Saudi International Petrochemical Company (Sipchem) plans to erect a $21m petrochemicals research centre at the state-run King Fahd University of Petroleum & Minerals.

The private company signed a memorandum of understanding to develop the facility with the university and Saudi Arabia’s Petroleum & Minerals Ministry on 4 October. Sipchem signed a lease for 15,000 square metres of land at the Dharan Techno-Valley on the campus at the same time.

Sipchem will cover the SR80m ($21.3m) cost of building the centre and will manage it once construction is complete in 2012.

It will use the centre to develop polymer or basic plastic technologies. Sipchem says the main areas of research will include solar cell technology and plastic films used in agriculture, flexible pipes, adhesives and fibre optic cables.

The deal adds to the recent trend of petrochemicals producers in Saudi Arabia setting up their own dedicated research centres in the kingdom. The US’ Dow Chemical and state energy giant Saudi Aramco have signed similar schemes at the King Abdullah University of Science & Technology.