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Saudi Aramco targets zero fuel oil production by 2024

Saudi Aramco, the world's largest oil exporter, is planning to eliminate fuel oil production at its refineries within the next five years as emissions regulation shifts marine demand to cleaner fuels.

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The company is seeking to reduce fuel oil production from its own assets to zero by 2024, Abdulazziz al-Judaimi, the company's senior vice president of downstream, said in an interview with S&P Global Platts Tuesday.

The company produced 206,000 b/d of fuel oil at its wholly owned refineries within Saudi Arabia in 2017.

When the International Maritime Organization's global sulfur limit for marine fuels drops to 0.5% from 3.5% at the start of next year, the majority of the world's shipowners will shift from burning fuel oil to cleaner, more expensive alternatives.

Fuel oil prices were expected to drop precipitously as the biggest demand source for the product disappears.

"[Some] 85% of our refining assets are IMO-compliant, meaning that we have 15% of our refining assets requiring further upgrades on the bottom of the barrel," al-Judaimi said. "We have lined up all the investment needed to take the vacuum resid off the bottom of the barrel into distillates and gasoline as well as chemicals."

"We do not anticipate very much a negative issue with IMO," he said.

Saudi Arabia is increasingly importing fuel oil from Europe to meet growing demand from its power generation sector and water desalination plants. Those users are set to benefit from falling fuel oil prices from next year.

The country is aiming to increase its use of gas as a generation fuel from about 55% of the mix at the moment to 70%, al-Judaimi said, while 20% would be renewables and nuclear and 10% fuel oil.

"There is no infrastructure to certain areas, where I think fuel oil would be appropriately used," he said. "Liquid-based power generation will continue to be challenging from an environmental perspective, but for seasonality, it will require options to help on providing fuel oi these power plants."

"I think keeping 10% as a caution will help managing the energy mix strategy in the kingdom," he said.

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