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Dr. Muhammad Azizur Rahman: a Silent Expert in Chemical and Petroleum Industries

Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) has been producing world class Engineers, Researchers and Academics since its establishment in 1948 in the name of Ahsanullah Engineering College. Dr. Muhammad Azizur Rahman is one of the first few Bangladeshi Engineers who pioneered Chemical Engineering as a profession in Bangladesh. Dr. Aziz possesses a unique combination of technical and business experience in all aspects of Refinery, Petrochemicals, Chemicals and the Gas Processing Industries. Having also held positions in general management, he is uniquely able to evaluate, implement and operate across the process industries. His exclusive background allows him to take leadership roles in General Management, Master Planning, Project Evaluation, Project Implementation and Operation.

Coming from a village of Dinajpur, Dr. Aziz has consistently maintained his academic excellence since his childhood. Being a very bright student of mathematics he enrolled (1955) in Ahsanullah Engineering College[1] [1], Dhaka to fulfil his cherished dream to be an engineer. That time there was no Chemical Industry in Bangladesh (former East Pakistan). But it was the fate which drove him to enrol in the newly formed Chemical Engineering Department[2] [2]. He successfully completed his BSc in Chemical Engineering in 1959. In 1960 he went to UK with a full funded scholarship to pursue Post-Graduate studies in Chemical Engineering; he completed Master of Technical Science from the Victoria University of Manchester, UK (1962). He also completed Post-Graduate Diploma (1965) in Refining and Chemical Engineering from the Institute of French Petroleum, Paris, France. He did his PhD (1973-76) in Chemical Engineering from University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, UK.

Dr. Aziz started his colourful and outstanding professional career as a Lecturer of Chemical Engineering, Ahsanullah Engineering College, Dhaka in 1959. In 1963 he joined the Eastern Refinery as a Training Engineer; from Eastern Refinery he was sent to France for higher training in Refining and Chemical Engineering. In the later part of his career in Eastern Refinery Limited, Bangladesh, he served as its General Manager (1977-80) as well as a member of the Board of Directors. During this period Eastern Refinery became profitable; he also established discipline amongst the work force leading to better motivation and higher productivity.

In 1980 Dr. Aziz joined Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) and worked there for about 30 yrs. In the long career in ADNOC (1980-2009) he has served in many key positions which include: Production Superintendent; Refinery Manager; Refining Co-ordinator; Manager Planning & Process Technology Dept., Technical Support Division Manager, Business Planning & Process Technology Division; Manager, Chemicals Planning Division; and Advisor, Chemicals Planning Division. During his tenure in ADNOC, Dr. Aziz’s wide-ranging responsibilities have included development of medium and long-term strategic plans, project and technology evaluation, development of contracts and agreements for licensors selection and joint venture negotiation, project and technology evaluation, managing project risk assessments, environmental impact and regulation, managing health and safety issues, etc. At present he has been given the responsibility of Executive Vice President of Corporate Projects Unit of Abu Dhabi National Chemicals Company (ChemaWEyaat) for developing a Master Plan for an Industrial City on a 70 Km2 land; the Industrial City development forms a part of Abu Dhabi Government’s 2030 vision and in developing the worlds’ largest Aromatics Complex.

Recently ‘ChE Thoughts’ got the great opportunity to talk to him about his long decorated engineering career, engineering vision and professional experiences; Mohidus Samad Khan from “ChE Thoughts” has conducted his interview.

Thanks for giving us time from your busy schedule. It is our pleasure to have you with us for the interview. You have earned a world class reputation as an expert in refining, petrochemicals, chemicals and gas industries. You are the first few Bangladeshi Engineers who pioneered Chemical Engineering in Bangladesh. Before you, only a limited number of students graduated from the Chemical Engineering (ChE) Department. What inspired you to select ChE as a profession/career?

