By Gurminder Singh, Director, Technology Licensing for Middle East & North Africa on Sep 13, 2021
For this series on “How I Make Every Molecule Matter”, Gurminder shares his perspective on the energy transition in the Middle East, how he draws on his technical expertise to develop integrated energy solutions and how he incorporates a mindset behind playing competitive doubles badminton into his daily work.
1. Could you describe your approach when working with customers on integrated energy solutions?
Developing a good understanding of customers’ requirements and leveraging my strong, technical foundation has helped me to provide differentiated solutions to my customers. With a background in chemical engineering, I spent over 10 years as a process designer for ammonia, hydrogen and methanol plants, as well as hydroprocessing units, before embarking into a commercial role.
I bring my technical knowledge to customer conversations to speak their language and understand their perspective and pain points. I draw from my experience in plant operations and design to offer implementable solutions.
I have worked with several customers in different continents, and I bring that experience to the discussions with my current customers. I have learned from experience how to bring a new technology successfully to the market and work with various internal and external stakeholders. For example, in 2012, I was involved in creating a joint venture (JV) with Shell and a South Korean lube base oils plant. It was at a time when Shell was commercialising our Group 2 base oils technology for third-party applications.
I had been working with the South Korean operator for several years when the opportunity arose. The customer was looking for a partner to help with marketing and approvals, for which Shell could help as a market leader for lubricants. Shell was also looking for a partner to source our own base oils. There was synergy on both sides.
The biggest challenge for me was aligning people from different parts of Shell businesses to move forward with this project. It was also a challenge to manage different cultures and defend our technology. In the end, the JV was successful. We had an operating plant in a record schedule of 26 months from the time when agreements were signed.
2. What do you think has changed most about the energy industry?
The energy industry has an ever-changing landscape and it is exciting to be associated with this sector. I started my career in an ammonia plant in the early 1990s. At the time, ammonia was used in fertilisers, which was then used to enhance the food supply. Now, more than two decades later, we are considering ammonia as fuel.
We can either directly use ammonia as a fuel, or we can use ammonia as a hydrogen carrier, and as the technology develops, we may be able to crack ammonia into hydrogen molecules at a commercial scale and use those hydrogen molecules for generating power and many other applications.1
Ammonia can be a potential solution for current energy transition challenges. Some of my customers are evaluating whether ammonia is a feasible energy source and whether it can be shipped to different countries as a carrier of hydrogen molecules.
Change is continuous in the energy sector. I won’t say the changes are very fast, because energy needs, as well as refinery and petrochemical operations, are very complex.
3. What integrated energy solutions are being considered by energy producers in the Middle East today?
The Middle East is one of the world’s biggest oil producers, but as the world is moving away from fossil-based energy sources, energy producers in the region are also planning their energy transition.
There has been a lot of work done on solar power, particularly in Saudi Arabia and in the United Arab Emirates.2 Shell’s first solar project in the Middle East is helping to power and cut carbon emissions at a smelting company in Oman.
Other energy producers are considering the region’s abundant natural gas supply and how that gas can be used for more sustainable products such as blue hydrogen or blue ammonia. They are considering how to build an economy around hydrogen, rather than oil, as they have an abundant supply of natural gas available that can be used to produce blue hydrogen.
Customers in various parts of the world are in different phases of their energy transition journeys. I would say that European customers are much more advanced, when we consider the number of carbon capture and storage projects and hydrogen projects under development in Europe. That is why it is helpful to be connected with Shell Catalysts & Technologies’ global network and to incorporate intimate knowledge of the industry in various parts of the world to customer conversations in the Middle East.
4. What trends towards integrated energy solutions are you most looking forward to?
I’ll be interested to see how the refining industry evolves. I have been involved in refinery and petrochemical projects for a long time and I am interested in their integration with decarbonisation themes, as outlined in Vision 2050 by FuelsEurope, (a division of the European Petroleum Refiners Association), which outlines future pathways for the refinery and petrochemical industry.3
I’m very keen to work with refiners to move them in a direction of practical solutions integration. We can start by making small changes in the refinery and petrochemical assets, starting with energy optimisation of the assets. These small changes can eventually enable integrated energy solutions, such as one refinery producing more biofuels from sustainable energy sources like blue hydrogen. There is potential for integrating technologies that can both capture and reduce emissions.
I feel passionate about my role as a trusted advisor to my customers as I spend time understanding their integrated energy challenges and solutions. I would like to see myself as a leader in providing implementable energy transition solutions for their needs as we advance towards the energy transition.
5. What are your interests outside of work?
I have been playing badminton for more than 20 years. Despite a number of injuries, I still play, as it provides the right balance of competitiveness and teamwork. It is my biggest stress buster.
I play to have fun and also because it drives a competitive spirit which is applicable to my line of work. Winning any business is about teamwork and having the right strategies. Badminton doubles is all about how well you can play with your partner and leverage the strength of each individual to be competitive against your opponent. I apply this to my work when working in teams to strategise offers and understand motives in the marketplace.
1 Alexander H. Tullo, “Is ammonia the fuel of the future?” C&EN, 8 March 2021, https://cen.acs.org/business/petrochemicals/ammonia-fuel-future/99/i8.
2 Euronews, “As solar energy rises in the Middle East, will the sun set on the oil & gas sector?” 18 June 2020, https://www.euronews.com/2020/06/12/as-solar-energy-rises-in-the-middle-east-will-the-sun-set-on-the-oil-gas-sector.
3 “Vision 2050”, FuelsEurope, accessed 17 June 2021, https://www.fuelseurope.eu/clean-fuels-for-all/vision-2050/.