Saudi pursuit of ‘green Kingdom’ goal gets a boost

18/11/19

One of the goals of the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) is to build sustainable networks and unleash the entrepreneurial potential of farming communities living in the marginal environments of Egypt. (ICBA photo)

  • Agreement between agriculture ministry and Dubai’s ICBA aimed at conserving natural resources.
  • Kingdom’s biosaline agriculture research and systems stands to benefit from ICBA’s expertise.
    DUBAI: Agricultural development and environmental sustainability in Saudi Arabia will receive a boost in the coming years, thanks to a new agreement between the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) in Dubai and the Saudi Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture.

The agreement aims to enable Saudi Arabia to achieve its goal of preservation and sustainable management of its natural resources by raising the quality of biosaline agriculture research and systems.

The ministry says that the agreement will make use of the ICBA’s expertise in capacity development besides agricultural and environmental research, especially in the fields of vegetation development, combating desertification and climate change adaptation.

“It also includes training programs for Saudi technicians and farmers,” the ministry said. “In addition, it will localize, implement and develop biosaline agriculture research and production systems for both crops and forestation, which contributes to environmental and agricultural integration.”

Dr. Ismahane Elouafi, the ICBA’s director general, told Arab News: “The agreement had been in the making for about two years. That was when we were approached by the Saudi government.”

Dr. Ismahane Elouafi, ICBA Director General, at the center’s Quinoa fields in Dubai. (Supplied photo)

She said: “We put forward a proposal to demonstrate how the ICBA can help the Saudi government to implement its Green Kingdom Initiative, through which the ministry is trying to restore green coverage in the country and revive old conservation practices.”

Geographical features and climatic conditions very greatly from one part of the country to the other.

In the past, experimentation with such crops as potatoes, wheat and alfalfa proved detrimental to the Kingdom’s environment and natural resources due to faster rates of groundwater withdrawal.

“The ministry wanted to put a halt to over-abstraction of water, so they went through different policies,” Elouafi said.

“They made sure, for example, that farmers stopped producing wheat because about 2,400 liters of water is consumed to produce 1 kg of wheat. It was a huge amount,” she added.

“The new strategy is to find more appropriate crops for the farming community, which is quite large in the Kingdom.”

Saudi Arabia has been trying to grow its own food on a large scale since the 1980s.

The objective of the Green Kingdom Initiative is to reduce the agricultural sector’s water demand by finding alternatives to thirsty crops.

The agreement will require the ICBA, over the next five years, to build for Saudi Arabia a new biosaline agriculture sector.

As part of this shift, cultivation of a number of crops, notably quinoa, pearl millet and sorghum, will be piloted in high-salinity regions and then scaled up.

“The crops did very well in the UAE,” Elouafi said. “We’re looking at Sabkha regions, which have very high salinity and wetlands, and are on the ministry’s environmental agenda.”

Another objective is “smart” agriculture, which will involve raising water productivity, controlling irrigation water consumption and changing farming behavior.

Elouafi said that getting farmers in the Kingdom to stop cultivating wheat took some time as they had become accustomed to heavy government subsidies. In 2015, wheat production was phased out, followed by potatoes a year later and then alfalfa.

“Farmers were provided everything to the point where they got used to a very good income and a very easy system,” she said.

“Now farmers are being asked to start producing something else, but the income won’t be the same, so it’s very important at this stage that the ministry has a plan and it’s fully understood.”

The agreement envisages preparation of proposals for ministry projects that involve plant production, drought monitoring, development of promising local crop and forestation varieties, and conservation of plant genetic resources.

“We’re also discussing capacity building because the ministry is big and has many entities. Because Saudi Arabia is a large country and has the capacity to meet some of its food requirements internally, what’s required is a better understanding of the country’s natural capabilities in terms of production of the crops it needs, like certain cereals,” Elouafi said.

“The way the authorities are going about it right now is more organized and more holistic. They’re trying to plan it properly.”

Elouafi said that having a better understanding of Saudi Arabia’s water constraints and managing the precious resource is essential.

Although almost the entire country is arid, there is rainfall in the north and along the mountain range to the west, especially in the far southwest, which receives monsoon rains in summer.

Sporadic rain may also occur elsewhere. Sometimes it is very heavy, causing serious flooding, including in Riyadh.

“They (the government) are very interested in drought management systems. The Kingdom has a long history of agriculture,” Elouafi said.

“It has large quantities of water in terms of rainfall, and certain regions have mountainous conditions, which are conducive to agriculture.”

