The circular carbon economy


Being an energy leader in a world of changing energy demand, we embrace our role to find effective energy solutions. The circular carbon economy is a pragmatic concept that can provide direction for a sustainable future.

What is the circular carbon economy?

For more than a century, carbon has been a primary component of energy systems that have enabled economies to prosper. But as the world seeks solutions to address the emissions challenge, the concept of a circular carbon economy has gained prominence. It encompasses the 4 Rs – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Remove; restoring the human-earth balance and harmonizing the carbon cycle.

The Earth has been achieving this balance for billions of years; a natural and stable flow of carbon between the atmosphere, ocean, and terrestrial ecosystems. Until recently, humans have played a simple role within this cycle, employing a linear model whereby we extract carbon from the ground and release it into the air. But by mimicking the natural process of the Earth, we can achieve our own balance, closing the loop to not only reduce emissions through energy efficiency and use of renewables, but also to reuse and remove carbon emissions entirely.

Riyadh at Night – The circular carbon economy enables cities to prosper
Carbon has enabled economies and cities, such as Riyadh, to prosper.

The 4 Rs

Energy efficient technologies can mitigate the amount of carbon entering the atmosphere, while noncarbon emitting renewables and nuclear can also play a part.
By capturing carbon through innovative technologies, it can then be used to create useful products, or be injected back into oil and gas reservoirs to increase productivity.
CO₂ is chemically transformed into new products such as fertilizer or cement, or other forms of energy such as synthetic fuels.
The removal of carbon from the atmosphere can be both engineered – such as through direct air capture and sequestration – or natural, through carbon sinks such as mangrove forests.

Saudi Aramco Employee/Scientist – Research and Development of CCE
A scientist at our Research & Development Center, where some of our best minds innovate and explore effective carbon management solutions.

What are we doing?

We believe the circular carbon economy is the best framework for achieving the greatest impact in reducing global emissions, while ensuring consistent economic growth.

We have undertaken a number of initiatives that move toward this framework by deploying technology solutions that provide more reliable access to affordable energy, reduce CO2 emissions, enhance fuel efficiency, conserve water, and create next-generation materials that make consumer products greener.

We also use Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) technologies, such as artificial intelligence and big data, to reduce emissions by monitoring Company energy consumption and optimizing operations, improving seismic processing and analysis, optimizing crude oil recovery methods, and enhancing oil well productivity. The carbon intensity of our upstream operations is already among the lowest in the industry, and we will continue to innovate and explore effective carbon management solutions that minimize the environmental impact of our activities.

Reduce: zero routine flaring

Gas flaring is the combustion of associated gas generated through oil production, which is both wasteful and a source of CO2 emissions. We have long been pioneers in gas flaring reduction, from our Master Gas System in the 1970s, and we continue to develop and deploy innovative 4IR technology in our Flaring Minimization Program. Not only does this help us to recover and make use of a previously wasted energy source, but it also significantly reduces our emissions. This is part of our ongoing commitment to achieving zero routine flaring by 2030, in alignment with the World Bank's Climate Change Action Plan 2016-2020.

Offshore Oil/Gas Platform – Zero Flaring Recovery System – Saudi Aramco
As part of our Flaring Minimization Program we’ve installed multiple flare gas recovery systems such as at our offshore Safaniyah facilities.
Hawiyah Gas Plant – Enhanced Oil Recovery Solutions – Saudi Aramco
Hawiyah Gas Plant has the capability to capture and process 45 million standard cubic feet of CO₂.

Reuse: enhanced oil recovery (EOR)

EOR is the process of injecting a substance (such as captured CO2) into an oil reservoir to increase its productivity. At Hawiyah Gas Plant, we have the capability to capture and process 45 million standard cubic feet of CO2, which is then piped 85 km to the 'Uthmaniyah oil field – one of the Middle East's largest carbon EOR initiatives – to be injected into the oil reservoir, helping us to reduce emissions as well as improve our oil recovery.

Recycle: Conserving water

Saudi Arabia is a land where no rivers flow, rainfall is sporadic, and summer temperatures are high.

It is in our DNA to conserve water.

We use best practices and technologies to maximize the use of wastewater, and utilize alternative water resources, such as seawater, treated sewage effluent and treated reject streams. 

Plus, we use renewable energy sources for more sustainable water treatment and conveyance systems.

Using seawater to enhance oil recovery contributes to water conservation, and in 1979, operators in the control room of the Qurayyah Seawater Treatment Plant monitor the processing and delivery of seawater.
Mangroves along a river – Climate Change Solutions – Saudi Aramco
Mangroves are recognized as among the most efficient natural climate solutions for reducing CO₂, as they absorb and store carbon above and below ground, resulting in marine carbon sinks known as blue carbon.

Remove: mangrove initiative

We are working on a number of technologies around carbon capture, utilization, and storage, which capture CO2 and sequester it in geological formations, thus removing emissions from the atmosphere. But we are also investing in a number of initiatives that utilize the Earth's natural carbon sinks. For example, mangroves play an important role in sequestering carbon – up to 100 times faster and more permanently than terrestrial forests. Our mangrove initiative has seen us plant more than two million  mangrove seedlings in the Kingdom, thereby removing CO2 and protecting sensitive areas of biodiversity.

A global conversation

Under the theme “Realizing Opportunities of the 21st Century for All,” Saudi Arabia's G20 presidency features Safeguarding the Planet as one of its key aims – and includes the concept of a circular carbon economy as a cornerstone to help rebalance the global carbon cycle. This was reinforced at the inaugural International Carbon Capture, Utilization & Storage (iCCUS) conference, held in Riyadh during February 2020. Thought leaders from across the industry, including Saudi Aramco's President and CEO, Amin H. Nasser, and Chief Technology Officer, Ahmad O. Al-Khowaiter, discussed the dual challenge of meeting the world's growing energy needs in a reliable yet sustainable manner. 

Additionally, as a founding member of the Oil & Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI), we partner with many of the world's leading energy companies, working together on practical solutions to address climate change. A key focus is on injecting momentum into a global CCUS industry, using our collective expertise to support shared infrastructure and operations, and implement CCUS at a lower cost.