We invest in research and development (R&D) to improve the quality of our products and efficiency of our projects, processes and operations – and to commercialise new technologies for the transition to a low-carbon energy future.
We have a global technology-development network, with major centres in the USA, the Netherlands and India. We also have R&D sites in countries such as China and Germany. Hundreds of scientists work at our facilities, running R&D projects that seek to, among other things, turn natural gas into cleaner fuels and energy-saving lubricants; to bring crude oil up from under the sea safely, economically and efficiently; and to reduce the Net Carbon Footprint of the energy products we sell.
In 2018, we spent $986 million on R&D, compared with $922 million in 2017.
Our R&D projects often involve collaborations with public or private entities, including business partners, universities, government laboratories, technology start-ups and incubators.
In 2018, we started work on 260 R&D projects with universities. Many of these focus on areas crucial for low-carbon energy systems, such as biomass, renewable power and electrochemical batteries. Our association with universities enables students and faculty to tackle technological challenges beyond foundational scientific insights, and consider how to scale up their work from the laboratory to commercial application in the energy industry.
For example, we are participating in a pilot project with the Technical University of Vienna and others to implement a new carbon capture process at a biomass power plant (see Carbon capture and storage).
We are also improving the performance and efficiency of our liquefied natural gas carriers and gas plants by using advanced digital data. For example, by letting captains know exactly what the optimal sailing conditions for their ships are, fuel consumption (and therefore CO2 emissions) can be reduced by as much as 8%.
In 2018, we announced a new programme that will help start-ups working on emerging clean-energy technologies to accelerate their path to market. Shell GameChanger Accelerator focuses on technologies related to long-term energy storage and power grid management. The programme works with the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory and has so far identified four companies to support.
Globally, we support innovation in a number of ways, including:
- Shell GameChanger, which works with start-ups and businesses on unproven early-stage ideas with the potential to impact the future of energy;
- Shell Ventures, which invests in companies that are developing promising technologies that complement Shell’s businesses; and
- Shell TechWorks, a programme that brings into the oil and gas sector proven technologies from other industries.
The Chinese Academy of Sciences and Shell have developed a strategic proposal for a hybrid energy system.
“To be a leader in energy, Shell is directly supporting research and development related to a low-carbon future. However, energy and issues such as climate change are global topics that are closely related to natural resources and technology advancements. This makes things challenging because different countries have differing energy structures. Attention must be paid to suitable integrated energy solutions for every region. For example, nuclear coupled with technologies that convert coal into other hydrocarbon products, or renewables integrated with gas conversion. The education and training of youth are also important. This is a major opportunity, for Shell and for all of society.”