Dubai: IBM and King Abdulaziz City for Science & Technology (KACST), a Saudi research organisation, yesterday announced a multi-year agreement to development nanotechnology for use in the Kingdom's energy and water sectors.
According to Dr Turki Al Saud, KACST vice-president for Research Institutes, the technology will be used in three areas: to increase the country's ability to desalinate water, to harness the use of solar energy to produce electricity, and to produce alternative uses for oil.
"This technology is strategic for the country," he told Gulf News in an interview. The country's council of ministers approved nanotechnology for further development in 2004.
Nanotechnology is the scientific development and application of very small objects, usually between one and 100 nanometres.
A nanometre is roughly 100,000 times thinner than a human hair.
When asked why one of the largest oil exporting countries in the world would consider alternatives for oil, Al Saud said the reason was sustainability. "Yes, oil is currently $100 a barrel, but we'd like to see it higher at $1,000 a barrel, but not for transportation," he said. "We'd like to see it used to build the body of a car. There are so many applications. That's where the value is," he said.
Al Saud said that IBM was tapped for the partnership because they were "the best in the world" in nanotechnology research.
"Working together with KACST in such an advanced field of technology will enable both organisations to develop new capabilities and forge a long-term collaboration that builds value for both of us," Takreem Al Tohamy, IBM general manager for the region, said in a statement.
While the nanotechnology may eventually spur an industry of its own, Al Saud said that was not what was driving the county's desire to develop the science. "The knowledge is what we are looking for," he said. "The industry will come later."
He also pointed out the technologies could also compliment each other. The electricity generated by solar energy could be used to help fuel power-intensive desalination plants.
He said the partnership with IBM would also offer opportunities for the country's population, educated largely overseas, to develop technology in their own country.