Combatting Climate Change: Founders Moving Carbon in the GCC

Throughout the last century, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), comprising Arab States in the region, has been helping meet the world’s voracious appetite for energy through the supply of fossil fuels. Hundreds of millions of barrels of oil have helped the world move forward, though this has come at a cost. 

The GCC region has an acute understanding of the need to start working towards alternatives to the carbon-heavy fuels of yesterday as well as starting the revolution to pull down gigatonnes of carbon (CO2) that have already made their way into the atmosphere. 

Hosting COP28 is just a small indication of the region’s leadership and appetite for taking the proverbial climate bull by the horns and starting to wrestle it down into the ground. 

Those who have stepped into the ring to take on the challenge are a handful of visionary entrepreneurs resolutely committed to reversing the flow of carbon. They aim to return carbon to the very ground from which it was extracted, achieved through carbon removal and sequestration processes. They also work to prevent carbon from entering the atmosphere through the deployment of carbon capture and storage (CSS) systems. 

The organisations pioneering these green initiatives, as well as the subsequent investors fuelling them, are within a burgeoning movement taking shape in the GCC region. This movement is focused on reducing carbon emissions and actively sequestering the CO2 in our atmosphere to help in the fight against climate change.

Harnessing the Power of Natural Resources

Abdulaziz Bin Redha, originally hailing from the United Arab Emirates, arrived at Cambridge with the intent of pursuing a PhD. His life took a transformative turn when he crossed paths with Samsurin Welch and Eva Morales, leading to the inception of their innovative startup, HyveGeo. The team have worked to create a business that weaponises Micro-algae in the fight against Carbon dioxide.

Microalgae, known as the world’s most photosynthetic organism, became the focal point of HyveGeo’s vision. The organisation cultivates microalgae by utilising accessible, untapped resources such as non-arable land, wastewater, and abundant sunlight. This remarkable organism possesses the unique ability to capture and transform CO2 into biomass (through the process of photosynthesis), which can undergo further processing to yield sustainable, value-added products, including bioenergy and biochar. 

“By harnessing microalgae, we pull harmful emissions from the atmosphere, creating valuable resources like biofuels, biochar and biofertilisers. These products are our tools to revive barren lands and fuel our communities sustainably”, explains the Co-Founder of HyveGeo.

As alluded to by Abdulaziz, the endeavours of HyveGeo are multifaceted. Not only do they hold significant value from an environmental standpoint, but from an economic one as well. 

This is down to the fact that not only does HyveGeo’s utilisation of microalgae produce sustainable agricultural products that pave the way for a greener and more economically viable future, but the organisation also plays a pivotal role in the transformation of arid desert landscapes into fertile soil, thereby enhancing local crop production. 

“Personally, this journey is about proving that, with the right technology, a driven team and visionary stakeholders, we can rewrite the narrative on climate change, making our deserts bloom while paving the way for a cleaner, prosperous tomorrow. We plant the seeds today, so our children can sit in the shade.”

The commendable initiatives of HyveGeo have already yielded significant success and garnered it notable recognition and investment. Dana Kamali, Chief Business Officer of Majra, National CSR Fund in UAE: “HyveGeo stands as a beacon of the progressive environmental stewardship we, at Majra – National CSR Fund, are keen to support. 

Their work is a direct reflection of the UAE and GCC’s enduring commitment to sustainability, mirroring the spirit of the UAE Year of Sustainability and the anticipatory discourse of COP28 in Dubai. Through nurturing desert greening and carbon sequestration, HyveGeo is not just a project, but a promise of a sustainable, carbon-neutral future.” 

Importance of Carbon Removal Initiatives 

Another pioneering startup dedicated to the permanent removal of CO2 from the atmosphere is 44.01. Based in Oman, this innovative organisation utilises peridotite rock, a natural resource already plentiful in the country, to offer an eco-friendly, permanent and cost-efficient solution for eliminating CO2.

44.01 works to accelerate the natural process of peridotite mineralisation, a method with the potential to mineralise as much as one billion tons of CO2 annually. This process involves capturing carbon, dissolving it in water, and injecting it into underground peridotite formations. Once the carbon undergoes mineralisation, it is permanently sequestered beneath the Earth’s surface.

