Last November, Shell launched a new initiative known as Shell Technology Norway (STN), partly in acknowledge-ment of the prestige of the country's R&D sector.
Other factors included the government's proactive support for research and development, which led to the successful Demo 2000 program for demonstrating leading-edge offshore technologies in strategically important areas. For Shell, one of these areas is subsea technology. The company is mindful that most of the leading subsea engineering contractors are located in Norway. These include ABB, FMC Kongsberg, and Kv
Through its Norwegian subsidiary Norske Shell, the company has a long-standing presence in the country, and has participated in initiatives such as the Norwegian deepwater program created to support exploration and production activities in deepwater areas of the Norwegian Sea. Company representatives from units elsewhere, such as Shell Deepwater Services in Houston, were already making frequent visits to tap the country's expertise. "In the end we thought, why not sit down with these people and decide where the technology gaps are?" said STN Managing Director Chris Schaafsma. Since this article was written, Chris Schaafsma has moved on within the Shell group, and has been replaced at STN by Andrew Grundy.
Shell is supporting the application of Twister technology to gas drying on the seabed.
STN is located in Oslo rather than Stavanger, Norske Shell's existing base. Shell felt the new center should cater to its global needs. The initial staff complement of 12 is expected to rise to around 20 by year-end as technology gaps are identified and staff are recruited to take care of them. Many of these employees have been recruited from Norske Shell, but the company can also call on resources from its Rijswijk research center in The Netherlands, Shell Technology E&P in Houston, and other group divisions.
The purpose of STN is to build additional technological capability for the company. "We feel technology needs to be actively managed, and that R&D projects need to have a focus," Schaafsma said. "Looking at our worldwide needs and the value that solutions can bring to our fields, we can bring that focus to bear and decide which ones give best value."
As can be seen from the small number of staff, the approach is not to throw large numbers of company personnel into the R&D effort, but to work with local technology providers. In addition, STN will look for the right partners with which to develop technology. "We see a lot of advantage in joint industry projects, and in the structure adopted by Demo 2000 – the tripartite model of industry, technology providers and government," said Schaafsma. "Technology development, and especially demonstration projects, are very capital intensive, so co-operation with others is important."
Meanwhile Norwegian technology providers will benefit from being close to STN, which can provide access to important customers around the world, while for the Norwegian authorities, having STN on board offers an important contribution to its desire to internationalize Norway's offshore technology.
As with Demo 2000, STN aims to narrow the gap between the development and the application of new technologies. "We're trying to focus from an early stage on fields where the technology will be used," said Schaafsma. "We make contact with the relevant asset managers and get them to commit to using the technology we are developing."
Schaafsma identifies two core research areas: subsea engineering and related deep-water technologies, and technologies related to the development of sustainable forms of energy.
With regard to subsea technologies, Shell's vision is to have solutions available for subsea tiebacks over distances of 150 km and in water depths up to 3,500 m. Here there are major challenges to be overcome in areas such as subsea compression and power distribution. At 1,000 m and beyond, the problems are perhaps greater than those facing the aerospace industry, Schaafsma says. Another major challenge is developing equipment such as integrated subsea templates incorporating metering, controls, and power.
Shell is already involved in the search for solutions. It is in the chair of the Sepdis subsea power distribution project led by ABB, of Framo Engineering's subsea wet gas compressor development, and of FMC Kongsberg's integrated subsea systems project. All three projects are part of the Demo 2000 program, and all are backed by the Ormen Lange license group, which includes Shell.
Shell itself has brought to the industry the Twister technology for gas separation at supersonic speeds. The application of this technology to drying gas on the seabed before transporting it to shore is now being studied. Compared with a conventional glycol plant, Twister offers a compact solution. A joint project is now under way between Twister BV in Rijswijk, the company set up to further develop and market the Twister technology, and FMC Kongsberg to investigate the subsea potential of the technology.
If these solutions are to work, they need to be reasonable in size and packed in modular form, Schaafsma points out. He sees the current trend to sizing down the operational footprint as vital to securing the technological objectives.
STN is also closely involved in the development of sustainable technology. It has assumed the management of Shell's first fuel cell pilot project, which is to be carried out on the site of the Kollsnes gas terminal in western Norway. The 250kw cell, which is being built by Siemens Westinghouse, should be commissioned in 2004.
The pilot plant will produce power, heat, and carbon dioxide. The latter, which will be produced in a concentrated form, will be delivered to a nearby fish farm where it will be used for enhancing the production of algae to be used in making pellets for feeding cod. The heat will be diverted to the fish ponds, and the energy delivered to the Kollsnes industrial site.
This project exemplifies another key research topic – how to dispose of CO2 in a non-harmful way. One possibility is injecting it into oil reservoirs to enhance production. In Denmark, research is being conducted into ways of capturing CO2 from coal-fired plants and injecting it into offshore deep aquifers or oil reservoirs.