Aramco CTO leads practical low carbon energy thinking
Ahmad O. Al-Khowaiter: Hydrogen and energy carrier for both power and mobility
International experts from across the energy value chain connected virtually at last week’s “Middle East and Africa Energy Week” conference to drive forward the energy industry’s low carbon agenda.
With COVID-19’s disruption to the energy sector bringing the world’s sustainability goals to a defining moment, the conference energy visionaries’ thinking was both crisp and collaborative.
Among the energy shapers was Aramco’s chief technology officer, Ahmad O. Al-Khowaiter, who participated in a panel discussion and delivered an impactful message about the practical reality of decarbonizing the world’s energy systems.
Hydrogen — our planet’s lightest and most abundant element — was consistently highlighted as a key enabler of a more sustainable future during the experts’ talks on the pace and mix of tomorrow’s energy transition.
I don’t want to get ahead of the good things we are doing in the traditional energy industry, and say we are just going to replace everything with blue (hydrogen).
— Ahmad O. Al-Khowaiter
Big impact from practical actions now
As hydrogen enticingly weaved its way among the upbeat thinking of the three-day virtual conference, Al-Khowaiter explained how replacing the world’s capital-intensive energy system requires significant time and investment.
While championing the case for hydrogen as a prominent low carbon energy vector on the sustainability horizon, Al-Khowaiter cautioned that building a new energy system as large as the existing system was a massive undertaking.
“I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves in saying we are going to get there in 30 years,” he said, adding that focusing on lowering emissions from the existing energy industry in the short to medium term, would certainly pay back.
Pointing to the potential for total worldwide emissions reduction from existing technology, Al-Khowaiter said this “could have an immediate impact, and reduce emissions globally, at a very large scale.”
“I don’t want to get ahead of the good things we are doing in the traditional energy industry, and say we are just going to replace everything with blue,” he added.
Lightest element can energize lighter footprint
Hydrogen, a primary component of oil and gas, is a clean and affordable energy carrier for both power generation and road transportation.
Al-Khowaiter said it was exciting to see a new energy carrier integrating with the traditional hydrocarbon-based energy system.
“This is the idea of bringing together, in a transitionary way, the green and blue [hydrogen], and really the conventional fossil fuels and the new energy world,” he said.
Aramco, a leading global producer of oil and gas from the world’s largest reservoirs, already owns and operates the significant infrastructure needed for the safe and abundant production of hydrogen.
Al-Khowaiter said Aramco was looking at the business case for the large-scale supply of hydrogen, and said existing infrastructure should be leveraged as much as possible.
“We are doing a lot of research, basically looking at the whole chain, from production, to transport, which is the biggest challenge,” he said.
Like any gas, hydrogen takes up a huge amount of space, and to efficiently and effectively store and transport hydrogen, it needs to be shrunk into liquid or compressed hydrogen.
Al-Khowaiter said hydrogen becoming transportable was significant, “Instead of being produced and consumed in the same location, what we are seeing for the first time is hydrogen becoming a tradable commodity.”
Adding that blue hydrogen was achievable by oil and gas processing, Al-Khowaiter said, “We have most of the hydrogen production already, what we need to do is add the decarbonization option, which is very much a possibility given the technologies are now mature.”
Instead of being produced and consumed in the same location, what we are seeing for the first time is hydrogen becoming a tradable commodity.
— Ahmad O. Al-Khowaiter
Energy transition impact of COVID-19
Indications are that COVID-19 has reduced the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions, but this pause in economic growth is an unrealistic strategy for the world’s energy transition.
Even so — just as testing times bring the best of the human spirit to the fore — the pandemic’s disruption and its ongoing endurance, has the world seemingly thinking more clearly about energy sustainably.
Supplying clean energy affordably and reliably is a collective challenge for our world; however, there is no single and simple solution to decarbonize the world’s energy systems.
The world will continue to depend on crude oil — an essential part of modern life — to provide energy, construction and household materials, and personal items such as fabric for clothing.
The petroleum industry is an important part of the solution to meet the climate goals of the Paris Agreement.
Siemens Energy hosted the Middle East and Africa (MEA) Energy Week conference from Dubai, and participating on the panel alongside Al-Khowaiter was Morocco’s energy minister, HE Aziz Rabbah, Germany’s head of energy policy, Thorsten Herdan, Mubadala Aerospace executive director, Badr Al-Olama, and Siemens EVP New Energy Business, Armin Schnettler.
Sustainable fuel for the future
In 2019, Aramco inaugurated Saudi Arabia’s first hydrogen fuel cell vehicle fueling station at Dhahran Techno Valley Science Park.
The company is using the fuel station to test-drive a fleet of hydrogen cars.
The study is an important step toward making oil-to-hydrogen a reality.
Hydrogen and fuel cell technologies are well positioned to be part of the solution toward reducing carbon emissions and addressing climate concerns.
Examining the practicality of hydrogen for mobility use could be a significant contribution toward a clean, secure, and affordable energy future.
Aramco continues to be focused on creating breakthrough low carbon technologies and solutions.