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Archireef: Using 3D Printing to Save the Coral Reef Ecosystem Archireef combines expertise in marine biology, and the latest technologies in 3D printing techniques, and material science to create artificial habitats that are best suited for threatened marine life.

By Erika Masako Welch

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

You're reading Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.


Archireef offers climate solutions for restoring degraded marine ecosystems. The company does so by combining expertise in marine biology and the latest technologies in 3D printing techniques, and material science, using terracotta, to create artificial habitats that are best suited for threatened marine life. Its product is a 3D-printed reef tile to aid coral reef restoration. What is interesting is that while coral reefs cover only less than 1% of the ocean floor, they act as home to more than 25% of marine life.

The company started as a biological sciences PhD research project for Vriko Yu, co-founder of Archireef. Yu grew up in Hong Kong's countryside, and always had easy access to the ocean. She started diving at a young age, and recalls being impacted significantly when she suddenly witnessed the disappearance of a small patch of coral she used to regularly dive to within a period of just two months. She later met Dr. David Baker, a self-professed multi-disciplinary marine ecologist focused on coral reef species, who also came on to become co-founder and Archireef's Chief Scientist. Together, Yu and Dr. Baker invented the reef tiles, after spending seven years on research. The third co-founder is Deniz Tekerek, a seasoned entrepreneur and three-time startup founder, whom Yu met on an accelerator program called iDendron. "He was the commercial advisor we needed, bringing his startup scaling experience to the table," Yu said.

Image courtesy Archireef.

Coral reefs are currently on track to lose 90% of their global coverage by 2050 due to stress from coastal development, climate change, declining water quality, and a myriad of other localized issues. According to the Nature Conservancy, coral reefs are worth US$36 billion to reef tourism, helps provide food for 1.2 billion people, and protects coastal communities from the likes of tsunamis, potentially saving them from damages of more than $270 billion.

Archireef uses terracotta in coral restoration, as the material is not toxic to the ocean, while providing the perfect texture to facilitate coral growth and settlement. The reef tiles are made up of two core layers. The bottom layer serves as the base with structural support, and ensures that sediment build-up is limited. The top layer is the intricate part, as it is based on biomimicry, i.e. a pattern that would be aligned with the natural environment. This top layer is designed by taking into account local water conditions, and then feeding the information to a 3D printer, creating tiles which would be suitable for that location. These tiles are expected to last for at least 60 years.

Related: Green Future Project: Simplifying Climate Action Through Collective Action

Image courtesy Lucidity Insights/Archireef.

The company received investment by Abu Dhabi-based ADQ and thereafter decided to setup operations in the UAE capital in May 2022. This is where Archireef got exposed to Hub71, and the founders decided that this was a perfect fit for further expansion across the Middle East. As a part of Hub71, Archireef and other firms like it have benefitted from being part of this tech ecosystem in Abu Dhabi, as they gain access to partnerships, talent, capital, and state of the art infrastructure. Hub71 provides an optimal environment to maximize success, produce outstanding tech innovations, and scale globally from the UAE's capital. The company's production facility is now based at Khalifa Industrial Zone in Abu Dhabi, which is integrated under the newly-formed Khalifa Economic Zones Abu Dhabi Group (KEZAD Group).

In terms of the road ahead, the company wants to create coral highways, and help save and recover coral reefs around the world. The company also wants to apply its eco-engineering knowledge to other marine ecosystems, creating more modular methodologies to help recover ecosystems like intertidal coastlines, mangrove forests, and more. In the medium term, Archireef wants to scale its technology across the Middle East (the Arabian Gulf and Red Sea in particular), Asia, and MesoAmerica (extending from Mexico and down to Costa Rica). On an immediate basis through 2023, the company already has plans to install its first seawall structures in Abu Dhabi, showcasing a completely new way of protecting the biodiversity of coastlines in Abu Dhabi.

This article was originally published on Lucidity Insights, and it has been reposted on Entrepreneur Middle East based on a mutual agreement between the websites.

Related: Future Forward: Abu Dhabi's and Hub71's Roles in Driving Sustainability and Cleantech In The UAE And Beyond

Erika Masako Welch

Chief Content Officer, Lucidity Insights

Erika Masako Welch is the Chief Content Officer of Lucidity Insights.
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