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Caribbean carbon-negative concrete set for Saudi projects

Partanna concrete Partanna
From the Bahamas to the Red Sea, Caribbean sustainable construction startup Partanna could soon be serving Saudi giga-projects its carbon-negative concrete
  • Joint venture expected with Red Sea Global in early 2023
  • Caribbean Partanna reports interest in its technology in the Gulf 
  • Further talks ongoing with prospective partners in the UAE 

Bahamas-based startup Partanna is finalising the terms of its first commercial partnership in the Middle East – a tie-up with the developer responsible for two of Saudi Arabia’s flagship giga-projects, Red Sea and Amaala.

A joint venture is expected to be signed with Red Sea Global (RSG) early next year, according to Rick Fox, co-founder and chief executive of Partanna, which specialises in the production and use of negative-carbon concrete and other building materials. 

The deal is the next stage of partnership between the two companies, which signed a memorandum of understanding in November to explore ways in which RSG could use Partanna’s processes at its projects in the kingdom and beyond. 

The details of the joint venture are being worked out. They relate to the construction of RSG’s Red Sea project – a major new destination with hotels, homes, commercial, and leisure uses in a vast area of western Saudi Arabia – and the adjoining Amaala, a luxury wellness resort with hotels, leisure, arts and cultural facilities.

The projects collectively span 28,000 sq km and are worth a combined total of $28 billion. The first phase of each is underway and due to complete in 2024, and the remaining work will be ongoing for the next decade.

Partanna’s Fox hopes the deal is the first of many in a region he said has “unfathomable” levels of development activity, but which is being forced to move away from traditional, carbon-intensive, construction methods to meet environmental targets. 

“At the heart of our mission is the ability to build a more sustainable future through building materials that absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere,” the former Los Angeles Lakers basketball player told AGBI, via video from his villa in the Bahamas. 

Rick Fox
Former NBA star Rick Fox, CEO of Partanna

Concrete production is Partanna’s most obvious target, as cement manufacturing accounts for at least 8 percent of global carbon emissions, compared to 2.8 percent for aviation. The sector is the second-largest emitter of carbon dioxide, according to a 2020 study by the International Energy Agency (IEA). 

“As the company continues to evolve, there will be other products made from our technology that end users can adopt, such as ceiling panels, walls, furniture, roads, bridges, and pavements,” Fox said. 

Partanna, which was set up in 2020, has developed what it calls a “pioneering” technology for producing building materials that absorb, rather than emit, carbon dioxide.

The process involves a combination of natural and recycled materials, including steel slag – a by-product of steel manufacturing – and brine from desalination. It contains no resins or plastics and therefore avoids the pollution associated with traditional cement production, Partanna claims. 

The company owns the intellectual property rights for the technology and plans to grow its business by forming licensing partnerships or franchises with developers that can use its trademarked combination of ingredients in the construction process.

Partanna will also help recruit local project teams to manufacture negative-carbon concrete and other materials on site. 

Its first deal was with the Bahamas government this year to build 1,000 hurricane-resistant homes in the Caribbean nation hit by the Category 5 Hurricane Dorian in 2019. The first 30 homes are to be completed in 2023 in the Abaco Islands, and feature Partanna’s negative-carbon concrete.  

In Saudi Arabia, around 10 scientists from Partanna are on the ground at Red Sea, undertaking laboratory work to test out the production process.

“They have found out that all the raw materials needed to make our concrete are in Saudi so there is no need to import anything,” Fox said. 

“In the new year, we will structure a plan for the set-up of equipment and materials on site so that our technology can be used in the project’s construction.”

Establishing a dedicated production facility is part of the plans, he added.

The joint venture with RSG would help Partanna tap into what Fox says is a billion-dollar opportunity in the construction-hungry Middle East and North Africa (Mena).

A total of $156 billion of construction contracts were awarded in the region in 2021, according to research in February by JLL. 

“The Middle East is a developing region, building at scale and in some cases an unfathomable level,” the entrepreneur said. “But many developers want to have a positive impact when they build.”

Saudi Arabia and the UAE both aim to be net zero by 2060. 

“There are numerous opportunities for us to collaborate with partners in the region, and we are finding that there is no shortage of desire to build in new and innovative ways,” said Fox.  

Another USP for Partanna in the region is that it advocates the use of brine, a waste byproduct of desalination. The water-scarce Middle East accounts for almost half of the world’s desalination capacity and requires solutions for what to do with the millions of litres of waste brine produced as a result. 

“The issue of brine waste is only going to get worse. So we’re becoming an interesting [proposition] here,” said Fox.

Partanna has held “encouraging” talks with developers in the UAE and is targeting at least one more regional partnership in 2023, he added. 

It wants to work with large companies like RSG that are aiming to build an international presence, enabling it to scale up its own business.

RSG rebranded last month to reflect its ambition to develop projects across the world, not just in Saudi Arabia. The potential scale of business Partanna could tap into through RSG could equate to hundreds of billions, said Fox. 

Announcing the memorandum of understanding with Partanna in November, RSG’s group chief executive John Pagano said: “[Partanna’s] material, which can be manufactured using recycled raw materials, and which can generate carbon credits, could be key to achieving our even more ambitious goal of creating carbon negative tourism destinations.”

Partanna is equity-funded by seed and angel-round investors including US and Taiwan-based Cherubic Ventures.

It expects to conclude a second round of venture capital funding in the new year, and aims to be turning a profit from its licence arrangements by the end of 2023, according to Fox. 

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