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Aramco Entrepreneurship and GE announce winners of 'Global Innovation Challenge'

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13 Jan 2015

The winners of the global technology challenge — launched by the Aramco Entrepreneurship and GE ecomagination (NYSE: GE) — were announced today at the opening of the Saudi Water & Power Forum. To promote a culture of technology-based entrepreneurship and venturing in the Kingdom, Aramco Entrepreneurship launched a global competition in the area of seawater desalination using renewable energy in partnership with GE in April 2014.

The objective of the initiative was not only to solicit innovative solutions for improving desalination efficiency but also to avail of these solutions for the community by connecting the local business community with global innovators, to incubate them regionally and create technology-based ventures. This initiative received support from the Governor of Saudi Arabian Saline Water Conversion Corporation (SWCC). SWCC owns and operates around 25 percent of the entire world’s desalination capacity. As the largest user of desalination processes and technology, Saudi Arabia is expected to invest heavily in seawater desalination technologies and solar energy in the coming decades.

Aramco Entrepreneurship and GE announce winners of 'Global Innovation Challenge'

H.E. Abdul Rahman Al Hussein, Saudi Minister of Water & Electricity, announced the winners, who will receive cash prizes, and further possible support toward development and deployment of the innovative solutions. This competition received 108 submissions representing 32 countries. The largest number of country-based submissions came from the USA, followed by Saudi Arabia.

HE Al Hussein said: “The commendable undertaking by the Aramco Entrepreneurship and GE that promotes innovation in desalination using renewable energy is of strategic importance in addressing regional and global water scarcity. With energy accounting for nearly 70 percent of the desalination cost, identifying efficient, renewable energy solutions will have a long-term impact on the water sector, particularly in the GCC region. To announce the global winners here, through a Saudi-led initiative, demonstrates the leadership of the Kingdom in identifying and promoting energy-efficient solutions that will benefit the water and energy industry globally. The competition also highlights that Saudi Arabia is not only a consumer of technology but also a developer of innovative solutions by partnership with others.”

While only four prizes were awarded, a large number of high quality submissions were received, and many of these address other critical needs of the Kingdom, such as food security.

The winners of the global technology innovation challenge are Jaime Mateus – Anfiro (USA) for his team’s project on “Ultra-high permeability RO membranes for desalination,” Marco Rosa-Clot, Antonio Naviglio and Gianfranco Caruso of Florence University (Italy) for their project on “SHAMS-Titanium MED desalination project,” Kim Choon Ng of National University of Singapore with the researchers from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (Saudi Arabia) for the project on “Hybrid Multi-Effect Adsorption Desalination: An Emerging High Efficiency and Low Cost Desalination,” and Norbert Kuipers, Albert Jensen and their team – TNO (The Netherlands) for the project on “Simultaneous Production of Potable Water and Power from High Pressure Membrane Distillation driven by Solar Heat (CSP).”

In addition to the winners, several organizations received special citation for their proposals including: King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals and MIT; Hi-Z Technology Inc.; Novatec Solar GmbH; AIL Research; AQUA.abib water solutions S.L.; Arabian Consulting Engineering Centre Co.; Energy Concepts Co. LLC; F Cubed Solar Water Processors Pty Ltd; German Jordanian University; Glacier Tec. Inc.; ITM-CNR; Okeanos Technologies; Millennium Energy Industries; Tafila Technical University; Texas A&M University; Total Water Solutions LLC; TransGlobal H20; University of Maine; University of Notre Dame; University of Valladolid; University West of Scotland, and others.

Mr. Nabil Al-Khowaiter, Managing Director of Aramco Energy Venture stated: “Innovators from around the world responded to the challenge presenting several ground-breaking ideas. These innovative solutions demonstrate the potential to address one of the greatest concerns for humanity, assuring a reliable supply of water through desalination, using energy-efficient renewable technologies. The four winning technologies from five countries are examples of a host of innovative solutions being developed to address the critical needs of the industry, many of which can be deployed in Saudi Arabia by venturing and joint development. The innovative solutions submitted, whether winners or not, will be considered for possible incubation in Saudi organizations, and by local entrepreneurs, such as independent power and water producers, as well as by GE for potential regional application.”

Mr. Sami Khursani, Managing Director of Aramco Entrepreneurship, added: “To further promote joint development, the global competition and the subsequent events connect global innovators with local entrepreneurs, so that these solutions can be developed and deployed to create new industries and manufacturing facilities in Saudi Arabia, ultimately creating high-value jobs. The Challenge highlights our focus on promoting innovation to encourage technology-based entrepreneurship to address the critical needs of the Kingdom by partnering with the global community rather than in isolation. The broad goal of the competition was to accelerate the development of innovative solutions focused on improving the energy efficiency of seawater desalination. ”

Hisham Al Bahkali, President & CEO, GE Saudi Arabia, explained: “Assuring reliable supplies of energy and water for people are two goals that are central to policy makers anywhere in the world. By focusing on renewable energy technological innovations for the desalination process, the challenge opened up a worldwide opportunity to find innovative, impactful, feasible and scalable projects. The initiative highlights our focus on promoting innovation that can have a transformational impact on humanity by fostering strong linkages between the industry and the research community for the common good. The potential application of the winning technologies will be a game changer for Saudi’s water sector.”

This is the first global innovation event for Saudi Aramco that addresses a specific technical challenge facing the Kingdom, conducted with GE as a partner. Since its inception in 2005, GE ecomagination has launched five challenges – ideas for creating and encouraging adoption of smart grid technology, an advanced manufacturing challenge to use 3D printing to improve the production of a GE aircraft engine bracket, two on healthcare to advance work in breast cancer and traumatic brain injury diagnosis, and desalination through renewable energy. This latest challenge is also the first global competition where GE has partnered with another major company, Saudi Aramco, to address a global theme.

The extensive proposals received were reviewed by large multidisciplinary teams from Saudi Aramco, GE and SWCC.

The global technology innovation challenge on desalination through renewable energy was created to address the issue of global freshwater and groundwater resources being depleted at an alarming rate. This places greater emphasis on resorting to desalination to meet water needs. Desalination is also an energy-intensive water treatment technology; the cost of treating low salinity seawater is about ten times greater than a typical freshwater source and nearly double the energy cost of treating wastewater for reuse.*

Moving forward, there are several events planned to further deployment of these innovative technologies. A forum entitled “Desalination Using Renewable Energy: Connecting Global Innovators with Local Entrepreneurs” will include selected global innovators who participated in the competition. Networking events such as Future Global Energy Forum, 2015 will engage a larger number of global innovators with local entrepreneurs/VCs. A compilation of key technologies will be included in a booklet and/or in a website, available upon request from AEC.

The global community, such as the International Desalination Association, is seeking ways to achieve at least a 20 percent energy reduction in desalination in 2015. New technologies that use renewable energy for desalination will be urgently needed to address this gap.

The Saudi Water & Power Forum 2015 is an annual forum and exhibition for the water and power stakeholders, held under the patronage of the Ministry of Water & Power. This year marks the tenth anniversary of the event, which focuses on achievements attained in the past decade for both the water and power sectors. For further information regarding the proposals and the competition, please contact: of the Aramco Entrepreneurship Center.

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