PIF-backed US tech firm planning innovation center with Aramco

PIF-backed US tech firm planning innovation center with Aramco
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Magic Leap is ‘digitizing the physical space’ for industries by putting an industry’s physical equipment and data into the augmented reality (AR) system, which could be meticulously examined and enhanced. (Supplied)
PIF-backed US tech firm planning innovation center with Aramco
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Magic Leap is ‘digitizing the physical space’ for industries by putting an industry’s physical equipment and data into the augmented reality (AR) system, which could be meticulously examined and enhanced. (Supplied)
PIF-backed US tech firm planning innovation center with Aramco
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Magic Leap is ‘digitizing the physical space’ for industries by putting an industry’s physical equipment and data into the augmented reality (AR) system, which could be meticulously examined and enhanced. (Supplied)
PIF-backed US tech firm planning innovation center with Aramco
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Magic Leap is ‘digitizing the physical space’ for industries by putting an industry’s physical equipment and data into the augmented reality (AR) system, which could be meticulously examined and enhanced. (Supplied)
PIF-backed US tech firm planning innovation center with Aramco
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Magic Leap is ‘digitizing the physical space’ for industries by putting an industry’s physical equipment and data into the augmented reality (AR) system, which could be meticulously examined and enhanced. (Supplied)
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Updated 28 March 2021

PIF-backed US tech firm planning innovation center with Aramco

PIF-backed US tech firm planning innovation center with Aramco
  • Augmented reality startup Magic Leap in pilot project to develop first-of-its-kind facility in KSA

CHICAGO: Magic Leap, a US augmented reality startup backed by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, is negotiating with oil giant Saudi Aramco to open a first-of-its-kind computing innovation center in the Kingdom, CEO Peggy Johnson has told Arab News.

The Florida-based tech firm, which was supported with an injection of $400 million from the Public Investment Fund (PIF) in March 2018, announced at January’s Future Investment Initiative forum in Riyadh a partnership with Aramco to expand uses of its virtual reality headset technology in the oil industry.

Johnson said Magic Leap I, which began manufacturing virtual reality headsets for the video gaming industry in 2010, was now at the cutting edge of a technology that allowed leaders in industries from medicine to manufacturing to collaborate on challenges in a virtual visual setting, all while being in separate geographic locations. “We are planning with Aramco eventually to jointly launch a dedicated special computing innovation center in Saudi Arabia and that will be the first of its kind in the world.

“So, it will allow us, together with Aramco and others in the Kingdom, to continue to innovate in the space and seek out new use cases for the platform and we are really excited to be working with Aramco on that,” Johnson added.

A timetable to open the center, which would bring Aramco’s physical and virtual worlds together, was still under discussion and “in the planning stages,” said the chief executive.

Johnson pointed out that Magic Leap was “digitizing the physical space” for industries by putting an industry’s physical equipment and data into the augmented reality (AR) system, which could be meticulously examined, discussed, and enhanced.

Based in southern Florida, Magic Leap signed a multiyear partnership agreement with Aramco to deploy the special transformation solutions within their operations.

When you look through the device you still see your physical world, but it enhances the environment with helpful digital content that we can place in your environment.

Peggy Johnson, Magic Leap CEO

“We are engaged right now … so the things we have been exploring, such as 3-D meetings and remote assistance, are to help solidify Aramco’s position as the leader in the oil and gas industry,” she added.

“We are starting pilot programs right away and also looking at virtual training to facilitate that idea of remote collaboration and education.”

Johnson noted that the business was preparing to release a highly advanced system, Magic Leap II, at the end of the year that would be widely available in 2022.

“Our first-generation product is a wearable Magic Leap I. It is essentially a head-mounted, augmented reality display. When you look through the device you still see your physical world, but it enhances the environment with helpful digital content that we can place in your environment,” she said, adding that users could interact together with the digital data and images on multiple virtual screens. 

FAST FACT

The Florida-based tech firm was supported with an injection of $400 million from PIF in March 2018.

