Samira A. S. OMAR

The relationship with respect to the government is in a new phase with the petroleum sector. KNPC has expressed its interest in establishing a research centre here.

Samira A. S. OMAR Director General Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research

in figures

Percentage of Kuwaitis on KISR staff: 74%

Hydrocarbons patents developed by KISR:17

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October 28, 2016

TOGY talks to Samira Al Sayed Omar, the director-general of Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research (KISR), about the importance of R&D and innovation projects for the Kuwait oil and gas industry and their efforts to fund the development of the latest technology. KISR was established in 1967 with a focus on R&D in the petroleum sector, their main partners being the private sector, Kuwait Oil Company and KNPC.

How is KISR supporting the oil and gas industry in Kuwait?
Since its establishment 50 years ago, KISR has been working in R&D in the petroleum sector, which is the main source of financial income for the government. Since then, the work expanded and our R&D petroleum centre in Ahmadi established itself as the part of our institute that provides technical and scientific services to the oil industry. Our main partners are the private sector, Kuwait Oil Company and KNPC. KISR’s Strategic Plans, which are developed every five years, identify major problems and constraints in order to develop our strategic programme. The petroleum, water, environment and life sciences and energy and building sectors have their own programmes for implementation. We allocate funds and budgets for them, but the focus is on setting goals with the aim of contributing to the continuing development plan.
These goals help to develop the research projects, and most of our research is directed towards the benefit of the stakeholders. We either solve their problems based on scientific findings, or by providing technical services for their routine work on analysis or laboratory requirements. Or, we work on other issues that affect the industry. Corrosion is the main focus of R&D in the petroleum sector and we continue to work on developing technology to handle this problem.The other aspect is developing patents for the industry such as catalysts to improve oil quality and production. In the upstream, we collaborate with Kuwait Oil Company to develop their capacity in oil production by process optimisation that would assist the industry in producing the required products and increase production from the wells.

What are your current research projects for the hydrocarbons industry?
The research programme we have is under specific programmes called solution areas. We have solution areas because we cannot just direct our research without clear objectives and a roadmap for the future that targets urgent and priority problems for the sector. To meet that, it has to be used and evaluated.
This year, which is the eighth strategic programme, we have several solution areas. One is the delivery of an effective and novel Alkaline Surfactant Polymer (ASP) formulation for saline water flooding suitable for Kuwait oil reserves. Option two is optimising the formulation of solubilisers and de-emulsifiers for the cost-effectiveness mitigation and remediation of asphaltenes and the deposition of emulsion formation. Area three, for example, is developing technologies for enhancing heavy oil tar mat recovery for improved geologic and geophysical formation characterisation. All of these are very technical and specialised areas. Under each area we implement specific projects that provide solutions.
Additionally, water and oil are linked underground and thus the institution has both the Petroleum Research Center and Water Research Center work on this scientific area though a matrix module. Their projects are mostly related to desalination, water production and the development of membranes for reverse osmosis to produce fresh water from ground wells. This is what we do with ground water research. The collaboration with the water sector is mostly with the Ministry of Electricity and Water, not the Ministry of Oil.

What is the importance of R&D to Kuwait on a governmental level?
R&D is becoming more and more important to the government, especially to KNPC in terms of the petroleum sector. As I mentioned, KISR is going to be 50 years old. The oil industry in Kuwait is also 50 years old and developments in R&D have always been a priority for our institution. We established good credibility with the industry and thus we receive significant funding to undertake their projects.
The petroleum sector has a good connection and collaboration with all the corporates of KNPC. We function based on their needs. Other parts of R&D are based on the scientific interests of KISR employees and experts. We also get funds from outside like the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences and other organisations. The funds and the support come from corporations and other foundations. They help in building up our capacity, our institutional infrastructure and also in conducting research. The outcome of it is usually presented to the stakeholders for use.
About 17 patents have been developed by KISR in the petroleum area. That is not bad for a young organisation like KISR. Now we are receiving royalties from this.
The relationship with respect to the government is in a new phase with the petroleum sector. KNPC has expressed its interest in establishing a research centre here. They want to work with the already-existing KISR centre and explore how we can develop with a strategic perspective for R&D, what our priorities are and whether we will work in the upstream or downstream.
We are working together in this to develop our recommendations to the government and how we will go about the research. In the political sphere, interest in R&D expansion in the oil industry is clear.

