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Arian Nijmeijer, Senior Engineer for Process Development

“It is true that easy oil is gone, but because the industry is increasingly facing difficult separation processes, membrane technology is an exciting field to work in"

In the future the problem of difficult separation of membranes will become increasingly important where oil and gas production is concerned. Arian Nijmeijer, Senior Engineer for Process Development, and Team Leader in Membrane Technology, is leading the charge towards both demonstrating and developing it for the future.

Arian is Senior Engineer Process Development at Shell Global Solutions in Amsterdam, where he leads a three-person team as part of PTI Downstream Development, as well as Project Manager for membrane technology implementation. “We used to be part of long-term research, but our projects are increasingly taking place in the field,” he says. “They are still research pilots, but some have been part of the production process for years. We think it’s fantastic that we are able to work in the field, because we’re really keen on demonstrating what membrane technology can accomplish. It’s increasingly becoming standard technology.”

When he talks about membrane technology his enthusiasm is palpable. “The great thing about membranes is that they work so simply. You filter by means of a pressure difference. The dirty stuff doesn’t pass through, the clean stuff does,” he explains. “You can pick which components you want to allow to pass through and which ones you don’t. It’s a physical process that takes place on a molecular level.”

Oil and gas exploitation is increasingly faced with difficult separation processes

A passion for membrane technology

Arian is passionate about membrane technology, something which has seen him take advisory and teaching roles outside of his position at Shell. In short, he sees it as his role to spread the word of the technology. In addition to his job at Shell, he is a part-time Professor of Inorganic Membranes at the University of Twente in Enschede, where he supervises several PhD students, and Vice Chairman of the Dutch Membrane Society (Nederlands Membraan Genootschap).

“It’s something you have to believe in,” he explains. It’s true to say that “easy oil is gone”, he admits, but he says that because the industry is increasingly facing difficult separation processes, membrane technology is an exciting field to work in.

Before Arian came to Shell, membrane technology was a little-known idea, but his research and development background, and his membrane experience meant that he was the perfect candidate for introducing the technology. “When we were only just starting out, people often asked us: ‘what is it and what can you do with it?’” he says. “It gave me the opportunity to get a foot in the door: when I arrived at Shell there was no-one around with as much membrane experience as me.”

Early interest in science

Arian studied Inorganic Materials at the University of Twente and obtained his PhD with a thesis about the effects of ceramic membranes. After receiving his PhD he initially stayed at the university, but he left when he was given the opportunity to work for Shell.

Although his interest in engineering and technology began as a young child, Arian’s first work experience came in the flower bulb industry. To satisfy his interest in physics, he began playing with an electronics kit. “I actually wanted a chemistry set, but my mother wouldn’t allow it because she was afraid I’d blow the place to smithereens,” he explains. It was only later, at grammar school, that his teacher allowed him to use the chemistry lab on his own so he could do experiments. After that, he took the logical step to studying Chemical Technology at the University of Twente.

The drive to experiment and to carve his own path are traits deeply instilled in Arian, something he says inspire both his work and home life. “I have to move around”, Arian says, going on to explain how he travels not only for work, but for fun. “It helps me understand cultural differences in my work,” he says. “We are located in many different countries, and we need a lot of knowledge about cultural differences. So, work influences private life and vice versa.”

The dynamics of the job are something he couldn’t see himself doing without, he admits, especially one in a stationary location. “I just can’t see myself being the site manager of a refinery, for instance; to go to the same place every day. It just isn’t dynamic enough for me,” he says.

My mother wouldn’t let me have a chemistry set, because she was afraid I’d blow the place to smithereens

Nurturing young talent

Arian is quick to sing Shell’s praises for its working environment (“You have a lot of say in how you define your job,” he says), but he admits he holds his role as part-time professor at the University of Twente in similarly high regard.

“I supervise a number of graduates who are doing an assessed internship at Shell,” he says. It’s something he believes is an excellent way to recruit young talent for Shell, and to connect students to the real world of industry. He enjoys supervising young people, especially when he gets to challenge them; mediocrity is not on the agenda.

“This is why I am an assessor at Shell,” he says. “I expect young people to be enthusiastic and prepared to take a risk. If you do not have this drive, you have a problem. In that case, don’t come and work with me.”

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