23 February 2024

Global level skills see Wollongong chemical engineer headhunted for industrial ports project in Saudi Arabia

| Kellie O'Brien
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Robert Kempton ports project

Robert Kempton will leave Wollongong and take his family, Hannah, Samuel and wife Leela, with him to Saudi Arabia. Photo: Supplied.

Gaining global level skills within the Illawarra has seen chemical engineer Robert Kempton headhunted for the long-term strategic planning and delivery of a new large industrial port precinct in Saudi Arabia.

Robert has recently finished up as Stantec’s project management team leader in Wollongong and will head to Saudi Arabia in April where he will work with the Royal Commission for the delivery of the Ras Al Khair industrial precinct.

Having moved to Wollongong in 2001 from Bathurst to start a chemical engineering cadetship with BHP, now BlueScope, he credits the experiences he’s gained working in the region for the opportunities that have now emerged.

Major projects with BlueScope like the reline project for No. 5 Blast Furnace, working in a biofuel start-up and conducting a hydrogen pilot plant study with Stantec for BlueScope have set Robert up perfectly for his new role.

He said that in Saudi Arabia he would serve as an industrial planner, working with an established team to assist with the long-term strategic planning and delivery of a new large industrial precinct in Ras Al Khair.

“As the world looks to transition away from fossil fuels, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is actively planning to diversify their economy and lower their carbon footprint,” he said.

“As part of that, they’ve developing a large port side industrial precinct to attract and develop an industrial manufacturing base within Saudi to diversify their economy and provide jobs for future generations.

“Given the scale and complexity of the precinct, the team was looking for someone who’s got experience in large scale manufacturing, oil and gas, renewable energy and port side facilities, as well long-term planning and financial evaluation experience too.”

READ ALSO Multi-industrial precinct and ‘super TAFE’ planned for 200 ha of Port Kembla Steelworks’ excess land

And Robert has all those.

Starting with his first 11 years at BlueScope, he was able to see all the various operating departments and work in major projects, including involvement in the reline project for No. 5 Blast Furnace.

“It was from design through to construction, commissioning and then operational support, so I got to see the whole project lifecycle which is pretty rare and a great experience,” he said.

Later, Robert seized the opportunity to join a start-up biofuel company in Port Kembla, aiming to build Australia’s largest biodiesel plant.

To prepare for that project coming online, the company imported and distributed biodiesel to all of the major oil brands in Australia.

“I was responsible for managing that supply chain – so getting the biodiesel to Australia, getting it stored and then distributed,” he said.

“It’s a good bit of experience from the international supply chain perspective.”

However, changes in the NSW Government’s biofuel legislation ultimately led to the project’s abandonment.

He said the project team was then able to help the company pivot the project to attract investors, and design and gain approval to turn the project into a large bulk liquids terminal in Port Kembla, but building the facility has since been held off.

Robert’s career path then led him to Cardno, later acquired by Stantec, where projects included a pilot plant study with BlueScope for a potential hydrogen plant in Port Kembla.

READ ALSO Inside the clean, green energy industries springing up around the steelworks and harbour

He also helped with a joint study with BlueScope and the Department of Planning on requirements for activation of surplus lands in the outer harbour precinct in Port Kembla, which considered a range of options including the potential for a second container terminal for NSW in conjunction with other land parcels in the outer harbour area.

With the move to Saudi Arabia, he said he was looking forward to being part of a country that was undergoing rapid change and the opportunity for his children to experience a different culture in a family-friendly environment.

Despite the move, Robert remains appreciative of his time in Wollongong and looks forward to eventually returning to the region.

“I think one thing about the Illawarra, in general, is you get exposed to international-scale work opportunities,” he said.

“But because it’s a smaller region, you get to try lots of different things without necessarily having to move all over the world or all over Australia to get those different experiences.

“I’m really grateful for all the different places I’ve worked, the great people I’ve worked with, and the things I’ve picked up along the way.

“The companies and the people that we have in the region, are really world-class.”

He said Wollongong being a smaller place also meant different key stakeholders worked together and openly communicated.

“If I think about other areas, very rarely do you get to interact with all the key decision-makers so openly on a regular basis,” he said.

“That’s a real plus and a strength of the Illawarra is that people come together and work together to make a difference.”

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