's National Fisheries Development Program," said Dr. Ali Alshaikhi, the CEO of National Livestock and Fisheries Development Program. "In collaboration with local and global stakeholders, DAB-KSA seeks to overcome constraints and challenges in algae industry with the aim of transforming pilot -scale algae production into commercialization phase by promoting growth, microalgae biomass increase and genetic engineering development to improve its potential as a future source of renewable biomass products."
The commercial culture of microalgae and macroalgae constitutes an integral part of the GFCM 2030 Strategy for sustainable fisheries and aquaculture in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. The GFCM is promoting algae farming as an accelerator for sustainable growth, marine conservation, innovation and livelihoods in communities across the Mediterranean and the Black Sea region.
"As part of our work towards the blue transformation of Mediterranean and Black Sea aquaculture, we are focusing on algae farming as it offers potential for enhancing food security and livelihoods, mitigating climate change and supporting the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals," said Mr Housam Hamza, GFCM Aquaculture Officer.
As part of the Vision 2030 initiative, microalgae and macroalgae production not only contribute to food security in the region, but also support the Saudi and the Middle East Green Initiative objectives by increasing CO2 sequestration.
KAUST is proud to utilize its technology to solve the pressing issue of food security. By collaborating with MEWA and the GFCM, their future-forward solutions will contribute to a more viable vision for 2030 and beyond.