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Driving innovation

In 2023, we spent $1,287 million on research and development (R&D), compared with $1,067 million in 2022. We also started work on more than 270 R&D projects with universities, compared with more than 250 in 2022.

Our R&D activities are key to achieving our net-zero emissions target. In 2023, our R&D expenditure on projects that contributed to decarbonisation was around $628 million, representing about 49% of our total R&D spend, compared with around 41% in 2022. This includes expenditure on reducing greenhouse gas emissions:

  • from our own operations, for example, by improving energy efficiency and electrification;
  • from the fuels and other products we sell to our customers — for example, biofuels, synthetic fuels and products made from low-carbon electricity, and hydrogen produced using renewable sources;
  • by carbon capture, utilisation and storage applied to hydrogen production from natural gas and other carbon emissions;
  • by researching nature-based solutions to offset emissions; and
  • for our customers through renewable power generation, storage, e-mobility and other electrification solutions.

Examples of R&D areas other than decarbonisation include safety, performance products such as lubricants and polymers, and the integration of robotics, automation and artificial intelligence.

Innovations in 2023

In 2023, Shell won an order for its CANSOLV® carbon capture technology for the world’s largest post-combustion carbon capture, utilisation and storage facility. The facility, in Abu Dhabi, UAE, will capture and permanently store 1.5 million tonnes of CO2 a year at a gas processing plant, helping Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) to decarbonise its operations (see also Carbon capture and storage).

We also took the decision to build a direct air capture demonstration unit in the USA to prove the technical viability of our solid sorbent technology, which removes carbon dioxide from the air. The CO2 could then be stored permanently underground or reused as feedstock in the production of chemicals and fuels.

In China, we have introduced a thermal energy storage system at our Zhuhai plant, which produces lubricants and greases. The system replaces diesel fuel with renewable electricity to generate process steam for manufacturing lubricants. The storage system will optimise steam production and is expected to reduce the use of diesel by 300 tonnes and CO2 emissions by more than 900 tonnes annually.

As part of our commitment to develop sustainable biofuels, we have partnered with two leading Brazilian research institutes, Unicamp and Senai Cimatec, to explore the potential of using agave as a feedstock. Agave is a semi-arid plant that requires minimal amounts of water. By growing it in Brazil, we hope to develop a scalable value chain that could significantly reduce emissions.

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