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Thought Leadership


Unlocking the potential of the Middle East's energy transition through engineering and technology

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By Dr Euan McCulloch, Director of Operations – Middle East Integrated Solutions International, KBR

The Middle East region is renowned for its significant contribution to global energy supplies, but with growing concerns over emissions, the need for sustainable solutions has become paramount. While the region faces the challenge of decarbonising its energy sector while simultaneously meeting the increasing global demand for energy, engineering and technology hold the key to navigating this transition successfully.

Jurisdictions leading the way

Countries like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Oman, and Qatar are setting ambitious targets for net-zero emissions, recognising the urgency of the situation. These nations are actively incorporating cutting-edge technologies, such as carbon capture and storage (CCS), into the construction of industrial facilities like power stations.

Saudi Arabia aims to achieve net-zero emissions by 2060 and is focusing on capturing CO2 from its broad portfolio of emission sources. The UAE, with its net-zero target set for 2050, is demonstrating its commitment through ambitious projects like Hail and Ghasha, contributing significantly to CO2 capture and storage. Oman, targeting net-zero by 2050, is actively incorporating renewable energy and CCS into its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) registry. Qatar's involvement in regional CCS initiatives further cements the Middle East's collective effort towards sustainable energy solutions.

Bridging the gap: Aligning ambitions with practical decarbonisation

While the ambitions of the Middle Eastern countries are commendable, the practical implementation of decarbonisation efforts within the committed timeframes remains a challenge. This discrepancy between high-level commitments and on-ground realities highlights the necessity for a more detailed and pragmatic approach, emphasising engineering and technology implementation.

By meticulous planning, strategic resource allocation, and effective implementation, we can bridge the gap between aspiration and practical solutions. An engineering and technology-led approach, involving actual emissions reporting and data modelling, effectively surpasses traditional methods often dominated by fiscal perspectives.

Overcoming technical and economic hurdles

The transition to sustainable energy practices is not without its challenges. One major hurdle is the technical and economic feasibility of capturing emissions, particularly from sources with lower CO2 purity. Strategic planning and investment are necessary to make CCS viable in diverse industrial contexts. Additionally, the absence of a unified carbon pricing mechanism in the region poses a challenge in creating economically viable models for CO2 plans, calling for innovative approaches to find value in CO2, such as utilising it in enhanced oil recovery processes or creating new supply chains.

Enhancing decarbonisation strategies
The construction of industrial facilities, including power stations with integrated CCS technology, is pivotal in managing the region's substantial CO2 emissions, particularly given the high concentration of industries with significant emissions. CCS implementation, as seen in the UAE, highlights a focus on reaching net-zero emissions. Similarly, Oman's LNG projects highlight the shift towards cleaner fuels and reduced carbon footprints.

Hydrogen technology, with its vast application potential and zero-emission profile, is set to play a key role in clean energy's future. Hydrogen projects mark a commitment to innovative, sustainable solutions. Moreover, end-to-end solutions, including the electrification of transportation, are essential for comprehensive decarbonisation strategies.

KBR's success stories
KBR's success in resolving flaring issues in Iraq and developing CCS strategies in the UAE exemplifies how technological innovation can address decarbonisation. The Middle East's commitment to addressing flaring challenges reflects a holistic approach to sustainable energy transition, fostering the region's potential as a contributor to global decarbonisation efforts.

Earlier this year, KBR's ammonia technology was selected for a large-scale, one million tonnes per annum low-carbon ammonia facility in the Middle East GCC region. Under the terms of the contract, KBR will provide the technology licence, basic engineering design, proprietary equipment, and catalyst for the low-carbon ammonia plant. The project reinforces the region's focus on emerging as a leader in low-carbon fuels by capitalising on ammonia as a vector for clean hydrogen.

Furthermore, KBR's involvement in the Saudi Aramco-Dow Chemical Sadara Jubail project in Saudi Arabia remains one of the most significant undertakings in the region, with 26 cutting-edge manufacturing plants capable of producing three million tonnes of capacity annually and a total investment of about US$20 billion.

Establishing a sustainable future

The Middle East's journey towards decarbonisation and the construction of sustainable industrial facilities is challenging but offers an opportunity to redefine the region's energy narrative. By prioritising engineering and technology in the construction of industrial facilities, the Middle East can not only meet its ambitious goals but also emerge as a leader in the global energy transition.

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