Vijay Swarup: Energy is key to human progress - Energy Factor
Behind the energy

Vijay Swarup: Energy is key to human progress

I grew up in Bethlehem, PA, a steel town in the beautiful Lehigh Valley. My father worked nearby, as an electrical engineer, at the pioneering Bell Labs. We both loved baseball and were big fans of the Philadelphia Phillies. He and I would listen to games on the radio and keep score. This was the late 1970s and the Phillies were on a hot streak. This was also before the Internet. Real-time updates weren’t available like they are today. And so my father and I did the math to compile player and team statistics such as batting averages, earned run average and fielding percentages.

Calculating baseball stats ignited my love for math. I was intrigued by the simple but fascinating notion of infinity – what is it, does it ever end? These questions fueled my passion for science and the scientific process. Motivated by these two interests I went on to study chemistry and chemical engineering at Purdue and then got a Ph.D. in chemical engineering at Rutgers in New Jersey. As an engineer, I see myself as a practical scientist. My job is to basically apply scientific concepts to solve real-world problems.

And here at ExxonMobil the real-world problem our scientists and innovators work on is ensuring people have access to reliable, affordable energy. This is a massive challenge. I can’t underscore that enough. Survival in this world relies on three basic necessities: food, water and shelter. However, we can’t overlook how energy is key to continued growth in the manner most of the world has become accustomed to. Energy keeps us warm in the winter and cool in the summer, it powers our homes and places of business, and it powers the Internet and our ability to stay connected. For all of these reasons and more, I believe energy will continue to be key to improving our quality of life.

Today, however, more than 1 billion people still don’t have access to power that many of us take for granted. An estimated 2 billion people still cook and boil drinking water by burning inefficient biomass.

As scientists working for one of the world’s largest energy companies, my team and I are developing ways to more efficiently access and distribute the world’s energy resources. That’s why we work on natural gas, that’s also why we work on carbon capture technology, and are developing biofuels from non-food feedstock, including algae.

Because I am an engineer and scientist I believe that there is always a better way to do things. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be satisfied with our current achievements. But any scientific breakthrough is a stepping-stone to the next eureka moment. Therefore, driving what we do here at ExxonMobil is our bottomless curiosity to always push the envelope, to always make things better.

Now, the challenge with energy and research is that it takes a long time. Like the sport I love, baseball, there is no game clock. Ensuring the world has clean and reliable energy is not a short-term play. I know that a lot of the energy innovations we are working on now probably won’t become commercial during my career. But breakthroughs are happening and I am confident we will lead the way.