Despite its relatively recent inception in 2020, 44.01 has already drawn international recognition. Earlier this year, the organisation forged a partnership with the Omani government to initiate a groundbreaking carbon removal project, set to commence in 2024, as well as launching a pilot project in the UAE.

This mineralisation pilot was initiated in Fujairah with the help of its partners in the endeavour,  the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), a provider of lower-carbon intensity energy, and the Fujairah Natural Resources Corporation (FNRC). This will be the first carbon-negative project by an energy company in the Middle East and the first peridotite mineralisation project to dissolve captured CO2 in seawater before injecting it into peridotite formations.

This will be 44.01’s largest pilot project to date, and its first project outside Oman. If successful, it has the potential to mineralise billions of tons of captured CO2 across the region. As such, it signals a significant step towards providing safe, natural CO2 mineralisation at scale.

Pioneering Climate Solutions: Another Way Forward

The carbon capture initiatives undertaken by 44.01 underscore the drastic measures required to improve the state of our planet. Relying solely on carbon offsets or adopting renewable energy solutions simply falls short. The globe needs active, large-scale carbon removals in addition to other more extreme measures. 

This is a fact acknowledged by Belinda Perriman, Founder of Convert Well, who explains, “With fossil fuels still providing around 80% of the energy requirements (Energy Institute Statistical Review of World Energy 2023), it may be neither fast nor cost-effective to think that we can build our way to Net Zero with renewable energy solutions.”

The Founder of Convert Well Belinda Perriman believes that three significant solutions can go a long way to reduce the CO2 and methane production necessary to achieve our global environmental goals, some of which are already being actioned by important companies in the GCC: “i) Reduce methane emissions during production of fossil fuels to net zero…ii) Capture the CO2 when gas is burnt to create the intense heat required to manufacture valuable products…iii) Fossil fuel gas can also be ‘shifted’ or reformed into clean-burning hydrogen fuel’.

A number of GCC countries have already embarked on the implementation of these actions, serving as a testament to the GCC’s leadership in what Ms. Perriman refers to as a “deep decarbonisation”. Her organisation combines ii) and iii): “Our start-up, Convert Well, screens conventional gas fields to look at the potential of converting them – at source – into low carbon hydrogen producers.”

In other words, by providing software to Oil and Gas Companies to screen their producing gas fields, these companies can determine the feasibility and hydrogen price necessary to achieve a cost-effective transition from selling gas to selling clean hydrogen from the same site. 

The CO2 by-product is then injected into the base of the same producing gas field within a few minutes, extending the use of the assets to only selling a clean product, or what the startup refers to as Sky Blue Hydrogen.

Convert Well urges Oil and Gas Companies to leverage their core assets and expertise to decarbonise their gas fields because this will curtail their carbon emissions. This can improve their chances of reaching a Net Zero as soon as possible, something that is more obvious than ever before. 

Yariv Choen, founded Ignite Power alongside Co-Founder, Angela Homsi in 2014 with a clear mission: to offer sustainable, clean, and affordable solutions for pressing infrastructure needs across Africa. The founders saw Africa as an unparalleled opportunity to create substantial social and environmental impact at scale, recognising that the greatest potential lay in the most remote, hardest-to-reach communities in Africa. 

Their overarching goal was to establish a cutting-edge operating platform tailored for these rural areas, making it easier to execute large-scale projects. Today, Ignite operates in six African countries saved 600,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, and is connecting 100 million people and paving the way to a more sustainable and inclusive future. 

The company’s introduction to the UAE occurred when Ignite won the International Agency for Renewable Energy (IRENA) award. Upon visiting Abu Dhabi and the UAE, Mr Choen was left with an indelible impression. 

“Abu Dhabi, in the realm of renewable energy, is like New York City for the financial world – a hub for industry leaders, top conferences, and access to all the right players. However, what truly set the UAE apart was the profound alignment we found with the country’s values and vision, especially those of Sheikh Zayed. It’s this deep connection that led us to relocate Ignite’s headquarters to the UAE. 

