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Interview Dr.

Thomas J. Hochstettler – President, The Petroleum Institute, United Arab Emirates

The president of the Petroleum Institute, Dr. Thomas J. Hochstettler, explains how The Petroleum Institute Research Center (PIRC) opening this year will bring the school to new levels of excellence, how the institute is building partnerships with other universities around the globe and how the school is creating a talented pool of Emiratis to enter ADNOC’ s workforce.

How have you helped shape the direction of the Petroleum Institute?

The Petroleum Institute (PI) has of course been continuously developing and growing in size and quality right from its inception in 2001.  Prior to my arrival at the institute last year, the PI was managed by its chief academic officer, the Provost, and the Governing Board, led by H.E. Abdulla Nasser Al Suwaidi, the Director General of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), played a central role operationally in the day-to-day running of the PI.  With my arrival in 2014, the PI had for the first time in its history a president who could focus full time on fulfilling the mission established for it by ADNOC and the ADNOC group of companies as a provider of talented engineers and new knowledge for the oil and gas industry within Abu Dhabi.  It is my great honor and privilege to lead the PI in the ongoing effort to improve the quality of our programs, always in service to the companies and industry that we serve.  I think it is safe to say that the Petroleum Institute has come of age by consolidating its position as a leading research and educational center in the oil and gas and energy industry. Over the last couple of years, the school has become more self-reliant and operationally distinct, but we are always careful in all we do to adhere strategically to ADNOC’s vision, purposes and long-term strategy.

What factors set apart the Petroleum Institute from other academic institutions?

As a teaching institution, the PI focuses exclusively on producing creative and capable leaders for the oil and gas and related energy sectors, specifically to work for ADNOC and its subsidiaries. Students entering the PI are fully committed to ADNOC, not least of all because their studies are fully funded by the ADNOC organization, but also because after graduation students are expected to work for ADNOC for a certain period of time.  Clearly, most graduates view the opportunity to work within the ADNOC group as a positive boon for their careers. Moreover, our students have the opportunity to engage in a broad range of other courses, such as mathematics and science, plus courses in language, history, and political science, for example.  We believe this kind of broad foundational education arms our graduates with the analytical skills and creativity that will benefit both them and their employers throughout their professional life within the industry. This is one of the many distinguishing factors from other schools in the region.  Such educational opportunities allow our students to become more competitive employees once they graduate and enter the workforce.

What partnerships does the Petroleum Institute have in place with other leading schools around the globe?

Growing and developing the PI’s research capabilities via partnerships is something that the school is consciously focusing on at the moment. Partnering with more established universities in the United States, East Asia, and Europe helps us leverage the strengths already in place at the PI and serves to attract a well-qualified talent pool to our faculty ranks from among leading programs around the globe. Among the American universities with which the PI has collaborated since its founding is the Colorado School of Mines, whose curriculum served as the model for the PI in the early years.  We have partnered with the University of Maryland and the University of Minnesota, which both have excellent petroleum engineering programs. We also recently signed a major research contract with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and we are also working closely with Rice University and Stanford University on individual research projects. We have further expanded our collaboration with European universities, such as Imperial College in the UK, and we are also intensifying our research with other schools in Asia, in particular three of the China Universities for Petroleum in Beijing, Qingdao, and Chengdu.  We have relationships with Seoul National University, the Korea University of Science and Technology, and the Korean Basic Science Institute, and we are developing agreements with the University of Tokyo and Tokai University in Japan. These schools provide fresh ideas, personnel, and models for our institution and create as well an opportunity for our students to participate in bilateral exchanges with them.  I think it is fair to say that one of the reasons these far-flung partner institutions find us attractive as a regional partner is our nearly completed new Petroleum Institute Research Center, which is in its final stages of construction before it opens its doors with new faculty members and technicians. Traditionally, our research efforts have relied heavily on our collaborating partner-institutions for laboratory and technical support, but the inauguration of our new facilities, with over 8,000 square meters of laboratory space, will allow the PI to participate as an equal player in these important collaborations.

Over the next few months, the PI will step out into the world’s platform and be recognized as a major research center primarily in fossil fuel extraction and utilization, as well in other sectors of energy! Our facilities will have green labs, and the PI will eventually build two to three more research centers for downstream utilization of oil products.

What opportunities do ADNOC’s ambitions to increase production present to the Petroleum Institute?

The PI embraces ADNOC’s plans to increase oil & gas production rates over the next few years by assisting in their enhanced oil and gas recovery (EOGR) efforts on existing fields. Our goal in Abu Dhabi is to achieve 70 percent oil recovery from existing reservoirs, and the PI’s task and goal is to add another 5 percent to that effort. The metrics for measuring our success as an academic and research center is difficult, but we believe we can contribute by adding knowledge and technical knowhow to ADNOC’s processes. Our intention is to do everything we can as a leading institution to fulfill that mission and make a contribution to the sovereign wealth of the nation. It is a very exciting time to be at the PI and our five new doctoral programs we are in the process of launching bear testimony to the Institute’s efforts to increase participation in all sectors of the oil & gas and energy industry.

What role is the Petroleum Institute playing in providing greener energy for ADNOC and its subsidiaries?

Abu Dhabi possesses the 7th largest gas reserves in the world and is currently the 11th largest oil producer globally. Oil and oil-based products have been the basis for prosperity throughout the 20th century and will continue to be a basis into the 21st century. Over the course of time, new forms of energy have been developed that are cleaner and more efficient, and the Petroleum Institute is second to none in its commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and providing greener fuels.

The PI aligns with the nation’s efforts to create alternative natural methods of energy such as sunlight and other readily available resources. Currently, the Institute is also committed to improving oil recovery via new environmentally sound methods, such as CO2 sequestration, which diminishes the amount of CO2 being generated into the atmosphere and locks it forever underground. We are also conducting research to find replacements for the more environmentally harmful forms of energy generation, such as coal. Additionally, we are part of the global search for enhanced means of storing energy, such as advanced battery technology. We believe in addressing these global issues and creating global solutions that address the energy issues that not only the UAE is facing, but also the world at large.   

What is the Petroleum Institute doing to help the United Arab Emirates address its issue of sour gas?

At the present time, the PI does not have a facility dedicated to sour gas research exclusively, although this is something in the pipeline for coming years. However, we do have general facilities dedicated to research in various aspects of the souring of the local reservoirs, and we believe that our contribution will increase steadily over time. The UAE is already the number one exporter of sulfur per capita and can make further use of the resources readily available by continuing to conduct more research projects. There is a great deal more work to be done.

What advancements can we expect from the Petroleum Institute in coming years?

Over the years, we have seen the PI become a leading force in the region and I believe that our international partnerships, new research facilities, amazing faculty and staff, dynamic students and the unwavering support of ADNOC have helped propel the school to its current status. Although the institution is becoming more international, it also still very much focused on Emirati education, and one of our main objectives is to contribute substantially to the creation of the growing talent pool of local engineers. With the opening of the new Petroleum Institute Research Center, the PI is ideally positioned to move into the forefront of research institutions globally in the field of energy research.  We embrace with vigor and excitement the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

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