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Tel Aviv University, UAE to set up joint initiative for water research

Aiming to foster peace, build common future around tech, parties seek to address age-old regional challenge of water scarcity

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Representatives of Tel Aviv University and UAE officials at the signing of an MOU to set up joint water research institute in Abu Dhabi in the UAE (Tel Aviv University)
Representatives of Tel Aviv University and UAE officials at the signing of an MOU to set up joint water research institute in Abu Dhabi in the UAE (Tel Aviv University)

In what is being hailed as a first-of-a-kind agreement, Tel Aviv University and an unnamed university in the UAE have signed a memorandum of understanding to set up a joint Israeli-Emirati Water Research Institute.

The institute will have researchers focusing on finding water resources and solutions for desert areas and will also enable student and faculty exchange programs, Prof. Milette Shamir, VP for international affairs at Tel Aviv University, said in a phone interview.

This is a first agreement between Tel Aviv University and an entity in the UAE, she said, calling it significant in scope and in content.

The institute will be backed by Tel Aviv University, the Emirati university, Georgian-Israeli billionaire Michael Mirilashvili, and Baynunah, a sister company of Al Dahra Group, an Emirati agriculture group.

A Watergen device in Abu Dhabi; 25 May 2021 (Courtesy)

The new institute will be working in close collaboration with the Moshe Mirilashvili Institute for Applied Water Studies at Tel Aviv University, named for the father of Michael.

Michael Mirilashvili is the owner and president of Watergen, a startup that developed a patented technology that processes air to generate clean drinking water. In November, Watergen signed a strategic partnership with Al Dahra to export the Israeli tech to the UAE and other regional countries.

“The agreement signed between the center for water research at Tel Aviv University and the United Arab Emirates is intended for fruitful research and scientific cooperation between researchers, to improve drinking water qualities, optimize the various quantities and sources of drinking water, implement advanced technologies and improve wastewater treatment,” said Prof. Dror Avisar, the head of Tel Aviv University’s water research center, who will be in charge of the new institute’s research program.

Projects will include improving water supply for agricultural irrigation, streamlining food production output and the development of modern and dedicated technologies for the treatment of water and wastewater, he said.

On Tuesday, Watergen and Baynunah laid the cornerstone for a Watergen production facility in the UAE. The joint venture will commercialize Watergen products in the United Arab Emirates, the Gulf States, and Africa. Dozens of Watergen water-making devices have already been deployed in Abu Dhabi as part of an initial stage of the joint venture that hopes to see the deployment of “thousands of Watergen devices all across the UAE,” the statement said.

With the signing of the Abraham Accords, Israel and the UAE normalized relations in September, as did Israel and Bahrain, paving the way for open business and trade ties in which technology will play a key role.

“The Abraham Accords has given countries in the Middle East the opportunity to improve and advance relations in various fields,” Watergen’s Mirilashvili said in a statement. “Thanks to the agreements, we – an Israeli company – are able to cooperate with our Middle East neighbors to solve one of the region’s difficult problems – water scarcity. Throughout history, conflicts have often been centered around controlling water sources. Today we are doing the opposite: building peace and a common future around a groundbreaking Israeli technology.”

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