Johnson said Magic Leap II would “be half the size of Magic Leap I and it will double the field of view that you can augment on top of.” It would also reduce the size of the equipment, making it 20 percent lighter, while allowing for even more visuals to be displayed.

Magic Leap I has already been used in the medical industry, where doctors at the University of California Davis Children’s Hospital prepared for the surgical separation of conjoined twin babies.

Johnson said the surgical teams prepared for the operation using Magic Leap technology. “That surgeon may not be the expert in the field, but when they are performing a surgery, they can actually call an expert in for remote assistance.

“Let us say it is brain surgery. They may be in the midst of things and they have a question and they really want to talk to somebody who has done maybe a number of these surgeries. You can actually do that with the device. You can make a call to a remote expert and they can see what that surgeon is seeing and talk them through assistance,” she added. There was “no limit” to the number of experts that could be brought in to help in a complex surgical procedure, improving success rates and also reducing costs.

She said the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic had accelerated potential uses, as Magic Leap offered solutions to people who could not travel or needed to be socially distanced.

“I do think the pandemic was a catalyst. We had been working on all of these use cases, but all of a sudden it became very important to companies,” Johnson added.


Too cold to handle? Race is on to pioneer shipping of hydrogen

Too cold to handle? Race is on to pioneer shipping of hydrogen
Updated 48 min 7 sec ago

Too cold to handle? Race is on to pioneer shipping of hydrogen

Too cold to handle? Race is on to pioneer shipping of hydrogen
LONDON: Hydrogen is touted as an inevitable green fuel of the future. Tell that to the people who’ll have to ship it across the globe at hyper-cold temperatures close to those in outer space.
Yet that is exactly what designers are attempting to do.
In the biggest technological challenge for merchant shipping in decades, companies are beginning to develop a new generation of vessels that can deliver hydrogen to heavy industry, betting plants worldwide will convert to the fuel and propel the transition to a lower-carbon economy.
There are at least three projects developing pilot ships that will be ready to test transporting the fuel in Europe and Asia within the next three years, the companies involved told Reuters.
The major challenge is to keep the hydrogen chilled at minus 253 degrees Celsius — only 20 degrees above absolute zero, the coldest possible temperature — so it stays in liquid form, while avoiding the risk that parts of a vessel could crack.
That’s almost 100 degrees Celsius colder than temperatures needed to transport liquefied natural gas (LNG), which required its own shipping revolution about 60 years ago.
Japan’s Kawasaki Heavy Industries has already built the world’s first ship to transport hydrogen, Suiso Frontier. It told Reuters the prototype vessel was undergoing sea trials, with a demonstration maiden voyage of some 9,000 km from Australia to Japan expected in coming months.
“There is the next phase of the project already running to build a commercial-scale hydrogen carrier by the mid-2020s, with an aim to go commercial in 2030,” said Motohiko Nishimura, Kawasaki’s vice executive officer.
The 1,250 cubic-meter tank to hold the hydrogen is double-shelled and vacuum-insulated to help maintain the temperature.
Kawasaki’s prototype, a relatively modest 116 meters long and 8,000 gross tons, will run on diesel on its maiden voyage but the company aims to use hydrogen to power future, larger commercial vessels, Nishimura said.
SUPER-STRENGTH STEEL
In South Korea, one of the world’s major shipbuilding hubs, another project is in the works.
Korea Shipbuilding & Offshore Engineering is the first company in the country working on building a commercial liquefied hydrogen carrier, a company spokesperson said.
To tackle the hyper-cold challenge, the company said it was working with a steelmaker to develop high-strength steel and new welding technology, along with enhanced insulation, to contain the hydrogen and mitigate the risks of pipes or tanks cracking.
On the other side of the world, in Norway, efforts are also underway to build a hydrogen supply chain on the west coast of the country, with one group looking to pilot a test ship that could transport hydrogen to planned filling stations, which would be able to service ships as well as trucks and buses.
Norwegian shipping company Wilhelmsen Group is working on the latter project with partners to build a “roll-on/roll-off” ship that will be able to transport liquid hydrogen by way of containers or trailers that are driven onboard, said Per Brinchmann, the company’s vice president, special projects.
The ship is expected to be operational in the first half of 2024, he added.
“We believe once we have this demonstration vessel operational the intention will be to build up bunkering hubs on the west coast (of Norway),” Brinchmann said, referring to the filling stations.
Other companies are exploring a different route to avoid the cold conundrum and what may happen when hydrogen atoms interact with metal.
Canada’s Ballard Power Systems and Australia’s Global Energy Ventures, for example, are working together to develop a ship to transport compressed hydrogen in gas form.
“The earliest timeframe would be 2025/26,” said Nicolas Pocard, vice president marketing and strategic partnerships with Ballard.
The advantage of this gas approach is that it does not require any extreme temperatures. But the downside is that less hydrogen can be transported in a cargo than liquid hydrogen, which is why some of the early movers are opting for the latter.
Wilhelmsen’s Brinchmann said that a 40-foot container would carry about 800-1,000 kg of pressurized hydrogen gas, but up to 3,000 kg of liquid hydrogen.