Clearly, preservation of water resources is a priority for the Saudi government. But no less urgent is the task of conversion of green waste to improve soil quality, increase soil productivity and water retention, and reduce demand for irrigation.

The Kingdom is one of at least three Gulf Cooperation Council countries that are taking steps to develop a regulatory framework for the recycling of waste into compost.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Oman are respectively aiming to recycle 85 percent, 75 percent and 60 percent of their municipal solid waste over the next decade, according to a report by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) entitled “Global Food Trends to 2030.”

Saudi Arabia and the UAE rank in the bottom quartile of the 34 countries covered by the EIU’s Food Sustainability Index, with low scores for nutrition and food loss and waste.

The answer, according to many farmers, policymakers and food-industry experts, is a shift toward more sustainable management of each country’s natural resources.

This article was first published in Arab News

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50k trees planted as Saudi Arabia launches forest campaign

28/10/19

The Kingdom’s Vision 2030 program has attached utmost importance to environmental protection and natural resources. (SPA)

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We’ll turn the world green, say young Saudis

27/10/19

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The Saudi team participating in the FIRST Global Challenge 2019 in Dubai. (SPA)

  • Saudis among more than 1,500 contestants from 190 countries taking part in the FIRST Global Challenge 2019 in Dubai
  • The challenge is to create robots to clean up the world’s seas by eliminating waste and pollutants

DUBAI: A young Saudi team competing in a major international robotics competition vowed on Saturday to play their part in creating a pollution-free world.

“We represent hope for the future not only for Saudi Arabia, but also humanity at large,” team leader Maysoon Humaidan told Arab News.

More than 1,500 contestants from 190 countries are taking part in the FIRST Global Challenge 2019 in Dubai, which focuses on creating robots to clean up the world’s seas by eliminating waste and pollutants.

Humaidan said the Saudi team was “strapped in” for the contest, and described the team members as “young enthusiasts for science and knowledge.” Their dream was to “motivate Saudi youth to enter the fields of science, technology and mathematics in order to find solutions to the problems and challenges facing humanity,” she said.

Team member Sulafa Al-Shehri, 14, said the robotics challenge had expanded her knowledge of technology, sustainability and environmental protection. Fadel Younes, 15, said modern technology could solve many of the world’s most pressing problems.

The team’s ambitions reflect the giant strides the Kingdom has made in involving youth in the tech sector and its applications across all walks of life.

Recently the Kingdom said it was introducing artificial intelligence and robotics applications in the Ministry of Education to improve customer service. Two years ago, Saudi Arabia granted Saudi citizenship to the robot Sophia, symbol of the Neom “smart city.”

This article was first published in Arab News

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5 million trees to be planted in Saudi Arabia by 2030

22/10/19

The Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture and the Saline Water Conversion Corp. signed a memorandum of understanding. (SPA)

JEDDAH: A deal has been signed to plant 5 million local wild trees in Saudi Arabia by the end of 2030 using treated renewed wastewater.
The Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture and the Saline Water Conversion Corp. (SWCC) signed a memorandum of understanding to support the initiative, which is aimed at reducing the degradation of rangelands and forests, combating desertification, restoring natural habitats, raising environmental awareness and promoting adaptation to climate changes through the cultivation of local wild trees.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi tourism megaproject aims to turn the Red Sea green

Time: October 20, 2019  

The Red Sea is home to abundant species of coral and marine life, including a large number of species found nowhere else on earth. (Courtesy: Red Sea Project website)
  • Development will protect endangered hawksbill turtle, while coral research could help save the Great Barrier Reef

RIYADH: Key ecological targets are driving Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea tourism megaproject, its leader has told Arab News.

The development will not only protect the habitat of the endangered hawksbill turtle, but could also save coral reefs that are dying elsewhere in the world, said Red Sea Development Company Chief Executive John Pagano.

The project is taking shape in a 28,000 square kilometer region of lagoons, archipelagos, canyons and volcanic geology between the small towns of Al-Wajh and Umluj on the Kingdom’s west coast.

One island, Al-Waqqadi, looked like the perfect tourism destination, but was discovered to be a breeding ground for the hawksbill. “In the end, we said we’re not going to develop it. It shows you can balance development and conservation,” Pagano said.

Scientists are also working to explain why the area’s coral reef system — fourth-largest in the world —  is thriving when others around the world are endangered.

