Sustainable greenhouse launched for KAUST startup

The state-of-the-art 2,000-square-meter saltwater greenhouse pilot facility for Red Sea Farms is based at the KAUST Research and Technology Park

  
Security personnel wait for the arrival of the Saudi King Abdullah for the opening ceremony of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Jeddah September 23, 2009.

Security personnel wait for the arrival of the Saudi King Abdullah for the opening ceremony of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Jeddah September 23, 2009.

REUTERS/Susan Baaghil

Agritech startup Red Sea Farms has found a new home at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) to advance their saltwater greenhouse technology. The state-of-the-art 2,000-square-meter saltwater greenhouse pilot facility, based at the KAUST Research and Technology Park (KRTP), is a product of the collaboration between KAUST and Research Products Development Company (RPDC), the national center for technology development and commercialization in Saudi Arabia, and support from the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) Innovation Research Program.

Red Sea Farms, a KAUST startup that sustainably cultivates produce using saltwater technologies, was established in early 2018 and is an example of academic research at KAUST progressing onwards to actual commercial application. The startup stands as the first co-investment between the KAUST Innovation Fund and RPDC aiming to combine two areas of research innovation: Plant science and agricultural engineering.

“Red Sea Farms is one of the startups KAUST is most proud of,” said Tony Chan, president of KAUST. “What started as research in the lab is now a product you can buy in Tamimi supermarket. This is very important for Saudi Arabia — it enables us to improve the use of our resources and reduce the stress on our limited water supplies.”

Red Sea Farms has developed salt-tolerant, non-GMO cherry tomatoes through hybridization and grafting techniques. These tomatoes taste sweeter, have a higher concentration of vitamin C, and a longer shelf life. They are grown and developed in an engineered saltwater greenhouse, which utilizes unique climate control and cooling techniques powered by saltwater and smart control systems. The saltwater greenhouse system can save 80 to 95 percent of freshwater consumption and use two to six times less energy than a normal mechanically cooled greenhouse.

“Water is so important, and in Saudi Arabia water is costly and energy intensive,” said Mark Tester, co-founder, Red Sea Farms. “The ability to use salt water in new ways is essential for sustainability. Red Sea Farms substitutes 90 percent of freshwater with saltwater in our greenhouse cooling technology developed by my co-founder, Ryan Lefers. We are also improving the salinity tolerance of plants. The environmental footprint of these tomatoes grown in a greenhouse might just be the lowest in the world — and they taste a lot better too.”

“Our initial mandate was to do commercialization, which is what we are doing here at KAUST and RPDC,” said Abdulmohsen Almajnouni, CEO of RPDC. “We are proud to launch Red Sea Farms as our first product with KAUST. The significance of this project — and the ability to irrigate crops using sea water — is vital for Saudi Arabia to create new opportunities for agriculture and farming.”

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