Shell spends about $1 billion per year on the deployment of technology to the field and the provision of advanced technical services to assets. On top of that, it annually spends some $1 billion on R&D to improve the performance of its products and the efficiency of its facilities and operations. Part of this R&D programme aims to commercialise new technologies for the transition to a low-carbon future.
One important R&D area is catalysts, which are substances that speed up chemical reactions without being consumed in the process. Shell is a leader in catalysts for the production of ethylene oxide, a popular petrochemical building block. P&T’s catalyst sales provide Shell with a revenue stream of more than $1 billion a year. We think that more revenue can be made from catalysts, and P&T has set itself the target of doubling the income from its third-party catalyst and licensing business between 2017 and 2022.
Shell’s revenue can also be increased through improvements in the performance of the catalysts that P&T develops for Shell’s own exclusive use, as in its Pearl GTL plant in Qatar which turns natural gas into an odourless and colourless hydrocarbon liquid with very low impurity levels. R&D projects have been put in place to lower capital costs, raise yields and reduce the overall carbon intensity. And for the longer term, P&T scientists and engineers envisage adapting GTL technology to use renewable energy for making products from CO2.
Shell collaborates with universities, start-ups, suppliers and customers to develop and deploy new technologies and new products. Such collaboration helps Shell to keep up with the pace of change and reduces the risk of Shell bringing uncompetitive goods and services to market. P&T has undertaken joint R&D projects with academic institutions, for example, to help lay the technical foundations of low-carbon energy systems, such as those involving biomass, renewable power and electric batteries. Shell embarked on 223 R&D projects with universities in 2019.