As the technology required to extract and exploit Kuwait’s hydrocarbons reserves becomes ever more complex, the importance of establishing a well-structured national research and development programme increases. In Kuwait, two institutions in particular provide a framework for the nation’s research efforts with regard to its energy sector; the programmes of both reveal the developing nature of the nation’s energy strategy as it grapples with new challenges.

RESEARCH SERVICE: The Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research (KISR) was established in 1967 by a Japanese oil company in fulfilment of its obligations under the oil concession system in place at that time. Its initial fields of interest were petroleum, desert agriculture and marine biology, but by 1973 its remit was widened to include applied scientific research related to industry, energy, agriculture and the national economy. In 1981 the body was transformed into an independent public institution to be governed by a board of trustees, with a revised mandate to undertake studies relating to the preservation of the environment, resources of natural wealth and their discovery, sources of water and energy, methods of agricultural exploitation and promotion of water health.

This formulation continues to steer KISR’s research activity across a broad spectrum of industries, but in 2000 it established a more focused approach to the petroleum sector with the creation of a new agency which sits within the institution’s organisational structure. The Petroleum Research and Studies Centre (PSRC) was originally a division within KISR charged with providing services and undertaking research for the petroleum industry, but now focuses its research work and technical studies on a number of industry disciplines, including petroleum production and refining, polymers and petrochemicals, corrosion and materials science, and health, safety and the environment.

PARTNER PROJECTS: In addition to its ongoing research schedule, the PRSC has a number of formalised links with the domestic petroleum industry, most notably with the Kuwait Oil Company, the Central Core Store Laboratories of which it has managed since 1997. In 2011, however, it established an important link to the international research arena with the signing of a cooperation agreement with the Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands (ERCN). Under the new arrangement, the ERCN will provide support with regard to setting up a facility for the testing of photovoltaic systems, including panels and their accompanying electronics.

As part of the agreement the ERCN is also training the staff at KISR, the Ministry of Electricity and Water and the Ministry of Education. As a longer-term objective, the Dutch organisation is collaborating with its Kuwaiti co-signatory to develop a road map for Kuwait’s development of its sustainable energy programme.

SCHOOL IN SESSION: A second actor also plays a central role as the nation’s premier research institution: Kuwait University covers a wide range of interests, and recent years have seen the oil, gas and renewable energy sectors benefit from the steps it has taken to increase the breadth and depth of research activity which addresses them. Moreover, the university has succeeded in establishing working partnerships with a number of private sector actors keen to apply their expertise to Kuwait’s sizeable energy sector.

The university has also sought to engage with the public sector bodies which dominate the domestic energy sector. In April 2013 it entered into a strategic partnership with the Kuwait National Petroleum Company (KNPC), which will see the two organisations collaborate on many future R&D projects. The university has carried out research with KNPC in the past, completing a number of technical studies focused on the oil sector. The new agreement represents a formalisation of the pair’s relationship and is expected to end the contractual and legislative obstacles to future R&D cooperation. Perhaps more importantly, however, it provides an important model for similar arrangements with public and private organisations, which will form the basis of Kuwait’s energy sector R&D in the future.