“To the extent we solve that mystery, the ambition would be to export that to the rest of the world,” Pagano said. “Can we help save the Great Barrier Reef or the Caribbean coral that has been severely damaged?”

This article was first published in Arab News

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Clean sweep: Marine waste targeted in Red Sea tourism program

22/09/19

Debris major cause of death for marine life
Disintegration of plastic waste threaten human food resources
JEDDAH: A beach cleanup program targeting marine waste has been launched by the Red Sea Development Co. (TRSDC), the Saudi Press Agency reported.
The firm, which is behind the development of a luxury seafront tourism destination in Saudi Arabia, is already developing a range of environment-friendly policies such as zero-waste-to-landfill, zero-discharge-to-the-sea, zero-single-use plastics, and achieving 100 percent carbon neutrality. On Saturday it launched the Marine Debris Beach Clean Up Program as part of the Red Sea Project. “Eliminating marine debris is receiving increasing attention from the media that it has become a global cause, urging us to participate in protecting our virgin environment for which our seafront is known,” said TRSDC CEO John Pagano.
“The program for eliminating marine debris will play an important material and moral role with the support of the residents of areas surrounding the seafront. It will also shed light on the importance of reducing the use of nonrecyclable plastics, in addition to encouraging the disposing of these substances in a safe and sustainable manner.”

The TRSDC will continue to explore ways for recycled materials to be a source of employment opportunities for the area’s residents, he added.
TRSDC is an official partner of the United Nations’ initiative to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the cleanup program will initially support two SDGs: Life Below Water and Life on Land. It will expand to support other SDGs, including Responsible Consumption and Production, Sustainable Cities and Communities, Decent Work and the Growth of the Economy, Ending Poverty, and Quality Education.

HIGHLIGHTS
• TRSDC is an official partner of the United Nations’ initiative to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the cleanup program will initially support two SDGs: Life Below Water and Life on Land.

• It will expand to support other SDGs, including Responsible Consumption and Production, Sustainable Cities and Communities, Decent Work and the Growth of the Economy, Ending Poverty, and Quality Education.

• Institutions or individuals wishing to take part in the beach cleanup program can find more details here: www.act4sdgs.org/partner/TheRedSeaProject

Dr. Rusty Brainard, chief environment officer at TRSDC, said: “Marine debris causes significant damage to the environment and is a major cause of death for many marine organism species, which may ingest these substances. Moreover, the disintegration of plastic waste into small pieces that penetrate into the food web base may also threaten human food resources. Our program for eliminating marine litter is a long-term project that includes ongoing monitoring of environmental health, as well as periodic intervention to clean up any waste in the Red Sea Project.”
TRSDC has teamed up with leading academic institutions in the Kingdom, such as King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) and the University of Tabuk, on a number of educational initiatives, added Brainard.
The partnership between TRSDC and KAUST has led to an international competition — “Brains for Brine” — that encourages academics, scientists, engineers and the water industry to find solutions for managing the disposal of brine, which is a waste product of water desalination, in a sustainable and commercially viable way.
KAUST has also helped TRSDC with marine spatial planning for the Red Sea Project.
As part of the planning process, major environmental studies were carried out to ensure that the area’s sensitive ecology was protected both during and after completion of the development.
The final master plan, which preserves around 75 percent of the destination’s islands for conservation and designates nine islands as sites of significant ecological value, required several redesigns to avoid potential disruption to endangered species native to the area.
Institutions or individuals wishing to take part in the beach clean-up program can find more details here: www.act4sdgs.org/partner/TheRedSeaProject

This article was first published in Arab News

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Aramco CEO in call for ‘ultra clean energy’

11/09/19

“We must continuously remind all our stakeholders that we are a global industry at the cutting edge of science, technology, engineering and logistics, supported by a complex global supply chain,” Nasser said. (AFP)

Oil giant chief takes aim at climate change deniers during global oil industry gathering in Abu Dhabi
ABU DHABI: There is no limit to the oil industry’s potential if it can meet society’s demand for “ultra clean” energy, Amin Nasser, the president and chief executive of Saudi Aramco, told delegates at the World Energy Congress in Abu Dhabi.

“The world faces an incredible climate challenge and we need a bold response to match. In my view, that means the entire industry must come together around a new mission beyond our gates of making oil and gas much cleaner across the full spectrum of end-use applications,” Nasser said.

His comments were seen against the background of Aramco’s long term strategy to be regarded not just as a pumper of crude oil, but as a diversified high technology energy group with a strong sense of corporate social responsibility. Nasser spoke recently of a “crisis of perception” in the oil industry.

