Global energy sector needs a transition to sustainability: Aramco executive

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
  • Follow author on
Representational Image

The mass production, storage and global distribution of any successful vaccine for COVID-19 would depend on the energy sector, says Ahmad Al-Khowaiter, chief technology officer at Saudi Aramco.

The comment from Mr. Al-Khowaiter came during the media briefing about the dual global energy and climate challenges as part of the G20 Riyadh Summit, in which he added, “Fortunately, we have an energy system in place that can power the manufacture, transportation and storage of the billions of doses required to defeat the virus.”

Mr. Al-Khowaiter further explained the urgent need for the world’s energy supply, though it has been a good force which was reliable and affordable, to be made more sustainable.

Ahmad Al-Khowaiter
Ahmad Al-Khowaiter
Chief Technology Officer
Saudi Aramco

“We must stop thinking of the global energy system as a linear economy of infinite resources and limitless capacity to absorb waste. Instead, taking our inspiration from nature, we must treat it as a circular system. Each year, as part of the natural carbon cycle, the Earth recycles 20 times as much C02 as humans emit, locking it away in trees or plankton, where it becomes energy for other organisms, a source of life and growth, rather than a source of harm.”

The current energy system should also be re-designed to work along the same principle, which is called the circular carbon economy, which was advocated during the presidency of the G20 by Saudi Arabia.

“Instead of taking, make and throw away, we must increasingly reduce, recycle and reuse,” Mr. Al-Khowaiter added.

During the media briefing, he cited the Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdul Aziz bin Salman’s statement, “we don’t believe in a low carbon economy. We believe in a low emissions economy. That is what matters to the future of the planet.”

To reduce CO2, the world can rely on making conventional hydrocarbon fuels sustainable, Mr. Al-Khowaiter stated. It could help to recycle CO2 with synthetic fuels and by combining it with carbon capture, the CO2 linked with the hydrogen production can be easily removed. Moreover, hydrogen is sustainable through renewable generation, he added.

Aramco has recently finished its low CO2 ammonia or blue ammonia supply chain demonstration which indicates the idea of carbon capture while producing low or zero-carbon products is possible.

“We took natural gas, converted it to hydrogen, then to ammonia and then captured the CO2 that resulted and sequestered it in our enhanced oil recovery project. The blue ammonia was shipped from Saudi Arabia to our partners in Japan, where it is now being used in zero-carbon power generation. This is just one example of what is possible under a circular carbon economy approach,” Mr. Al-Khowaiter explained the process.

Aramco is working to achieve this vision and is investing in all required technologies for it. But the fact is that technologies cannot bring complete solutions as it requires well-planned policies also.

The developing carbon and hydrogen market must be backed in the same way wind and solar were supported in the past, by offering incentives for companies at each level from production, to capture, to transport, to storage and reuse, he said.

He added that as important as renewals are and as much progress as they have made in so many recent years, renewables will not achieve the Paris Agreement aim of greenhouse gas balance in the second half of this century on their own.

With real determination and realistic optimism about the world’s shared interests, humans can face the challenges together, he concluded.