A new horizon for Rotterdam: Innovation and the Future of Refining

Ladies and gentlemen,

Your Excellency, good afternoon

Thank you very much for this invitation to be here today. It’s a real pleasure to be here today.

It is my honor to be here today in Rotterdam.

It’s a city long known of its innovation and economic growth. And it’s very visible; I haven’t visited it for a while and if you come through Rotterdam you see that development, both in the port and in the city.

It’s a city which was already connected to the world well before the internet, due to its port and also to its entrepreneurial spirit.

At ExxonMobil we are very proud to be a long part of that history here in Rotterdam. A strategic presence that we’ve had for over a 125 years.

During the past 20 years, we have invested over 6 billion euros in our business in the Netherlands, much of that here in this port city. These investments clearly demonstrate our strong and lasting commitment to the refinery here and to the market in the Netherlands.

I am particularly proud of this latest investment of 1 billion Euros, as it applies our new innovative hydrocracking technology in a refinery of full scale for the first time anywhere in the world. It also increases our energy efficiency by about 5%, and actually makes Rotterdam one of the most efficient refineries in the world; not just in ExxonMobil.

Why is this so important to us in ExxonMobil?

The opening video that we saw earlier perfectly captured our drivers.

We live in a really remarkable time – never before in the history of mankind have so many people risen so quickly out of poverty. And in the decades ahead, billions of people will become part of the world’s middle class.

This is of course a good thing, a great thing. But it also means we are confronted with a dual challenge, which needs to be addressed by innovation and by investment.

A dual challenge, where on the one hand we see the population and – most importantly – the middle class growing their standards of living.  A growing economy and the increasing prosperity will increase global energy demand by a quarter by 2040.

And, even as the energy mix shifts to lower carbon fuels, all energy sources - including fossil fuels - will be needed to meet that growing demand.

On the other hand, we are confronted with the risks of climate change, which we must address.

This is the dual challenge that we face as society and as a company.

And we are ready to take on that challenge. By doing what we do best – which is developing and applying innovative, breakthrough technologies on a global scale, that really make a difference.

Most of you probably know ExxonMobil as an oil and gas, or petrochemical company. And yes, we are proud of our facilities and the quality and standards to which they are operated. In a short while, as we’ll go through the third petroleum dock here, you will see why we’re so proud of that and why we need to keep going down that path.

But what you can’t see is maybe even more important. 

ExxonMobil is first and foremost a technology company. As a company, you can only be successful for over 125 years if you innovate and if you drive that innovation to the products and to the market.

Throughout our history, we have been at the cradle of many innovations in the energy sector

  • We produced the first commercial petrochemicals
  • We developed the first synthetic lubricant, Mobil 1; our industrial lubricants are now used in over 40,000 wind turbines worldwide
  • We helped invent the lithium-ion battery; not a very widely known fact
  • And we pioneered the 3D seismic survey capabilities which are now the industry standard, world over.

This list is by no means exhaustive. But I wanted to impress upon you how much our business has relied over the years on continuous innovations and technological breakthroughs that really enable us to meet society’s needs and to stay atop our industry.

Not without reason we were recently highlighted by the Wall Street Journal as one of the "Top Companies for Innovation", along with – believe it or not – Apple and Google.  

Seeing ExxonMobil in that mix actually surprises some people I’m sure in this room. But it’s a fitting recognition, I think, of the 70,000 men and women who everyday apply their talents to that end.

Every year, we invest $1 billion in research and development, partnering with leading academic and research centers and universities around the world, like the universities of Utrecht and Delft here in the Netherlands.

At our own research centers we are engaged in pioneering energy processes, advanced biofuels, Carbon Capture and Storage and energy-saving materials.

A good example is our portfolio of biofuel programs. We work with research partners to create a new generation of sustainable and affordable biofuels that do not compete with food production or water supply. Here in Europe, for example, we are working with the Swiss company Clariant on a biodiesel from biomass program and we will test this new technology soon at a pilot plant in Germany.

You may also be familiar with our research into algae bio-oil. This oil can be processed in our existing refineries so we can produce biofuels for aviation and as bio-feed for chemicals. Together with Synthetic Genomics, we have already achieved scientific breakthroughs in this area and we want to be able to produce 10,000 barrels of biofuel per day from algae by 2025. That is a world-scale biofuel factory at any standard.

In another area, ExxonMobil – along with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the International Energy Agency – sees an essential role for capturing CO2 in achieving the global emission reduction targets that are required.

At ExxonMobil, we already capture approximately seven million tonnes of CO2 every year, making us a pioneer in this key technology. Since 1970 ExxonMobil has cumulatively captured more CO2 than any other company – and in total 40% of all captured CO2 in that timeframe.

Also in this area, we are working on breakthrough fuel cell technology, with the aim of significantly improving the technology of CO2 capture and at the same time reducing the costs. This new fuel cell capture technology would also generate electricity and produce hydrogen. We are constructing a pilot plant for a gas-fired power station, and we are now also looking into the potential of this technology for capturing CO2 at our refineries and chemical plants.

We therefore welcome the recently announced CCS initiative from the Port of Rotterdam to develop the infrastructure that can really facilitate the capture and storage CO2 and we would really appreciate and welcome ongoing cooperation in that regard.

Ladies and gentlemen, I will conclude with a view on the future of refineries in Europe.

Within our European federation Fuels Europe, we have worked on a Vision 2050. In this vision we see an important role for modern refineries in the energy system of the future.

Europe will continue to need fuels for road transportation, aircraft, ships, as well as feedstock for the production of chemicals and lubricants. At the same time, multiple technologies and innovations will reduce CO2 emissions – like biofuels, CCS, renewable electricity and others. As a result, total greenhouse gas emissions of passenger cars and light duty vehicles could be reduced by 87% in 2050 compared to 2015.

In the Fuels Europe vision for 2050, the refinery will evolve towards an energy hub integrated in a cluster of industries, in synergy with other sectors, such as chemicals, district-heating, sustainable biofuels and power industry.

And for us to realize this vision here in Rotterdam, the industry will need a stable, predictable and technology-neutral policy framework. A framework that allows our plants here to compete fairly and globally. In other words, precisely the kind of policy framework that Rotterdam and the Netherlands have had in their history to grow to the economic strength that they have today.

We are ready to work towards that new horizon for Rotterdam, for the Netherlands, and for our business, for a world-class, innovative industry with less CO2 emissions. We look forward to taking up this challenge with you, and with everybody here in this nation. And we look forward to the success that I believe that can deliver.

Thank you for your time