JEDDAH: Any successful vaccine for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) would rely on the global energy sector for its mass production, said Ahmad Al-Khowaiter, chief technology officer at Saudi Aramco, on Tuesday.
“Fortunately, we have an energy system in place that can power the manufacture, transportation and storage of the billions of doses (of vaccine) required to defeat the virus,” he said.
This came during a media briefing on meeting the dual global energy and climate challenges as part of the G20 Riyadh Summit, where Al-Khowaiter talked of how the world’s energy supply, though it had been “a force for good” and was reliable and affordable, needed to be more sustainable.
“The question is not if we reduce our emissions, but how? And for me, that starts with a fundamental rethink,” he added. “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,” he added.
The energy system must be designed to do the same, he said. “That is what is meant by the circular carbon economy concept championed by Saudi Arabia during the presidency of the G20. Instead of take, make and throw away, we must increasingly reduce, recycle and reuse.”
He quoted the Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdul Aziz bin Salman, when he said: “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.”
Al-Khowaiter noted that hydrogen could help the world reduce CO2 by making conventional hydrocarbon fuels sustainable. “It could allow us to recycle CO2 through synthetic fuels, and crucially, if we combine it with carbon capture, we can remove the CO2 associated with the hydrogen production process. In addition, hydrogen is sustainable through renewable generation.”
To prove the concept of carbon capture during the production of low or zero carbon products, the official said that Aramco recently completed a low CO2 ammonia or blue ammonia supply chain demonstration.
“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,” he explained.
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.
Aramco is investing in all relevant technologies and more, said Al-Khowaiter, but technology alone is not the whole solution, as the right policy is also needed. “That means supporting our growing carbon and hydrogen markets just as wind and solar were back in their early days, with clear incentives for companies at every stage from production, to capture, to transport, to storage and reuse.”
With real determination and realistic optimism about the world’s shared interests, humans can face the challenges together, he concluded.