Our recognition as finalists for the Zayed Award, one of the world’s most prestigious awards, goes beyond corporate success; it holds a personal significance for us. We are thrilled to continue our collaboration with the UAE, bridging the gap between the nation and Africa, and jointly leading the world towards a greener, more sustainable path.” 

The Scope of Opportunity Within the GCC

Steering the world towards this greener and more sustainable trajectory has never been more pressing, a reminder that looms large with the impending arrival of COP28. While the annual summit holds its usual importance, this year, it takes on an even greater significance. COP28 will usher in the inaugural Global Stocktake (GST), a momentous occasion where the world will assess its progress regarding the all-important Paris Agreement.

To stay on track with our environmental goals, as set by the Paris Agreement, the challenges encountered by eco-minded startups and initiatives have grown increasingly formidable. And yet, the world is witnessing the rise of a promising era of green innovation. With the advent of new technologies and increasing availability of capital in the sector, a prime opportunity exists for forward-thinking stakeholders to make significant strides in climate tech.

Simone Less, a member of Aramco Ventures, the corporate venturing arm of Aramco, a world-leading integrated energy and chemicals company, recognises that, while the progress with green initiatives is of paramount importance, equally critical is the funding that drives these advancements to fruition. 

“It is imperative that the technological advancement of Carbon Capture, Usage and Storage (CCUS) solutions, including carbon dioxide removal (CDR) solutions, becomes an increasingly collective effort driven by forward-looking policymaking. 

GCC countries, as the providers of a large fraction of the world energy supply, also want to play a leading role in the quest for carbon neutrality. Initiatives like the creation of large investment funds and circular ecosystems supporting sustainability serve as a testament to this intent.”

Indeed, it is becoming GCC has taken on a pivotal role in spearheading a transition away from oil dependency and towards carbon neutrality. Shane Shin, Founding Partner at Shorooq Partners, recognises the region’s proactive efforts in advancing technology that will allow for this to happen.

“In the Middle East, as economies strive to shift away from oil dependency, the GCC nations are swiftly leading the charge in climate tech. They’re not just trying to catch up; they’re surging ahead in renewable energy investments. The region’s vast land allows us to harness natural resources effectively, enabling the rapid establishment of sustainable hydrogen and solar power plants. The Middle East’s appetite for climate technology investment is growing.”

These sentiments, denoting the GCC region as an emerging hub for the growth of sustainable technologies, find resonance in the perspective of Farid Haque, Co-GP of Born in the Emirates, he is particularly bullish on backing local GCC talent looking to solve global, venture-scale challenges. 

“It’s extremely exciting to see the next generation of GCC entrepreneurs rise up and build globally competitive businesses while solving what can only be described as the most pressing issue of our time.”

Stephane Mardel, Managing General Partner at SystemaNova, also underscores the significance of backing GCC entrepreneurs, emphasising the crucial need to initiate early-stage capital investments in them. Mr Mardel explains, “It is absolutely critical riskier capital investments at early stage take place now, as otherwise there won’t be enough large de-risked projects for investors with lower risk appetite to invest into, allowing to both 1) meet CDR demand/regulatory obligations and 2) achieve the IPCC goals.

Early investment in climate tech startups is not just about seeking returns; it’s about shaping the future in a way that addresses the most significant challenges humanity faces while unlocking unparalleled economic opportunities.”

“Founders need to be creative and resourceful when fundraising, especially when it comes to deep tech. I am particularly excited by the support of the UAE government supporting visionaries with non-dilutive funding sources and matching private sources of capital to change the future for the better”, states Matthew Holding, General Partner at SystemaNova. 

Indeed, as elucidated to, witnessing notable progress in the well-being of our planet requires the imperative introduction of early-stage capital interventions across the climate tech supply chain. This is the catalyst for our much-needed global transformation, a matter that takes on more poignant importance in a region as deeply entrenched in the production of Oil and Gas as the GCC. 

Having operated essentially within a fossil-fuel economy, the initiatives undertaken by climate-conscious startups in the GCC are exceptionally commendable, serving as a compelling symbol of resilience for organisations worldwide. They beckon other companies and investment funds to engage in their endeavours and uphold the same standards elsewhere, thereby bolstering the global fight against climate change.