Driving innovation

In 2020, we spent $907 million on research and development (R&D), compared with $962 million in 2019.

Our R&D projects often involve collaborations with public or private entities, including universities, government laboratories, technology start-ups and incubators. This collaborative approach to innovation with partners inside and beyond the energy sector helps spark new ideas and accelerates their development and deployment.

In 2020, we started work on 124 R&D projects with universities, which is less than half that of last year due to the disruptions caused by COVID-19. Many of these projects focus on areas that are crucial for low-carbon energy systems, such as energy storage, fuel cells and greenhouse gas emissions.

Lower-carbon aviation fuel

In 2020, our scientists demonstrated how to produce 500 litres of synthetic kerosene aviation fuel from carbon dioxide, water and renewable energy to replace conventional hydrocarbon feedstocks. In a world first, the synthetic kerosene was blended with conventional jet fuel to power a KLM airlines passenger flight from Amsterdam to Madrid in early 2021.

The method can use carbon dioxide from any source, such as waste carbon dioxide from a refinery or biogas facility. We already supply airlines with sustainable aviation fuel refined from waste fats and oils.

We are now planning to test the technology at larger scale and use the same process to make chemical feedstocks.

High-performance fluids for electric vehicles

In 2020, we developed a range of e-fluids specially for battery-electric and fuel-cell electric vans and goods vehicles to help reduce emissions in the commercial road transport sector.

A team of people working on a Formula-E race car. (photo)

We are developing fluids and lubricants for electric vehicles in collaboration with customers such as Formula E racing teams.

Electric and hybrid vehicles require special transmission fluids to lubricate the gearbox, thermal fluids to cool the battery and electric motor, and greases to lubricate electric motor components working at much higher revolutions than internal combustion engines.

We develop the fluids and greases, in collaboration with our customers, at our Shell Technology Centres worldwide. Read more in e-mobility.

We are also using technology to help reduce energy use at data centres (see Energy-efficient products).

Blockchain for a lower-carbon world

We are investing in blockchain, a system in which a record of transactions is stored across a network of computers, as a way of proving the credentials of low-carbon technologies and products. Blockchain provides a secure, transparent and tamper-proof record as no single party controls the computing system supporting it. Changes to the data in one computer must be validated by all computers in the network.

Blockchain can make it possible to track low-carbon energy and certificates from their origin through every stage and transaction.

We are exploring blockchain as a way of verifying if hydrogen is produced using renewable power and whether carbon credits actually represent the removal of carbon from the atmosphere.

For example, by tracking the progress and effectiveness of nature-based solutions for carbon capture or avoided emissions, blockchain could identify and avoid double counting of carbon credits and help to maintain the quality of forestry or conservation projects.

We have started using this approach in a pilot project that creates digital passports for equipment, so it can be tracked throughout its life cycle. This approach is more efficient and significantly reduces paperwork associated with conventional audit trails.

Shell believes blockchain could transform the way companies collaborate and interact to accelerate development of lower-carbon energy.

Read more about innovation and collaboration at Shell at www.shell.com/innovation-through-research-and-development