Top ExxonMobil exec shares global energy supply, demand projections through 2040

One of ExxonMobil’s top global executives provided a packed house of engineering students a front-seat overview of everything from liquefied natural gas to large drivers of projected global energy demand to career advice and algae.

Developing economies will move nearly 2 billion additional people into middle class status by 2040, which will drive energy demand, said Jack Williams, ExxonMobil senior vice president.

“The formula is number of people times living standards equals energy needs,” he said.

Williams (BE ’86) is one of the School of Engineering’s most prominent alumni and a member of the school’s Board of Visitors. He’s had a close-up view of the energy sector during a 30-year career with ExxonMobil that started as a drilling engineer and has taken him around the world in posts that included vice president over new projects in Asia.

His broad perspective provided students with insights into diverse energy issues. Among them:

  • The demand for fuel for light-duty vehicles such as automobiles is projected to increase only 10 percent through 2040 as cars get lighter and more fuel efficient – even though the number of cars worldwide is expected to increase 80 percent.
  • Heavy-duty trucks and delivery vehicles will account for much of the increase in oil and gas demand as more and more people want goods dropped off at their front doors.
  • Research in algae as a renewable source of raw material for diesel and jet fuels “holds a lot of promise.”
  • Renewable energy from solar and wind power is the fastest growing segment of global supply but expands from a very small base.

“The global energy system is too big, it is too large to change quickly,” Williams said, sharing U.S. data dating to 1850. “It is not going to happen in four years. It has been that way for more than 100 years.”

He also discussed how drilling methods that made exploration and extraction of deep shale gas commercially viable have upended the supply chain. ExxonMobil, for example, is overhauling relatively new U.S. facilities intended to receive gas imported from other countries to export liquefied natural gas abroad.

“That,” he said, “is technology.”

As for career advice, Williams told students to keep learning whether they are “in school” or not.  Look for projects and opportunities to add unique value and remain open to possibilities, he said.

“Zero in on that. Take that leap,” Williams said. “I want all of you to be successful no matter where you end up.”