Interview: Wael Sawan
What are the latest trends in gas to liquids (GTL) globally? Who are the major importers and where do you see future demand growth coming from?
WAEL SAWAN: In general, significant growth in demand for energy comes from Asia, as the market there continues to grow. Globally, we have just surpassed the 7bn population mark, and are en route to what we believe will be 9bn or so by 2050. So population growth as well as economic growth will fuel demand for energy, especially since a large number of economies begin to industrialise. That demand for energy is going to create a demand for liquid products, and the GTL process is very well suited for that. Products like GTL gasoil and GTL naphtha should register growth of around 30% from today to about the year 2020, and a significant part of that growth will come from demand within Asian markets. A big part of the focus is on creating a supply chain to place these products on the market. We have invested not only in Asia Pacific but also in Europe and the US where we can see potential for these products. The flexibility of the GTL process means that we can develop different cuts of the products to meet the requirements of different markets. Qatar is well situated to meet global demand, and that is really down to the abundance of the natural resources as well as the geographical location.
How well placed is Qatar to be a centre for research and development (R&D) in the energy industry? What are the priorities that research is covering?
SAWAN: For R&D to succeed you need the right leadership behind it, and it’s not about just investing financially in the concept but also creating the right superstructure for researchers to thrive in. A community has to be built in which researchers and academics can exchange views freely – where you get a mix of ideas. Here in Qatar, you have all the oil and gas facilities and companies that supply the energy industry. Having a facility where all these entities can come together is a massive boost. Increasingly, we see the enthusiasm of academics and researchers, and more importantly, the appetite of companies.
One unique programme we have launched is with Qatar Petroleum and Imperial College where we have committed $70m to one of the largest programmes in oil and gas. The programme is looking at carbonates – an important area within the environmental strategy that Qatar has adopted as part of Vision 2030. This is developing cutting-edge technology in trying to model the behaviours of CO 2 sequestration in carbonate reservoirs and allowing us to see how carbon capture and sequestration can take place in these types of reservoirs. This is a good example of how Qatar teams up with corporations and academia.
Research priorities in Qatar cover a broad range, from research on water and CO 2 to the utilisation of sulphur, which is a by-product of production in the North Field, and looking at opportunities to convert that into substitutes for concrete or for asphalt that require less water for their manufacture.
Another research priority covers the economic pillar, where catalyst testing is analysed to make sure we continue to be efficient in the GTL process. A further aspect of research covers human development, creating an appetite for higher education and promoting a forum where this can be enhanced.
What issues currently exist with regard to availability of human capital within the energy sector?
SAWAN: On balance we do not see any issues with attracting human capital to the country because the opportunities are more than abundant in Qatar’s energy sector. To have the opportunity to work on the largest GTL plant in the world and the largest LNG plants in the world continues to be a unique professional challenge, paving the way for success in attracting the best talent. The investment and foresight of the leadership in investing in Qatar Foundation and the education arm of Qatar Foundation has unleashed a crop of local talent that can compete with the best in the world.
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