COMPLEX AND COSTLY
Such endeavours are far from risk free.
They are expensive, for a start; none of the companies would comment on the cost of their vessels, though three industry specialists told Reuters that such ships would cost more than vessels carrying LNG, which can run to $50-$240 million each depending on size.
“The cost of a vessel transporting hydrogen will mainly be driven by the cost of the storage system. Storing liquid hydrogen could be very expensive because of its complexity,” Carlo Raucci, marine decarbonization consultant with ship certifier LR, added separately.
The pilot projects, which are still in experimental stages, must overcome these technical challenges, and also rely on hydrogen catching on as a widely used fuel in coming years.
None of this is certain, though the state support being thrown behind this cleaner-burning fuel suggests it does have a future in the global energy mix.
More than 30 countries, including several in Europe such as France and Germany as well the likes of South Korea and Australia, have released hydrogen rollout plans.
Total planned investments could reach over $300 billion through to 2030 if hundreds of projects using the fuel come to fruition, according to a recent report by the Hydrogen Council association and consultants McKinsey.
The role of shipping would be important to unlocking the potential to convert industries such as steel and cement to hydrogen.
Those two heavy-industry sectors alone are estimated to produce over 10 percent of global CO2 emissions, and overcoming their need for fossil fuels is one of the key challenges of the global transition to a lower-carbon economy.

FASTER THAN LNG?
Tiago Braz, VP energy with Norwegian marine technology developer Hoglund, said the company was working with steel specialists and tank designers on engineering a ship cargo system that can be used for transporting liquid hydrogen.
“We are at the early stages with hydrogen carriers. But unlike when LNG was first rolled out, the industry is more flexible to change,” Braz said.
“It should be a faster transition,” he added.
Specialists say the development of LNG took decades before it was fully rolled out, partly due to the infrastructure and ships required and the few companies willing to invest initially.
Companies active in wider shipping markets are also looking at the possibility of diversifying into transporting hydrogen in the future.
Paul Wogan, chief executive of GasLog Partners which is a major player in LNG shipping, said it was “open-minded” about moving into hydrogen, while oil tanker owner Euronav said it was examining future energy transportation.
“If that energy is hydrogen tomorrow, we would certainly like to play a role in the emerging industry,” Euronav’s CEO Hugo De Stoop said.
Others such as leading ship-management company Maersk Tankers said they would be open to managing hydrogen shipping assets.
Johan Petter Tutturen, business director for gas carriers with ship certifier DNV Maritime, said his company was involved in concept studies for the transport of hydrogen in bulk at sea.
“It’ll be some years before these projects come to fruition, but if hydrogen is to be a part of the future fuel mix then we have to begin exploring all possibilities now.”

