Following up on an inaugural nonmetallics symposium in 2018 in Tokyo, 2019 saw Saudi Aramco recently host a number of industry specialists, alongside Plastipolis, in Lyon, France. A prominent forum host within Europe's nonmetallics sector, Plastipolis provided a key bridge between Saudi Aramco and potential investors.
Attended by more than 260 participants, the symposium was opened by Ahmad A. Al Sa'adi, senior vice president of Technical Services with Saudi Aramco, who emphasized the sheer scale of opportunity to attendees. "Nonmetallics represent an opportunity to address operational challenges, in terms of our operational sustainability, while also allowing us to grow in what is a key downstream sector," said Al Sa'adi. "For Saudi Aramco, the growth, development, and application of nonmetallic materials will be transformational. We see the huge shift in technology that has shaped material science, providing new material and solutions to our industry."
Joining Al Sa'adi was Plastipolis president Emmanuelle Bouvier, who was confident in Saudi Aramco's ability to transition from its predominantly upstream business into new areas, such as plastics. "The relationship between Saudi Aramco and Plastipolis in nonmetallics is strategic — especially among the plastics and composites industry — because we need to think about the future of this industry and find the right trends," she said. "Historically, Saudi Aramco is upstream, but it is increasingly expanding in downstream sectors, and with that we believe it will be very much fruitful to collaborate."
Challenges, opportunities, and a center of excellence
Pursuing not only sustainability but also advancements in technology and processes, two memorandums of understanding were signed by Aramco with Plastipolis and the leading French specialty chemicals manufacturer Arkema in an effort to establish a center of excellence to foster nonmetallic industries in Saudi Arabia and France and to promote local investment opportunities in nonmetallic in all sectors.
The event included a panel discussion titled "Challenges and Opportunities for Nonmetallic Materials in the Circular Economy" in which Al Sa'adi said that to better position nonmetallic materials, we must first look at the current challenges and limitations of conventional materials, and then introduce new engineered polymers and advanced plastics.
Research and development initiatives and collaboration with centers of excellence across the world will be a key enabler. These challenges could be in materials properties, cost of production, and pace of product development.
The panel also included other key experts in the field of nonmetallics, including Jean-Paul Moulin, the material science director at Arkema, and Nieves Gonzalez Raman, the innovation manager at The European Chemical Industry Council.
Furthermore, several technical sessions were hosted covering a wide range of topics, such as carbon fiber manufacturing, automotive, building and construction, packaging, renewables, and a circular economy. These sessions were delivered by experts in nonmetallics from entities such as Axens, Plastic Europe, ITA RWTH, Fraunhofer IPT, Arlanxeo, SABIC, Roland Berger, IHS, DNV-GL, and others.
Localizing nonmetallic materials
Abdallah Al-Thaaly, manager of Saudi Aramco's Industrial Development and Strategic Supply Department, shared an overview of the Saudi Aramco journey to localize its supply chain. Al-Thaaly highlighted the significant progress made so far in localizing nonmetallic materials, with 160 expressions of interest received from investors and 12 investments already realized in the Kingdom.
The event, jointly organized by Saudi Aramco and Aramco Overseas Company, was attended by leading European companies, research centers, key players in nonmetallic sectors, and hosted speaking guests from SAGIA, Modon, NEOM, and SABIC.