Expanding our R&D reach

Cambridge, Mass, December 12, 2013

The inauguration last week of a new Aramco Research Center in Cambridge, Mass., near Boston, signaled another step forward in the company’s strategic commitment to build a global research and development presence, and to expand its worldwide research network and capabilities. The global research and development (R&D) program positions Saudi Aramco to grow its already technology-intensive upstream and downstream programs.

The center’s opening ceremony drew about 100 attendees, including officials from universities, local research institutions and partner companies, who joined Saudi Aramco president and CEO Khalid A. Al-Falih and other Aramco representatives at a ribbon-cutting and facility tour.

In his keynote address at the event, Al-Falih highlighted the importance of R&D, how technology can contribute to accelerated R&D activity and the role of collaboration in the company’s broader research strategy. “To provide the energy the world needs,” he said, “our challenge is not simply to develop more energy supplies ... but also to make them cleaner, more cost-effective and more efficient. That means revolutionary, game-changing technologies.

“We see innovation and increasing knowledge intensity as the next opportunity for transformative growth and prosperity, since it will unlock new possibilities and affect every human endeavor,” he continued. “Making a real difference to the world through transformative innovation is precisely why Saudi Aramco is establishing research centers in key hubs around the world.”

In the past 18 months, the company has made substantial progress in its global R&D program, opening new research centers at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Thuwal, Saudi Arabia; and internationally in Delft, The Netherlands; Paris; Daejeon, Korea; and, in the near future, Beijing. The two other U.S.-based centers will be officially inaugurated next year in Houston and Detroit.

This network of new centers has been established to align with and advance the ground-breaking work being conducted at Saudi Aramco’s Exploration and Petroleum Engineering Advanced Research Center (EXPEC ARC) and its Research and Development Center (R&DC). Strategically located in geographic centers of excellence, the centers are ideally situated to “access novel ideas and tap global talent wherever particular strengths may lie,” said Al-Falih.

An equally important driver of the R&D program is the role it will play in strengthening the Kingdom’s research capacity, as well as the commercialization and manufacturing of company technologies. A core outcome of the global network is the ability to bring benefit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia through innovations that foster growth.

“Research is an investment; it is a long-term strategic commitment. Saudi Aramco recognizes that R&D is key to its growth and is on a course to build its research program as part of a far-reaching plan to become a global leader in energy and chemicals,” Saudi Aramco’s chief technology officer Charles Kresge said in his remarks during the event. “This investment builds on decades of strong in-Kingdom R&D achievements.”

The Cambridge center will pursue major advances in upstream and downstream energy research. Addressing subsurface challenges of hydrocarbon discovery and recovery requires focus and deeper fundamental research to achieve the goals we are targeting, according to Samer AlAshgar, manager of EXPEC ARC.

AlAshgar explained: “The research center in Cambridge gives EXPEC ARC the ability to connect with a large pool of very bright and innovative scientists and engineers as well as the ability to collaborate with many top tier institutions in this rich ecosystem. Our intent in Cambridge is to continue to advance Saudi Aramco’s leading position in areas of subsurface technology where we look to further deepen and expand our research programs in computational modeling as well as nanomaterials as they relate to subsurface applications of monitoring and recovery.”

The area is also home to a proportionally high number of entrepreneurs, start-ups and new businesses, which can offer investment opportunities for the company’s venture capital subsidiary Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures.

The company’s R&D objectives are lofty, and major innovations will be needed to meet them. Among those objectives, Saudi Aramco is seeking to increase average recovery rates from oil reservoirs; image subsurface with high-resolution and clarity; drill faster; improve baseline gasoline, fuel efficiency and carbon capture; and achieve the elimination of industrial emissions and discharges from oil and gas production.