Qatar pivots to LNG-hungry China in strategy shift

Qatar pivots to LNG-hungry China in strategy shift
Updated 53 min 46 sec ago

Qatar pivots to LNG-hungry China in strategy shift

Qatar pivots to LNG-hungry China in strategy shift
  • US shale gas revolution and increased focus on renewable energy as pressure mounts to tackle climate change has curbed the West’s appetite for gas

SINGAPORE/BEIJING: Qatar is in talks to make Chinese firms partners in its liquefied natural gas expansion project, the world’s largest, in a shift from the Gulf state’s reliance on western majors for technology and global outreach, industry sources said.
Since the early 1990s, Qatar has depended on international companies, including ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell and Total, to help it to build its LNG industry. In exchange, the Western majors received lucrative long-term supply contracts.
But the US shale gas revolution and increased focus on renewable energy as pressure mounts to tackle climate change has curbed the West’s appetite for gas.
Three sources familiar with the matter told Reuters state energy giant Qatar Petroleum (QP) was in talks with Chinese state firms, including PetroChina and Sinopec , for equity stakes in Qatar’s $28.7 billion North Field expansion, the world’s biggest single LNG project.
Western majors ExxonMobil, Shell, ConocoPhillips, Total, Chevron and Eni have also been invited to bid for a share.
The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because the matter is private, although CNOOC Ltd’s CFO Xie Weizhi said last month the firm was “very interested” in Qatar’s gas projects.
It was unclear how advanced the talks were. One of the sources said PetroChina was discussing a 5 percent stake.
Biggest meets fastest
The North Field expansion should allow Qatar to strengthen its position as the largest LNG exporter, with output of 110 million tons per annum (mtpa) by 2026, a 40 percent increase.
The second largest exporter Australia has been closing the gap with Qatar through new gas projects in recent years.
Refinitiv Eikon shiptracking data showed Australia exported 77.3 million tons in 2020 compared with Qatar’s 77.6 million tons.
Although not carbon free, natural gas is less polluting than coal and China is expected to use it to replace coal in winter heating, electricity generation and industry to curb its emissions.
As a result, China is expected by next year to overtake Japan as the world’s biggest LNG importer.
China has already agreed supply deals and invested in producers such as Russia and Mozambique and is keen to diversify from Australian LNG following a deterioration in bilateral ties.
For its part, Qatar has courted China, whose gas demand accounted for about 8.3 percent of the world’s total in 2020 and is expected to grow by 8.6 percent in 2021 to 354.2 billion cubic meters, data from CNPC’s research institute showed.
Saad Al-Kaabi, Qatar’s energy minister and the head of QP, has met Zhang Jianhua, director of China’s National Energy Administration several times since 2018 to discuss cooperation.
Sinopec and Qatar signed two long-term deals, one last year and one earlier this year, following which Sinopec set up an office in Doha.
“China is the fastest growing market and is looking into long-term contracts to secure supply,” Carlos Torres Diaz from Rystad Energy consultancy said. “So moving deals to China would make a lot of sense for Qatar.”
Able to stand alone?
The western energy companies’ expertise and investment helped to make Qatar the world’s richest country on a per capita basis and to build up a sovereign wealth fund holding more than $350 billion in assets.
Now the joint LNG projects are established, Qatar is in a position to move forward without them.
One person involved in the talks said QP’s Kaabi told energy majors in meetings over the last months that it no longer depended on them to fund new projects.
Qatar was not necessarily dispensing with them, but would be seeking terms more favorable to it, the person said.
Last month, it decided not to extend its joint-venture contract for the Qatargas 1 LNG plant, with ExxonMobil, Total and Japan’s Marubeni and Mitsui after the 25-year contract expires in 2022.
Sources from Total and ExxonMobil told Reuters on condition of anonymity the companies had expected to negotiate an extension.
Mitsui and Marubeni both said they respected QP’s decisions and Mitsui also said it was interested in participating in the expansion.
Exxon spokesman Todd Spitler told Reuters the company looked forward to “continuing success” in future projects with QP and the state of Qatar.
“ExxonMobil affiliates are working with Qatar Petroleum to identify international joint venture opportunities that further enhance the portfolio of both,” he said.
Of the foreign partners, Exxon has the highest exposure to the country with access to 15.4 million tons per annum of Qatari gas, followed by Shell at 2.4 mtpa and Total at 2.3 mtpa. For Exxon, Qatar represents over 60 percent of its LNG sales volumes.
Western energy analysts say Qatar still has a use for the big, listed Western players, although it has less need for their direct investment.
Of the other companies with interest in Qatar, Chevron, and Total had no comment and PetroChina and Sinopec did not respond to requests for comment. QP also did not comment.
ConocoPhillips said it was preparing a competitive bid for the North Field expansion and an Eni spokesman also said it was considering a bid.
“International partners, especially the majors, remain key to helping Qatargas secure LNG off-take and global market access,” Valery Chow from Wood Mackenzie consultancy said. “QP doesn’t need foreign balance sheet funding for new projects.”
Having made a final investment decision on the expansion, Qatar is effectively building the North Field expansion project alone.
Kaabi has said Qatar has the muscle to continue without help, but would prefer to have partners to boost its global outreach and strengthen long-term deals.
It could also have political incentives to maintain ties as it considers a second phase of the expansion, which sources expect will be announced later this year and would increase its LNG capacity to 126 mtpa by 2027.
The value of Qatar’s US links was underscored as Washington helped it to resolve a row with Saudi Arabia, which ended early this year.
But the ties could be maintained with US companies taking a smaller share of Qatar’s LNG than in the past and through international connections.
The Western majors have over the last two years sold QP stakes in assets around the world, including exploration projects in Argentina, Brazil and Mozambique.
But they have not handed Qatar the kind of long-term deals in fast-growing Asian markets that the Chinese energy firms can deliver and Qatar regards as a priority, the sources said.


