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.

Carbon has enabled economies and cities, such as Riyadh, to prosper.

The circular carbon economy 4 Rs

We practice energy efficiency measures such as flare minimization to help us reduce emissions and energy intensity
We don’t think of carbon dioxide as a waste product – we actively reuse it, turning half a million tons of carbon dioxide annually into products
We are developing technologies that can capture carbon dioxide from vehicles and recycle it into other forms of energy
We use Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage (CCUS) to remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it deep underground

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.