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Catalyzing a long and rewarding partnership

What started in 2014 exploring the possibility of one-step conversion of crude oil to chemicals has bloomed into a major research partnership between KAUST and Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s flagship petroleum refiner.

A dedicated state-of-the-art research center was built on the KAUST campus in 2019 and the collaboration has expanded to numerous research streams supported by a rolling program of Aramco employees studying for a Ph.D. amongst KAUST’s vibrant research community.

“We are fortunate to be one of the preferred univer­sities for Aramco employees to undertake their Ph.D.,” says Jorge Gascon, director of the KAUST Catalysis Center (KCC). “The KCC collaborates intensively with Aramco on several research topics, including a flagship program that deals with the one-step conversion of crude oil to chemicals. We are in an excellent position to develop the technologies that will shape the chem­ical industry of the future while contributing to the education of future industry leaders, like Mohammed Alabdullah, who finished his Ph.D. on the one-step conversion project in September 2021.”

Alabdullah, an Aramco engineer, was attracted to do his Ph.D. at KAUST by the potential of the research and Aramco’s high regard for the KAUST collaboration.

“Aramco believes in KCC researchers’ capability and knowledge in reaction engineering and catalysis,” says Alabdullah. “KCC has world-class synthesis, character­ization and catalysis facilities that make it possible to investigate complex reaction pathways.”

The goal of the collaboration is to develop a novel reactor design that could eliminate energy-intensive processes, reducing the carbon footprint associated with oil use and using crude oil more efficiently to produce essential chemicals. It is important work, and Alabdullah has already published findings in top-tier journals such as Nature Catalysis and ACS Catalysis.

“This research project is quite important and inter­esting as a potentially competitive alternative to con­ventional refining practices,” says Alabdullah. “Working at KAUST is a great opportunity to get involved in the fundamental aspects of research