LNG shipments from Qatar to UAE to resume, signaling improving ties

LNG shipments from Qatar to UAE to resume, signaling improving ties
Updated 12 May 2021

LNG shipments from Qatar to UAE to resume, signaling improving ties

LNG shipments from Qatar to UAE to resume, signaling improving ties
  • Qatar has also resumed monthly exports of condensate to the UAE

DUBAI: A liquefied natural gas (LNG) tanker that loaded cargo from Qatar is signaling the UAE as its destination, the first such shipment since mid-2017, reflecting improving ties between the countries.
LNG tankers sometimes change destination, but if the shipment is completed, this would be the first time a Qatari LNG cargo has been shipped to the UAE since May 2017, ship-tracking data from Refinitiv Eikon and data intelligence firm Kpler showed.
The UAE and other countries in the region severed relations with Qatar in mid-2017 over accusations that Doha supports terrorism, a charge that it denies.
But the UAE re-opened all its land, sea and air entry points with Qatar this year after Saudi Arabia announced a breakthrough in ending a dispute between Gulf Arab states and Qatar at a summit. Before the dispute, Qatar was a regular exporter of LNG to the UAE during the summer, when demand for power generation increases. read more
The tanker, Al Ghariya, loaded a cargo from Ras Laffan on May 10 and is at anchor but is showing that it is due to discharge the cargo in Jebel Ali, in the UAE, on May 13, data showed on Wednesday.
Another LNG tanker, Al Gattara, which had loaded from Ras Laffan on May 5 had also initially signaled Jebel Ali as its destination but diverted to Asia, Kpler analyst Rebecca Chia said.
Both tankers are on long-term charter to Qatargas, she added.
Qatar has also resumed monthly exports of condensate to the UAE since February, shipping data on Refinitiv Eikon showed.
Qatari condensate exports to the UAE jumped to 1.7 million barrels in April, up from 287,000 barrels in February, the data showed.


