Oct 2, 2018

3 things with Saudi Aramco's chief tech officer

A man stands on a sand dune outside of a Saudi Aramco oil field complex in Shaybah, Saudi Arabia. Photo by Reza/Getty Images

The chief technology officer of Saudi Aramco, Ahmad Al-Khowaiter, sat down with Axios on the sidelines of a recent conference in New York to discuss what Saudi Aramco is doing to develop more sustainable resources.

Why he matters: He runs the growing tech work inside Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil company, which pumps more oil out of the ground than any other oil company in the world.

Here are three things you should know:

1. His company spends between one-quarter to one-third of its research and development spending — about $200 million annually — on sustainability efforts, which includes tech making oil cleaner. (This is separate from the company's budget to clean up its operations).

Al-Khowaiter spends half his time on the issue, because it requires greater strategic thinking than the tech that finds and extracts oil. Plus, it's more fun, he says.

“It's, for me, personally exciting. ... There’s more value to be generated by solving these challenges.”

2. In the world’s overarching energy transition — from older tech and dirtier resources to newer tech and cleaner resources — Al-Khowaiter says it’ll be companies like his that ultimately lead that change. He differentiates between primary-energy companies that actually produce energy — like Aramco — and technology companies like Tesla and its electric cars, which make use of whatever energy is present.

“Tesla is basically a coal-powered battery electric vehicle in many countries, in China at least. Even in the U.S., there is a lot of coal still. It’s the primary source of energy that needs to transition. It’s not the use of it.”

3. Al-Khowaiter was in New York to participate in the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative’s annual stakeholder meeting. The nascent group is a consortium of 13 of the world’s biggest oil companies aimed at investing in startup companies in areas like carbon-capture technologies. The group has to be careful about competitiveness and antitrust issues.

  • Al-Khowaiter says that environment and climate change issues have traditionally been noncompetitive, so companies could more easily collaborate without concerns about antitrust and competitiveness issues. If the initiative is successful, that should change.
  • In one example, Al-Khowaiter had to step out of the room while others in the group discussed an investment in a company that’s a direct competitor of Saudi Aramco.
“We’re trying to create some positive economics that can create some commerciality.”

Go deeper: Inside Big Oil’s emerging climate strategy

Go deeper

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 5,410,228 — Total deaths: 345,105 — Total recoveries — 2,169,005Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 1,643,499 — Total deaths: 97,722 — Total recoveries: 366,736 — Total tested: 14,163,915Map.
  3. World: White House announces travel restrictions on Brazil, coronavirus hotspot in Southern Hemisphere Over 100 coronavirus cases in Germany tied to single day of church services — Boris Johnson backs top aide amid reports that he broke U.K. lockdown while exhibiting symptoms.
  4. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks headed into Memorial Day weekend Report finds "little evidence" coronavirus under control in most statesHurricanes, wildfires, the flu could strain COVID-19 response
  5. Economy: White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Public employees brace for layoffs.
  6. Federal government: Trump attacks a Columbia University study that suggests earlier lockdown could have saved 36,000 American lives.
  7. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

U.S. coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios. This graphic includes "probable deaths" that New York City began reporting on April 14.

The CDC is warning of potentially "aggressive rodent behavior" amid a rise in reports of rat activity in several areas, as the animals search further for food while Americans stay home more during the coronavirus pandemic.

By the numbers: More than 97,700 people have died from COVID-19 and over 1.6 million have tested positive in the U.S. Over 366,700 Americans have recovered and more than 14.1 million tests have been conducted.

World coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios Visuals

Japan's economy minister outlined plans on Monday to end the nationwide state of emergency as the number of new novel coronavirus cases continues to decline to fewer than 50 a day, per Bloomberg. Japan has reported 16,550 cases and 820 deaths.

By the numbers: Over 5.4 million people have tested positive for the virus as of Monday, and more than 2.1 million have recovered. The U.S. has reported the most cases in the world (over 1.6 million from 13.7 million tests). The U.K. is reporting over 36,800 deaths from the coronavirus — the most fatalities outside the U.S.