Aramco Research Centre Director Talks Technology Pursuits, Opportunities

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Ghaithan Al-Muntasheri.

Quantum computing has a promising future in the energy industry, according to Ghaithan Al-Muntasheri, director of EXPEC Advanced Research Center (EXPEC ARC) at Saudi Aramco.

He was a keynote speaker during the 24th World Petroleum Congress in Calgary on Sept. 18, in a session dubbed Transition in E&P in the Future.

“What is next coming for us as an industry will be capitalizing on the power of digitalization,” he said.

 “I think the future is going to bring us a lot of opportunities in the area of quantum computing. It will bring us massive and faster processing for our data in the upstream that will help us in exploration … we will be able to generate subsurface images at much better quality and therefore reduce the uncertainty.”

Through a production lens, he sees use of data optimizing and automating decision-making in operations.

“For reservoir simulation, we will be able to generate, quickly, extensive models that will help us make the right decisions in the reservoir.”

Al-Muntasheri detailed a number of Aramco’s projects that he says demonstrates how that company is moving forward through the energy transition, including a carbon capture, utilization and storage – EOR project that has the capability of capturing 800,000 tonnes of CO2 per year.

“This presents a cornerstone in achieving 2050 net-zero emissions,” he said.

Al-Muntasheri also touched on a project that uses CO2 nanobubbles to maximize sequestration efficiency.

“Utilization of these nanobubbles is going to help us extract more oil … from under the ground,” he added.

The company’s zero liquid discharge for circularity in water management project separates produced water.

“Then we can generate almost drinking water quality,” said Al-Muntasheri. “This is going to help us address the water resources issues in the Kingdom.”

It can also enable this water to be used in other upstream applications.

“When it comes to hydrogen, Aramco is spearheading the energy transition in this domain,” said Al-Muntasheri.

“We are working extensively on many ways for hydrogen generation from natural gas by collaborating …” he added. “We are looking at ways of storing hydrogen … as you know the storage of hydrogen is a challenge. We are also looking at ways of extracting hydrogen or what we call gold hydrogen from the reservoirs.”

The company has established a platform called Drilling at the Edge, which is intended to improve efficiency.

“This is a digital platform that consists of multiple components that will connect in real time critical data to optimize and automate drilling operations aided by AI,” said Al-Muntasheri.

Aramco’s four strategic pillars, said Al-Muntasheri, are upstream preeminence, downstream integration, lower carbon initiatives, and localization.

He called the downstream piece a “holistic approach for the whole value chain.”

Aramco recently announced a sustainability fund worth $1.5 billion. “This fund is meant to increase initiatives in carbon capture, demonstrating our commitment to reducing greenhouse gases,” said Al-Muntasheri.

It also supports areas including digital solutions, hydrogen and ammonia value chains, renewable energy and storage, among others, which he said helps “cement our position at the forefront of the energy transition.”

During a question and answer segment, an audience member asked about Aramco’s interest in extracting minerals such as lithium from brines.

“We started thinking about it, we have preliminary studies for extracting from certain brines,” said Al-Muntasheri, adding they are at an early stage in this process and cannot disclose many details at this point.

At the Dhahran-based research centre, equipped with 300 fit-for-purpose lab modules, there are research and development programs related to the upstream.

In sustainability, the centre’s focuses areas include water management, hydrogen energy, energy efficiency, carbon storage, alternative sequestration methods of carbon, among others.

Aramco has also extended its research and development capabilities overseas. “We have a network of global research centres, from Korea in the east all the way to Houston, Texas in the west,” said Al-Muntasheri.

This approach capitalizes on the strengths offered from these locations, he added.

 “We do collaborate with academia, we do collaborate with industries, service companies … to bring many of these activities and concepts and technologies to the field.”

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