POWERING ON

Abu Dhabi 2016 | EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Dr. Thomas J. Hochstettler, President of the Petroleum Institute (PI), on technological areas of research, collaboration among institutions, and finding alternative energy solutions.

Dr. Thomas J. Hochstettler
BIOGRAPHY
Dr. Thomas J. Hochstettler has been in the UAE since 2009, first as Provost, later as Acting Chancellor at the American University of Sharjah, and now as the President of the Petroleum Institute in Abu Dhabi. Dr. Hochstettler has sat on many boards and served formerly as chair of the Oregon World Affairs Council. He has held faculty appointments at the University of Michigan, Bowdoin College, and Stanford University. He also served as senior economic advisor in finance and administration at Stanford University, Associate Provost at Rice University, founding Vice President for academic affairs at Jacobs University in Bremen, and President of Lewis & Clark College in Portland.

Can you describe in more detail how enhanced oil recovery (EOR) methods will be improved?

There is work going on in several disciplines at the PI. In chemical engineering, this involves looking at the effects of injecting different polymers, water, or low-saline solutions into existing oil fields. In the field of electrical engineering, the use of electro kinetics down-hole to stimulate oil flow toward the well head is another field of inquiry that is being pioneered here. Once we gain insights into such technologies, we are better able to apply them in real-life, real-time situations in the field. It may take as many as three to five years before these ideas are fully realized in the field. Despite the time and resources that are required to make advances in these and many other technological areas of research, we are convinced of the value added by such research and are very pleased to be part of the greater mission of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) to extend the boundaries of EOR beyond current practice.

Can you describe the synergy between PI, the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, and Khalifa University of Science, Technology and Research?

Individually and collectively, these three exciting institutions have moved past their adolescence and are becoming a group of institutions that work together and collaborate in an ever increasing measure. I have been collaborating in one way or another with colleagues from Masdar and KUSTAR from the very moment I arrived in the UAE. Even then, we were already beginning to see each other as resources instead of as competitors. We have increased the interaction among our faculty considerably. The dynamics among universities are completely different from those at play in the corporate world. For us, the more we share, collaborate, and know about each other's work, without giving away industrial secrets outright, of course, the more we can avoid unnecessary competition regarding the disposition of scarce resources. There is more that can be done. I would like to see the institutions focus their resources on creating consolidated and coordinated investments in instrumentation and research laboratories. The Petroleum Institute Research Center (PIRC) is a great step in that direction. Although we are an ADNOC facility, the more we can create opportunities for faculties at other institutions to have access to cutting-edge technology, the better off we will all be.

In terms of diversification, there was the solar car project undertaken by the PI. What other ongoing projects do you have that involve renewables?

It is not generally known that our solar car broke world records in the qualifying laps at the Abu Dhabi Solar Car Challenge in 2015, even though we came in second in the race itself. The entire experience was an extraordinary breakthrough for us. It introduced us as an institution with the potential for research and technological advancement in renewable energy that we can expand and exploit here at the PI. We are also proud of our association with Tokai University in Japan, which was our partner in this. We are now expanding our relationship with Tokai University and looking for new paths of collaboration. We intend for two of the new buildings being built on campus to be completely self-sufficient based on solar energy generation. The new PIRC will have green laboratories as part of its roster of research facilities, and we look to solar energy, as well as at other developing technologies, such as lithium-based battery technology for the storage of energy. We are also interested in finding ways to save energy, particularly to save on fossil fuel expenditure. The PI and ADNOC understand that it is far better to earn profits off petroleum products by selling them in parts of the world that are without adequate energy resources, rather than expending that fuel domestically. In the interests of economic prosperity, finding alternative energy solutions, whether it is wind, solar, or other forms, is certainly something we are increasingly involved in.