Oil climbs on drop in US oil stockpiles, solid demand outlook

Oil climbs on drop in US oil stockpiles, solid demand outlook
Updated 12 May 2021

Oil climbs on drop in US oil stockpiles, solid demand outlook

Oil climbs on drop in US oil stockpiles, solid demand outlook
  • US crude oil stocks fell by 2.5 million barrels in the week to May 7

MELBOURNE: Oil prices rose on Wednesday, extending overnight gains, after industry data showed a drop in US crude inventories, which reinforced OPEC’s robust demand outlook, and as the shutdown of the biggest US fuel pipeline headed into a sixth day.
US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures rose 21 cents, or 0.3 percent, to $65.49 a barrel at 0013 GMT, adding to a 36 cent rise on Tuesday.
Brent crude futures climbed 15 cents, or 0.2 percent, to $68.70 a barrel, adding to a 23 cent gain on Tuesday.
“Crude oil gained as investors continue to bet on a bright outlook for demand. A weak US dollar also lent support,” ANZ Research said in a note.
Data from the American Petroleum Institute industry group showed US crude oil stocks fell by 2.5 million barrels in the week to May 7, according to two market sources.
The drop was slightly less than expected. Eight analysts polled by Reuters had estimated, on average, that crude stocks fell by 2.8 million barrels.
The drawdown came before the Colonial Pipeline was hit by a cyberattack last Friday which forced the pipeline, which transports more than 2.5 million barrels a day of fuel, to shut down. The operator said it hopes to restart a large portion of the network by the end of the week.
In the meantime, the market remained on edge, as gasoline stations from Florida to Virginia began running out of fuel on Tuesday as drivers rushed to top up their tanks and pump prices rocketed.
US unleaded gasoline prices hit an average $2.99 a gallon, the highest since November 2014, the American Automobile Association said.
Oil prices were also supported by the latest outlook from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), which stuck to a forecast for a strong recovery in world oil demand in 2021 with growth in China and the United States outweighing the impact of the coronavirus crisis in India.
OPEC said it expects demand to rise by 5.95 million bpd this year, unchanged from its forecast last month. However, it cut its demand outlook for the second quarter by 300,000 bpd due to soaring COVID-19 infections in India.
“India is currently facing severe COVID-19-related challenges and will therefore face a negative impact on its recovery in the second quarter, but it is expected to continue improving its momentum again in the second half of 2021,” OPEC said in its monthly report.


American business group warns China boycotts spooking investors

American business group warns China boycotts spooking investors
Updated 12 May 2021

American business group warns China boycotts spooking investors

American business group warns China boycotts spooking investors
  • Brands including Swedish retailer H&M, Adidas and Nike have been targeted by demands online for consumer boycotts

BEIJING: An American business group warned Tuesday that government-instigated consumer boycotts of foreign shoe, clothing and other brands in China are making companies less willing to invest.

That is adding to anxiety over Beijing’s plan for a list of “unreliable entities” that might be punished for actions deemed to run counter to Chinese interests, the American Chamber of Commerce in China said in an annual report on business conditions.

The report reflects growing unease among American and other foreign companies about the impact of economic and strategic tensions between Beijing and their home countries.

Brands including Swedish retailer H&M, Adidas and Nike have been targeted by demands online for consumer boycotts. That came after state media criticized them for expressing concern about reports of possible forced labor by ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang region of China’s northwest.

FASTFACT

The report reflects growing unease among American and other foreign companies about the impact of economic and strategic tensions between Beijing and their home countries.

The American Chamber said 78 percent of companies that responded to its survey cited “rising tensions” between Beijing and Washington as their top concern.

Beijing announced plans for its “unreliable entities” list in 2019 after then-President Donald Trump blocked access to US components and technology for Chinese tech giant Huawei Technologies Ltd. Officials have yet to say which companies might be on the list or disclose the criteria for being included.

Concern about the list is “aggravated by consumer boycotts instigated by official organizations and through Chinese media,” the Chamber said. It said one in five companies expressed concern, while 7 percent said it was decreasing their willingness to invest.

Despite that, half the companies surveyed said China’s investment environment is improving, while 38 percent said it stayed the same. The Chamber said only 12 percent reported conditions had deteriorated, the lowest level since 2015.

The Chamber noted that 27 percent of information and computer technology companies said investment conditions were deteriorating, the highest level of any industry. That finding comes at a time when the ruling Communist Party is using subsidies, market barriers and informal pressure on companies to try to develop its own high-tech industries.