INDUSTRY INSIGHTThought Leadership

Sailing ahead

GPCA Insight speaks to Aslam Moola, Commercial & Business Development Director, Vopak ME and Vice-Chair, Supply Chain Committee, GPCA, about the latest supply chain trends and the company’s plans to hone its position in the net-zero and energy transition

What are some of the trends and developments that Vopak has witnessed take shape across GCC chemical supply chain management over the last year?

In 2022, we saw that the demand growth for chemicals continues to be tightly linked to economic activity. Consumption is driven by end-markets such as construction, automotive, textiles and packaging, which are in turn driven by population growth and urbanization. As such, demand growth will continue to be led by Asia, especially in China, India and emerging markets. While demand growth for chemicals was resilient during the pandemic, weakening consumption growth, amid recession and inflationary pressures, might have an impact on global demand dynamics. Cost competitiveness between regions will continue to drive products such as methanol and glycols which are produced from cheaper natural gas-based or ethane-based units in the Americas and Middle East, and shipped to higher price locations in Europe and Asia. Meanwhile, China’s growing self-sufficiency will reduce trading of products such as aromatics. In the near-term our chemical terminals business is expected to remain strong, as pressure from macroeconomic headwinds is offset by increased European imports. Terminals in Latin America and India will see steady imports as lower cost production from the US and the Middle East in methanol and caustic soda continues to be moved into these growing deficit regions.

How is Vopak approaching some of the challenges affecting the supply chain to ensure continued and uninterrupted, smooth delivery of its services and goods?

We play a critical role in creating value in the whole value chain. As the world’s leading independent tank storage services company, we pride ourselves for our global network of assets, people and partnerships to serve our customers in the global market with uninterrupted delivery of vital products. We have demonstrated our agility to pivot during the pandemic and continue to exceed the needs of our customers. With our unparalleled  network of 78 terminals in 23 countries and 25+ joint venture partners, Vopak is well positioned to serve our customers, ensuring safe, clean and efficient storage of their vital energy and chemical products.  We have a diversified portfolio, which is a critical enabler for product flows today and in the future. In 2022, we laid out the strategic ambitions needed to take us forward to 2030, with an aim to improve the performance of our business portfolio to deliver attractive cash flows and returns for shareholders. In addition, we aim to grow our industrial and gas terminal footprint by investing EUR 1 billion by 2030 and to accelerate our new energies activities by also investing EUR 1 billion over the same period.

The “old-world order” of global supply chains is fracturing, with first the trade war, then coronavirus plus the drive to lower carbon emissions all pushing towards a more regional approach. What are the implications for the Arabian Gulf chemical and petrochemical industry which is heavily export-oriented?

We expect the positive feedstock positions of our customers to keep them relevant in the global petrochemical market in the foreseeable future, especially in Asia and Europe. Moreover, the Middle East is competitively positioned for renewable energy production. As such, Vopak will continue to look at business development opportunities to grow our industrial and low carbon energy and chemicals footprint in the region while supporting the decarbonization efforts at existing terminals.

What are some of the paths forward to abating supply chain emissions in the region’s quest to net-zero? What tools and solutions should the industry adopt to achieve this?

Vopak is excited to be at the heart of the energy and feedstocks transition. It requires new infrastructure and new supply chains, connecting supply and demand around the world. Our customers and partners play a key role in this transformation as they are large producers and users of energy and feedstocks. They count on us to help them with infrastructure and to optimize these new energy and feedstock flows for the benefit of business and society. We are committed to invest EUR 1 billion of growth capex to facilitate low carbon solutions and sustainable feedstocks by 2030. We are focusing on infrastructure solutions for net-zero and low-carbon hydrogen, ammonia, CO2 and biofuels, as well as on long-duration electricity storage and chemical recycling.

How can industry leaders differentiate themselves and create value across their supply chains? How important are drivers such as innovation, digitalization and the energy transition in this regard?

Our core strengths such as, our network, capabilities, customer relationships and partnerships, uniquely position us to benefit from the transformation of our sector in the years to come. A company’s long-term success depends on its ability to innovate and build long term partnerships while responding to the changing demands of our markets. As such, Vopak has proven its agility in the past decades to actively navigate through the changes and transform itself to strengthening our market position in industrial terminals, growing our gas business, and accelerating towards low carbon infrastructure solutions. By innovating and bringing in new technologies, our aim is to improve our services to our customers, and operational performance and get ahead of the energy and feedstock transition and climate change. This is why we are developing partnerships and exploring ways to enable energy transition, for example working with Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies to develop LOHC based hydrogen logistics solutions, as well as other partnerships for liquid hydrogen and ammonia. Another example is that we are, together with Petronas, exploring the development of CO2 infrastructure solutions.

What can we expect to see from the GPCA Supply Chain Committee in the coming year? Can you tell us a little bit more about your key upcoming plans and projects? 

Our audience has grown and become more diverse over the years. Attendance at our Supply Chain Conference remains impressive. With this year’s event being hosted for the first time in Khobar, KSA, I am confident we will attract an even more diverse audience. Our agenda will continue to focus on subjects that support the overall competitiveness of our regional producers, including elements relating to cross border product movement, decarbonization and greening of supply chains, and digital integration.

I wish to invite GCC stakeholders to engage the GPCA team and if not already a part of GPCA, to consider subscribing. They will find a highly energized group of people with a rich resource base and very willing to support.