“We must continuously remind all our stakeholders that we are a global industry at the cutting edge of science, technology, engineering and logistics, supported by a complex global supply chain,” Nasser said.

In an apparent swipe at climate-change deniers, he hit out at those who do not recognize the need for alternatives to hydrocarbon fuels to meet rising global energy demand.

“Many governments are adopting policies that do not appear to consider all the complex aspects of global technology, the long term nature of our business, and the need for orderly transitions — policies that seem to assume there are quick and easy answers to the many challenges that alternatives face,” he said.

Nasser added that throughout Aramco’s history, it had a competitive edge in four key areas: Resource abundance, safe production, reliable supply and affordability. “But meeting society’s expectations requires a fifth. Quite simply, our products need to be much cleaner,” he said.

He added that the world was “at a turning point” in the search for cleaner forms of energy. “The good news is that we are not starting from scratch,” he said, highlighting Aramco’s halt to gas flaring, its low upstream carbon intensity, and low methane levels by industry standards.

He also underlined Aramco’s commitment to a range of technologies with transformative potential for the whole global oil industry, like advanced integrated engine fuel systems and carbon capture techniques.

“This is the latest turning point in our history, and we must, once again, lead the turn,” Nasser said.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi farmers swap grass for gas

Time: August 02, 2019  

Saudi Arabia and Denmark are developing a patented process to convert natural gas into high protein livestock feed. (File/AFP)
  • Unibio plans to develop a facility in the Kingdom that will utilize its patented fermentation process, which converts natural gas into high-protein livestock feed
  • The project aims to decouple protein production from farming and fishing while instead using abundant natural gas

LONDON: Saudi Arabia and Denmark are developing a patented process to convert natural gas into high protein livestock feed.
The Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA) and Denmark’s Unibio have struck an initial agreement worth $200 million to develop the concept.
Unibio plans to develop a facility in the Kingdom that will utilize its patented fermentation process, which converts natural gas into high-protein livestock feed.
“With a growing population, this project represents an important step toward achieving food security for the Kingdom by providing a sustainable and economically viable source of animal feed products,” said SAGIA Governor Ibrahim Al-Omar.

“The importance of this project is that it uses a clean and abundant natural source in the Kingdom, and produces a high-quality protein supplements to feed fish, poultry and livestock, in addition to the transfer of advanced technology to the Kingdom.”
The project aims to decouple protein production from farming and fishing while instead using abundant natural gas.
Research into developing synthetic proteins as alternative food sources is being driven by a rapidly expanding global population which is expected to rise by a third to 9.8 billion by 2050. Rising wealth levels also produces a corresponding rise in protein consumption.
Unibio claims its technology also provides an environmentally friendly alternative to the practice of gas flaring in the energy industry.
It estimates that nearly 140 billion cubic meters (or 5.3 trillion cubic feet) of natural gas are being flared and vented annually by the oil industry.
That is the equivalent of about a quarter of total US gas consumption.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Blowin’ in the wind: Saudi Arabia’s energy future

Time: July 31, 2019  

Road to renewables: The 400 MW Dumat Al-Jandal wind farm project is part of Saudi Arabia’s shift away from economic dependence on fossil fuels for electricity production. (Photo courtesy of Masdar)
  • The Middle East’s largest wind farm will be constructed in the Kingdom’s northwestern Al-Jouf region
  • Dumat Al-Jandal wind project will generate enough electricity to power 70,000 homes in the Kingdom

DUBAI: Until now few people outside Saudi Arabia had heard of Dumat Al-Jandal.

But with construction due to begin there on the Middle East’s largest — and Saudi Arabia’s first — wind farm, the historical capital of the Kingdom’s northwestern Al-Jouf region will soon be firmly on the world’s renewable-energy map.

Launched as a part of Saudi Arabia’s planned shift away from fossil fuels as a source of electricity, the $500 million wind farm will have an installed capacity of 400 megawatts (MW), enough to power 70,000 homes in the Kingdom and reduce carbon emissions by up to 880,000 tons every year. Commercial operations are due to start in the first quarter of 2022.

Last week, a consortium led by EDF Renewables and Masdar reached a deal with Saudi and international banks to finance the utility-scale wind project, which will be located 560 miles north of Riyadh.

“We are delighted to see the project progress to the construction stage,” said Osama bin Abdul Wahab Khawandanah, CEO of the Saudi Power Procurement Co., a subsidiary of the Saudi Electricity Co. (SEC).

