King Abdullah City of Science and Technology (KACST) is planning to spend SR2bn ($533m) on more than 1,000 research proposals and projects in the petrochemicals sector during 2011.

The investment is part of the kingdom’s plans to develop the industrial sector and improve its knowledge economy.

Ziad Labban, the chief executive officer of Saudi petrochemicals project PertroRabigh, said the figure represents more than KACST has spent in the past 30 years combined.

“While the region has more than 50 per cent of the world’s oil, it only provides 15 per cent of the world’s petrochemicals and this is where the future growth is,” said Labban. “There is a commercial driving force, and there is an economic driving force, and that is creating jobs.”

KACST is a government body and is responsible for implementing the kingdom’s science and technology strategies.

Labban, who was speaking at the Gulf Petrochemicals and Chemicals Association (GPCA) Plastics Summit in Dubai, also underlined the importance of further investment in the petrochemicals industry to provide jobs for young Saudis.

“The gas reserves and the proximity to the market, whether it is Europe or China, mean it doesn’t make sense not to make use of the two major advantages we have,” he said.

The investment made by KACST will be spread across companies such as Saudi Aramco and the Saudi Basic Industries Corporation, as well as industrial cities including Yanbu and Jubail.