The journey of Chemical Engineering education in Bangladesh (former East Pakistan) started with the establishment of Ahsanullah Engineering College in 1948. In 1955, when seven of us joined the Chemical Engineering Department of Ahsanullah Engineering College, there were no Chemical Industries in Bangladesh (former East Pakistan). There were none even in the planning stage. But sometimes in life it just happens, so it happened for us too that we joined the Department. It was not then, like it is now that the engineering students before joining any Department have a total understanding of the pros and cons of that profession and options available for him or her to choose.

Figure: Abu Dhabi Oil Refining Company: Ruwais Refinery Plant (photo courtesy: Dr. Muhammad Azizur Rahman)

Any memorable experience while studying ChE in BUET (i.e. former Ahsanullah Engineering College)?

There are many memorable experiences. The most significant was to have Dr. M. A. Rashid as our Principal. He was a giant of a personality. His dedication and love for the development and welfare for the College and subsequently for BUET were exemplary. It can only be admired.
The Professors of the Chemical Engineering Department of our time were highly dedicated and fulfilled their duties and responsibilities admirably in establishing the new Department. Our batch of seven can be considered the pioneering batch of Chemical engineering education in the then East Pakistan. At that time Prof. O.P. Bergelin, a visiting Professor, from Texas A&M College, came to Dhaka to help establishing the Department. Prof. Bergelin was the co-author of ‘Heat Transmission’ Section of 3rd Edition (1953) of PERRY’s CHEMICAL ENGINEERING HAND BOOK. After all these years we still acknowledge his contribution to the Department; we appreciate that he withstood the hardships of life to be in East Pakistan, when the living conditions were not very comfortable and in particular, communication with the outside world was so limited. For example, there used to be only one daily flight of PIA between Dhaka and Karachi.

You have a long career in Eastern Refinery Limited, Bangladesh. At your time Eastern Refinery became a profitable organization. Would you like to share your experience in Eastern Refinery?

I started my career as a lecturer in the Engineering College. I was promoted to the Senior Lecturer position and at the same time I was also offered the job in the Eastern Refinery, to be sent to France for training. I joined the Refinery; went to France with 11 other trainees, learnt French; was one of the two, amongst the 11, selected for a Post-graduate course titled ”Refining & Chemical Engineering” in the French Institute of Petroleum, Paris. There were students from other French speaking countries in the course. With Allah’s blessings, I stood second in the class.
In the construction phase and subsequently in the commissioning phase of the Eastern Refinery, we faced enormous challenges and we met them head on and commissioned the refinery on schedule in 1968 and I soon became its Technical Manager in 1970.
1971, Bangladesh was born. I took charge of the Refinery as Acting Refinery Manager. But I went to UK in 1973 to do my PhD, a dream I wanted to fulfil. I still recall, half way through my examination, defending my PhD thesis, the external examiner, a Professor of Chemical Engineering of Birmingham University, UK offered me the position of Chief Engineer in a Company, which used to produce tray materials and packings, where he was a Director. I accepted the offer and worked for that Company for nearly a year.
One day I received a phone call from the Bangladesh Ambassador in London that the Government of Bangladesh wanted me to take charge of the Refinery as its General Manager. I accepted and returned to the Refinery in late 1976, took charge of it at a very critical period. I had to face the oil crisis, crude oil price soaring every month, assuring oil was available; Kerosene and diesel shortages; very limited amount of foreign exchange in the country, labour unrest etc. With the help and trust of the then Chairman of Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation (BPC), Mr. Hassan Ahmed and working in close collaboration with the Petroleum Ministry we met the challenge.
Regarding “Trust”, I can recall that two of us, myself being the General Manager of the Refinery having the signing authority and Mr. Azimuddin Ahmed, the then Director of Planning BPC; were given full authority to negotiate crude oil purchase deals and sign agreements. (such level of trust is, I believe, rare today)
First time in the life of the Refinery, in 1978, it made profit as a company and since then it remained profitable. I fondly recall the dedication, love and honesty of the refinery management team and the employees who supported me during my tenure as General Manager and who I had the opportunity with my other colleagues, to recruit, train and motivate during the commissioning phase of the refinery in 1968. We kept the refinery running, improved its operations, debottlenecked it and it is still running 40 years after its commissioning.
I wish to mention with sorrow that the Chittagong Steel Mills, built and commissioned at the same time, an asset of the country, was “eaten up” totally by human beings like us, a long long time ago. The demise of other big industries, since then followed – Adamjee Jute Mills is one of them.

