The Business Year

Dr. Thomas Hochstettler

UAE, ABU DHABI - Health & Education

Research and Development

President, Petroleum Institute (PI)


Dr. Thomas Hochstettler was educated in history, economics, and business in the United States and Germany, and he has taught at the University of Michigan, Bowdoin College, and Stanford University. He subsequently served as a senior administrator at Rice University, Lewis & Clark College, and the German Jacobs University. Since 2009, He has worked in the UAE, first as Provost at the American University of Sharjah and now as the President of the Petroleum Institute in Abu Dhabi. He currently chairs the Board of Directors of the International Student Exchange Program of Washington, D.C.

TBY talks to Dr. Thomas Hochstettler, President of the Petroleum Institute (PI), on how the Institute is expanding, and its plans for new research fields.

Could you tell us about your experiences in the UAE and what led you to join the PI?

Working in the UAE, I came to know and respect the PI as one of the foremost institutions of higher learning in the country. The PI has taken as its specific mission the education of young Emirati nationals for successful careers in the oil and gas industry, and particularly in the ADNOC Group of companies. I have always been supportive of educational innovation, and in the late 1990s, I was a founder of a new university in Germany, Jacobs University at Bremen. So taking the reins at the PI, which has all of the excitement and freshness of a young enterprise, was a natural step for me.

Can you describe the transition that is taking place at the PI?

It may seem strange to speak of such a young institution (the PI was founded in 2001) as being in a state of transition, but in fact the PI is in the process of reinventing itself. The PI spent its first decade establishing itself as a top-tier educational institution, where high-quality teachers have been teaching an increasingly well-qualified student body in engineering. In the last few years, the PI has moved into advanced research across a broad range of fields related to energy, and is engaging ever more with our sister institutions in Abu Dhabi, expanding the number of research projects we are pursuing. Enhanced oil recovery (EOR) is a major focus for our research, but we are also expanding our research portfolio to include projects in sustainable energy. We will be increasing our overall enrollments in the next five years by 50%.

What are some of the main subjects studied for research at PI?

The new ADPIRC that we are building on the PI campus has dedicated space to a wide variety of topics. EOR continues to offer a fertile field of research, as our research engineers seek innovative ways of raising the rate of return on existing fields and of finding new ways of tapping into reserves that had at one time been thought to be outside the range of profitability. Many technical fields are now converging, with big data reservoir simulation, microscopic and submicroscopic core analysis, and research on the use of electrokinetics to raise recovery rates now on our agenda.

How is sustainability being integrated into the oil industry?

One of the major challenges of the industry today is how we can implement a green agenda to ensure sustainability and environmental friendliness. Our task is to extract the mineral wealth of the earth at the same time that we bequeath to future generations an environment where people can live healthy, prosperous lives. All of that is in balance at this moment in history. I think as we begin to look at the future, we are also beginning to think about sustainability and the combination of fossil-based fuels and the industries associated with them with the mandate to create a sustainable economic, social, and cultural future for the nation. We are beginning to look at solar power. We have always had some of our courses, clients, and majors focus on sustainability, but it is becoming increasingly important so we are focusing on that even more. We are partnering more with Masdar in that regard.

What kind of increases in enrollment are you expecting?

We currently have about 1,400 students and will be going up to about 2,150, which is still relatively small but we think that is the right size. We expect the student body to increase by about 50% over the next five to six years, and we are building facilities and hiring faculty and staff with that in mind.



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