How eager are the government and oil companies to have the latest technology?
We have long-term contracts with them, and we implement our work based on that. As an institute, we have the capability of providing commercial services, not just institutional services. We are planning to market and commercialise our products and the technologies we have developed, and we will establish a holding company. Under that, we will have companies that can operate and market these products and technical services and provide funds and business.
However, we are a non-profit government institute and thus we are facing problems in going to Kuwait’s market. We produce water and give services, but this is not enough for us. We think we can do better. However, we need to have political support and approval from the authorities concerned regarding the implementation of it.
We are not in the private sector, but we are going into it. There are conflicting interests, but we are trying to get it approved very soon. This is one aspect of commercialisation related to the oil industry which is providing services to the private and even public for laboratory analysis. They do a lot of core sampling and bring it to us. We are a non-biased organisation so when there is any dispute in the industry, they come to us in order to give them the analytical results and interpretations.

When will it start functioning?
If we get the okay, there are a number of administrative requirements that need to be met just like any company. We need shareholders, then we will concentrate on infrastructure such as the development of the factory or plant or laboratory. It is not an easy job to commercialise, but we have the product and the market and visibility. It is positive. This year, we are hoping to have the official approval completed after which the company will be established.
It is then out of our hands. We have to assign the boards, shareholders and investors, then they will do the work. From what I see, it usually takes five to 10 years to get it established. This is a challenge, but it is an attainable goal. I personally recommend that since we have spent 18 years trying to get these approvals, this year we have to get a decision. Whether we proceed as a holding company, or we go direct to the currently existing private sector, this is a milestone for us. I cannot give you a date because there are still a lot of issues to deal with.

What are the challenges of R&D in Kuwait today?
As a research organisation in Kuwait, the business depends on the price of oil. During the lowest prices of oil, this was a great challenge. The institute is affected by the decisions of the government, even though we have a board of trustees. They follow the governmental decisions, and it is influencing our mandate and also our business.
Overall, we cannot live on an island. We are part of this world and the challenges facing us include the recruitment of international experts and skilled labour force. This is also a challenge because of decisions made around recruitment. We have almost 74% Kuwaitis on our staff with many Ph.D. holders, yet we cannot do business without the support and participation of international experts. They support us in the work, bring the latest knowhow and technology, and most of all, they help the institute to move forward in the international scientific arena.

How does KISR interact with the private sector?
A lot of these private companies bring their technologies to the institute for us to test, either in the pilot scale or on the small scale. KISR just gives them the scientific result, but they see it as good supporting evidence and they use it for their business. KISR directly helps the technology marketing through testing and pilots. KISR charges competitive rate for this service and is truly the technical aim for the country in this regard.

 

What are the training, education and human capital needs in Kuwait today?
It is not only training in science, but also in management, leadership, innovation, commercialisation and marketing. Every summer we open our doors to young students from schools and universities to have a summer training programme. We allocate some supervisors to these students to build up their capacities and interest in science. It is very important to be interested in science.
Each year we invest in a new generation to attract them to work in this field. If we do not have these summer trainings, we will lose this. It has always been a big success for KISR’s efforts in nurturing these potential future scientists.

KISR is involved in the Al Shagaya project. What are the details of that project and what is the importance of switching to renewable energies?
Renewable energy research is also part of our seventh and eighth strategic programmes. The emir of Kuwait asked us to find sources other than oil to generate energy. At that time, we presented solar energy to His Highness and he was interested and supportive.
[KISR implemented a] government initiative to establish Shagaya, or Kuwait’s alternative energy park, in three phases. The project has already started and been implemented to generate power from wind power and also from solar energy using PV and CSV. The first one is going to be completed by early next year. It will be 70 MW of energy, which will be expanded to 200 MW in phase two, then to 2 GW or so by 2030.
We are planning to produce 15% of our own energy by 2030. For phase one, we are doing it as a demonstration, testing technology and applications of the first infrastructure. The next stage is how the investors will be interested in doing this in the private sector, based on our recommendations and under our supervision.

Will the second and third phases of Al Shagaya be public and private, or only private?
Private. I cannot assign our researchers to operate the system. It is the same principle as commercialisation. When you finish the pilot scale study and you have the technology guaranteed and tested, you leave it or you commercialise it. We opt to leave commercialisation to the private sector. Our business is to develop these technologies.

To sum up, what are the priorities of the centre for the future?
Our priorities are mostly energy, then water resources and environmental and life sciences. With respect to water, I mentioned groundwater. We evaluate the performance of buildings and efficiency as well, because we can develop new building materials. As for the energy industry, we have the energy efficiency programme. This means we are conserving energy and trying to use the best material for conservation.
We developed the codes for energy conservation for the ministry. This has been implemented by them issuing policies. Environmental life and science may not be your interest now, but it is huge in terms of contributing to partial food security and sustainability of the environment. KISR has [conducted] studies in these areas. It is noteworthy to mention that agriculture and petroleum were the first sectors that the institute started working with and we have established very valuable R&D in these areas.

 

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