You have worked for Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) for about 30 years at different key positions; would you like to share your experience in ADNOC projects?

I worked in ADNOC from 1980 to 2009. I started there as a Production Superintendent of Ruwais Refinery and then gradually promoted to Refinery Manager; Manager of Planning & Process Technology Dept., Technical Support Division; Manager of Business Planning & Process Technology Division; Manager of Chemicals Planning Division; and then Advisor of Chemical Planning Division. In my tenure, I worked to develop medium and long-term strategic plans, together with direction of evaluation of major investments. I was also responsible for evaluation of plant performance and benchmarking. Being an Advisor, Chemical Planning Division, I had to involve on a wide range of issues related to proposed investments in petrochemicals, such as:
• ADNOC has developed a significant joint venture relationship with Borealis in polyolefins business. I had a range of roles in this effort, including a member of the negotiating team of the joint venture (JV) agreements, as well as serving as a key member of the Project Steering Committee and team of technical advisors. The JV commissioned a 600 KTA Cracker and two PE Plants in 2000. The JV expanded its operation and just commissioned a 1.4 million tonne per annum (mtpa) ethane cracker with 540 thousand tonne per annum (ktpa) polyethylene and 800 ktpa polypropylene units. Total capital expenditure (capex) is approximately US$ 5 billion.
• I was a member of a Feasibility Study Team for a new 3500 tonne per day (tpd) urea fertilizer plant. Capex is estimated to be $1.3 billion. The project is under implementation with target completion in Q4 2012.
• I was a member of Technical Team for the installation of an 80 ktpa melamine plant at Ruwais Industrial Complex, initially ADNOC as a JV with Agrolinz Melamine Industries (AMI) of Austria. Project has been transferred now to ChemaWEyaat (Abu Dhabi National Chemicals Company) for implementation.
• TAKREER is the refining subsidiary of ADNOC and was to construct an aromatics complex that will manufacture gasoline for domestic consumption and produce 750 ktpa paraxylene and 375 – 770 ktpa benzene. I participated in several aspects of this project. I was a member of a team who prepared the feasibility study examining the Cumene, Phenol, Bisphenol-A and finally Polycarbonate production. The project has now been transferred to ChemaWEyaat for implementation.
• I was a member of a team, who have Initiated conceptual studies for installing a residual fluid catalytic cracking (RFCC) in Ruwais, including production of olefins, aromatics and subsequent downstream developments, the refinery expansion is under implementation now.

Currently you are working as Senior Vice President, Corporate Projects Unit of Abu Dhabi National Chemicals Company (ChemaWeyaat). Can you please tell us about the current project you are working on?

For the past three years, I am advising ChemaWEyaat for developing a Master Plan for an Industrial City to be built in the Western Region of Abu Dhabi on a 70 Km2 land allocated to it by the Government of Abu Dhabi. The Industrial City development forms a part of Abu Dhabi Government’s 2030 vision. Some 12 Chemicals Complexes have been identified – which can be built in the City using the feedstocks available in ADNOC Refineries and Gas Plants. Since December 2010, I have been given the Executive Vice President role of Corporate Projects Unit.
I am also involved in developing the first complex in the Industrial City. The Front End Engineering Design (FEED) of the first complex, an Aromatics Complex, will start soon. The cost of the complex is estimated at $3 billion. The complex will be implemented in phases.

It is really a wide and exclusive experience. Let’s discuss a bit more where we have started from. Tell us more about the work environment of your early age professional life.

