Saudi Arabia’s energy minister Khalid Al-Falih talks Middle East industrialization at WEF MENA event

Saudi Arabia's energy minister Khalid Al-Falih spoke at the World Economic Forum for Middle East and North Africa about the Kingdom's new vision for industrialization in the Middle East region. (Screenshot)
Updated 07 April 2019
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Saudi Arabia’s energy minister Khalid Al-Falih talks Middle East industrialization at WEF MENA event

DEAD SEA, Jordan: Saudi Arabia's energy minister Khalid Al-Falih spoke at the World Economic Forum for Middle East and North Africa about the Kingdom's new vision for industrialization in the Middle East region.

The discussion with WEF founder Klaus Schwab opened with the Swiss thanking Al-Falih for the large Saudi delegation at the forum, and Al-Falih voiced his appreciation for Schwab's support for the Middle East region at the various WEF events.

Al-Falih thaned Schwab for WEF's ongoing support for the Middle East region at various, previous events and he echoed Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's assertion that the region "can become the new Europe."

The energy minister used the cases of Saudi Aramco and SABIC as examples of how Saudi Arabia can lead the way in advancing industrialization in the region and he mentioned how important tapping into the youth talent pool for development.

On the role of the private sector in the success of Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 plans and economic diversification, Al-Falih said the Kingdom's government was making sure the private sector was encouraged to operate and invest in the Kingdom, citing examples of airports and ports, and facilities privatization in Saudi Arabia.

When asked by Schwab about the transition from fossil fuels to newer, renewable energy sources and its impact on Saudi Arabia's economy, Al-Falih said the process would take many decades, and that with population growth adding 2 billion people to the global population and the subsequent expansion of the 'middle class,' demand for all sources of energy — including oil and gas — will still exist well into the middle of the century.

Al-Falih highlighted Saudi Arabia's "heavy investment" in renewable energies, and how he advises the Saudi government as well as his clients that the use of oil and gas has to be "more effective", adding that both would peak by the middle of the century and saying "we will still need all solutions."

The energy minister was also positive about the future for the Kingdom in terms of youth employment and women empowerment in the workplace — stating the need for the private sector to be involved in the education of youth, of both genders, given they it benefits them when hiring graduates. It is something the education ministry in Saudi Arabia is concentrating on by revamping the curriculum to help graduates get into the private sector, Al-Falih said.

And Al-Falih said that, while Saudi Arabia's plan for women empowerment in the work force will come about differently to the way it works in other parts of the world, he was certain women in the Kingdom and the Middle East region as a whole will thrive.


‘Fuel of the future’ comes of age as Aramco opens first hydrogen filling station

Updated 17 June 2019
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‘Fuel of the future’ comes of age as Aramco opens first hydrogen filling station

  • Fatih Birol’s comments were a deliberate poke at those experts who think that the sheer logistics of hydrogen make it always an unlikely solution to global energy challenges
  • Birol’s article was followed by a report from the IEA that put some meat on the bones of the argument that hydrogen is key to solving problems such as global warming

DUBAI: Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, cracked a joke in the Financial Times a couple of weeks ago.
“Hydrogen is the fuel of the future, and it always will be,” he wrote about the fuel that many experts agree could hold the key to the world’s energy problems.
It was a deliberate poke at those experts who think that the sheer logistics of hydrogen — generation, storage, and transportation — make it always an unlikely solution to global energy challenges.
Birol’s article was followed by a report from the IEA that put some meat on the bones of the argument that hydrogen is key to solving such problems as global warming and environmental degradation.
“The world has an important opportunity to tap into hydrogen’s vast potential to become a critical part of a more sustainable and secure energy future … The world should not miss this unique chance to make hydrogen an important part of our clean and secure energy future,” the report said.
That argument will get a critical boost today, when Saudi Aramco, the biggest oil company in the world, opens its first hydrogen fueling station in Dhahran Techno Valley, in the heart of the Kingdom’s oil producing region.
Aramco has partnered with Air Products, a US company that has been a pioneer in the use of industrial gases, to produce a filling station for hydrogen-fueled vehicles.

 

It is very much a test. “The collected data during this pilot phase of the project will provide valuable information for the assessment of future applications of this emerging transport technology in the local environment,” Aramco said when the project was first announced.
But it is something Aramco has been investigating for a long time. Ahmed Al-Khowaiter, Aramco’s chef technology officer, said: “The use of hydrogen derived from oil or gas to power fuel cell electric vehicles represents an exciting opportunity to expand the use of oil in clean transport.”
Hydrogen — essentially what is left when you take the oxygen out of water — has been recognized as a potential fuel source for many decades. Motor manufacturers developed a hydrogen motor engine 50 years ago, but the ease and accessibility of hydrocarbon fuels — oil, gas and coal — made it uneconomic to develop this technology beyond the prototype stage.
Now, as the debate over the role of hydrocarbons in the global environmental balance has become ever more intense, some experts, including Birol and other influential parts of the thought-leadership establishment, believe hydrogen is the next Big Thing in global energy trends.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) said recently that “green” hydrogen offers a solution to the world energy challenge, and that is the problem the theoreticians are struggling with: Hydrogen is released naturally in the process of burning hydrocarbons, but it is self-defeating, in an environmental sense. if you have to burn oil, gas or coal to produce it.
On the other hand, renewable sources, like sun, wind and water, do not produce enough hydrogen to be practically or commercially viable, and not at the right times, when people actually need it.
But, as the WEF noted recently “low-cost green hydrogen is coming”, as technology advances mean the cost of renewable energy falls dramatically each year. The Middle East already has a very big and very cost-efficient program for solar energy generation.
The other challenges lay in how to store and transport hydrogen. It can be loaded onto a tanker like LNG, or pushed through pipelines, but it would require a huge investment to change current logistics systems — essentially designed for oil and LNG — to handle hydrogen.
Many countries, including Saudi Arabia, already have the infrastructure associated with oil and gas refining and petrochemicals production to be able to equip “hydrogen hubs,” as long as there is government will and commercial incentive to do so.
For the Kingdom, it looks like a no-brainer for the future. As Birol said: “So, hydrogen offers tantalising promises of cleaner industry and emissions-free power. Turning it into energy produces only water, not greenhouse gases. It’s also the most abundant element in the universe. What’s not to like?”

FACTOID

Technological advances mean low-cost ‘green’ hydrogen offers a solution to the world energy challenge, according to the World Economic Forum.