In line with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 strategy, the Saudi government is planning to develop 30 solar and wind projects over the next nine years as part of a $50 billion program to boost power generation and cut oil consumption. It is seeking to use more natural gas and renewable energy for power generation so that the nearly 600,000 barrels of oil that are currently burnt each day for the purpose can be freed up for export.

As part of an effort to reduce economic dependence on sales of crude, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund is investing in industrial units to manufacture components for solar and wind farms and in renewable-energy facilities.

To this end, the Renewable Energy Project Development Office of the Saudi Ministry of Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources had awarded the Dumat Al-Jandal wind-farm project in January following a call for tenders in August 2017.

EDF Renewables and Masdar — which are, respectively, the renewable-energy units of Electricite de France SA and Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Investment Co. — had submitted the most cost-competitive bid of $21.3 per MW hour.

“Saudi Arabia is a large country that has different atmospheres from north to south,” Yousif Al-Ali, acting executive director of clean energy at Masdar, told Arab News.

“Particularly in the north- western side, they have very high wind resources, so you can build wind projects at an attractive cost. That area, close to Egypt and north of the Red Sea, has a lot of wind resources.”

Al-Ali said the UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain lacked Saudi Arabia’s advantages when it comes to viable wind projects.

FASTFACTS

• Wind power involves the conversion of kinetic (wind) energy into electrical energy.

• Wind makes a wind turbine’s rotor spin; the rotor blades’ movement drives a generator that produces electricity.

• Average wind speeds must be above 18 km per hour to make installing a wind turbine worthwhile.

• Ideal locations for wind turbines are the countryside, farms and coastline.

Nevertheless, in the rest of the Arabian Peninsula, the northwestern and southern parts of Oman have good wind resources.

“In the Gulf region, the potential for wind is specifically in the northwestern side of Saudi Arabia and the southern side of Oman,” Al-Ali said.

“The area on the Egyptian side opposite the Dumat Al-Jandal project location has a lot of wind resources. There is also very good wind potential in Tunisia and Morocco,” he added. “I foresee more wind projects in Saudi Arabia, especially as they have a plan to have 27.3 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy in their total energy mix by 2024. A large portion of this amount will be coming from wind.”

As for the Dumat Al-Jandal project, the contracted wind- turbine technology provider Vestas will be responsible for the engineering, procurement and construction contract.

Spanish industrial group TSK will be in charge of the rest of the plant, while Belgian company CG Holdings will provide substations and high-voltage solutions.

The wind farm is expected to supply electricity according to a 20-year power purchase agreement with the Saudi Power Procurement Co.

“The plant will be connected to the Kingdom’s grid, generating 400 MW of clean power,” Al-Ali said. “We had a world record with the pricing of $21.3 per kilowatt hour.”

During construction, the wind farm will employ 1,000 people, which will drop to between 30 and 50 when the site becomes fully operational.

“We are delighted to take part in the first wind project in (Saudi Arabia), which is set to be the most powerful wind farm in the Middle East,” said Bruno Bensasson, EDF Group senior executive president responsible for renewable energies, and chairman and CEO of EDF Renewables.

“This new step reflects the quality of our partnership with Masdar, which enabled us to jointly submit the most competitive bid. Wind power is now representing a renewable and economical solution in the energy mix.”

He said that Dumat Al-Jandal represents another step forward under the EDF Group’s Cap 2030 strategy, which aims to double its renewable energy capacity by 2030 — both in France and worldwide — to 50 GW.

Masdar CEO Mohamed Jameel Al-Ramahi said that winning the contract for Saudi Arabia’s first wind farm during Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week in January was a momentous event in the history of the company.

“It illustrated the depth of Saudi Arabia’s commitment to realizing its bold strategy to substantially increase the contribution of renewables in its total energy mix to 27.3 GW by 2024, from wind as well as solar energy,” he added.

“The oversubscribed financing of the Dumat Al-Jandal project further illustrates the confidence of local and international lenders, and the investment community, in the economy of the Kingdom, and its potential as a hub for highly cost-effective renewable energy development.”

This article was first published in Arab News

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Successful birth of Arabian leopard cubs ‘new beacon of hope’ in Saudi bid to save species from extinction: Culture minister

31/07/19

The birth of two Arabian leopard cubs has been hailed as a “new beacon of hope” in Saudia Arabia’s bid to reintroduce the critically endangered big cat back into the wild. (SPA)

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