Again, there are many memorable experiences in my early professional life. We grew up in our professional careers at a period, when the people in responsible positions were just, honest, honourable and dignified. Some I had the pleasure to know personally and to work with. Dr. Rafiquddin Ahmed, (ex-Chairman, Bangladesh Chemical Industries Corporation), Dr. Fasihuddin Mahtab, (ex-Planning Minister of Govt. of Bangladesh -deceased), Professor Iqbal Mahmood (ex-VC BUET), Prof Nooruddin Ahmed (ex-VC BUET), Dr. Jasimuz Zaman (ex-BUET faculty and current Co-Chair, Bangladesh Chemical Engineering Forum) and other too many to list. They have the personality that may break but could not bend under any sort of pressure or for personal gains.

It’s been over 50 years since you graduated (1959) from the Chemical Engineering Department. How you see the contrast of Chemical Engineering in Bangladesh: Now and Before?


There were not many opportunities then; as students we didn’t have much idea on chemical engineering profession. Immediately, after our graduation, the first opportunity came. Pakistan Industrial Development Corporation had just been established and it decided to build a Fertilizer Factory in Fenchuganj, Sylhet. Most of us received appointment letters to join the Company (without any interview) and to go immediately to Japan for training. I did not take the offer and stayed in the Department. Three of us took the offer. Subsequently East Pakistan Development Corporation was formed and industrialisation of the then East Pakistan started.
At the same period, the Water and Power Development Board was formed.
A comprehensive development of the country started. The Refinery, Steel Mill, Fertilizer factories, Cement factories, Paper Mills, Jute Mills, Power Plants and Water Treatment Plants, Teesta Barage, etc. Many industries, small and large, dozens of them were designed, constructed and were commissioned.


We wish we had more natural resources (gas, coal, oil etc) to be used as feedstocks for developing primary and secondary chemical industries. I think, the time has come to go from “operate & maintain” phase to “design, build & operate” phase. Someone has to start this – I know it is not easy and it is capital intensive, but I think the environment is now right for an individual or a group to assume the pioneering role in this regard. It is encouraging to know the recent initiative by few ChE BUET alumni who are establishing an Engineering Consultancy Company. I wish the group luck, and promise of providing support, anyway I can.

You have a long and highly decorated engineering career. When you started as a professional engineer, did you have any specific vision in your mind? Or, with time, exposure and opportunity have you developed any engineering vision? What was your driving force?

Yes, I had. I enjoyed studying the “Separation Processes” and “Catalytic Processes”. It was clearly understood that the Oil & Gas based industries utilize these processes the most. I wished to work in these fields, when I was offered the job of Eastern Refinery, I took it without hesitation.
Since then, I continued to get opportunities to apply those processes in my career in Refining, Gas Processing and Petrochemicals Complexes.
I am a believer of teamwork and empowering the subordinates with responsibilities. At the same time I would strive hard in giving my best efforts and commitments and make the employers business ventures profitable. You may call it “my driving force”.

It is really fascinating to talk to you. Your wide experience and world-class expertise will inspire the new generation of Chemical Engineers: both in Bangladesh and abroad. Before we finish, would you like to say something to the “ChE Thoughts” audience?

To the students and young alumni of ChE; I would like to say that:
I would also like to appreciate “ChE Thoghts”; “ChE Thougts” have achieved what was only in our thoughts. I wish that ‘ChE Thoughts’ will provide the source of inspiration for the future students of Chemical Engineering and the alumni in the years to come.

[1] [3] Dhaka Engineering Survey School, established in 1876, became Dhaka Engineering College (later renamed as Ahsanullah Engineering College) in 1948. Ahsanullah Engineering College was upgraded to East Pakistan University of Engineering and Technology (EPUET). After liberation war in 1971, the university founded its current name: Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET). [Ref: Kabir (2008) CERB 12, pp 11-19]

[2] [4] Chemical Engineering Department was established in 1948 under Ahsanullah Engineering College.



To cite this article, please use following information:

(use the given format or any standard citation format)

Khan, M.S., Dr. Muhammad Azizur Rahman: a Silent Expert in Chemical and Petroleum Industries, ChE Thoughts 2 (1), 40-45, 2011.