Venturing into the future: how BP is developing next generation technologies

Last edited: 19 May 2017

Turning household waste into jet fuel, carbon dioxide into concrete and gas-guzzling trucks into energy-saving convoys are just some of the ways in which BP is helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. BP Magazine takes a look at three of the transitional technologies in a portfolio of venturing businesses leading the way towards a lower carbon energy future

Light-bulb moments can lead to successful companies, but the failure rate along the way can be very high. This is where the venturing concept comes in, allowing investors to take risks in a carefully managed way. For BP, venturing is not just a capital investment but also a commitment to providing its business expertise to support a wide range of small, innovative, high-tech start-ups whose emerging ideas, processes or business models it believes may have huge potential for a lower carbon world.
BP’s head of business development for group technology, David Gilmour, says: “The purpose of our venturing business is to take somebody or a group of people who have a really bold ambition or new-to-world ideas, and help to nurture their businesses and their dreams. We’re not just an investor, our expertise is crucial because we have the right skills to support their business. We scan thousands of different technology companies, looking for points of differentiation, new business models and smarter ways to run our own business. This approach gives us faster, cheaper access to ideas and technologies than if we tried ourselves.

“Our primary aim is not to find the next Tesla or Uber and see them go public to make money for the investor. The real benefit we see is creating the value for BP utilising their technology at scale, which in turn allows them to flourish. This creates a win-win relationship. We aim to get an extraordinary return on our investment when we consider the impact on our own business.”
"Our primary aim is not to find the next Tesla or Uber and see them go public. The real benefit is creating the value for BP utilising their technology at scale"
David Gilmour, BP head of business development for group technology
BP is already seeing the benefits of investing in innovative technologies in a variety of new areas, from autonomous vehicles to biojet fuels:

Fulcrum - from waste to wingtip

Converting household waste into aviation fuel is the unique concept behind Fulcrum Energy’s new biojet fuel. Once the waste is collected for recycling, suitable materials are selected for use - such as food waste and plastic bottles. The waste is then converted to synthetic jet fuel and blended to make it suitable for aircraft, before being delivered to an airport for use.

The demand for biojet greatly outstrips the supply currently available, partly driven by the aviation industry’s ambitious climate goals – the International Air Transport Association (IATA) is aiming for zero growth in carbon by 2020 and a 50% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050. 

David Gilmour says: “There is no current alternative to jet fuel for aviation, so the industry is hungry for a viable lower carbon alternative. By partnering up with Fulcrum, BP is showing leadership in a new area and it allows us to have a positive influence on how the business develops and grows. We are doing the right thing for BP in reducing our carbon footprint. We have the skills to help Fulcrum succeed and we are doing the right thing for the aviation industry in support their goals to reduce carbon emissions.”

BP has invested $30 million in the company, as well as securing a 10-year deal for the supply of biojet for Air BP, the organisation’s aviation company.  

BPMO-Biojet-01

Peloton – not just for cyclists

There is a reason cyclists race in the close formation known as a peloton. The lead cyclist takes the full impact of the air, and any headwind, creating a pocket behind where the air resistance is lower. Cyclists following in this slipstream can travel just as fast, but using less effort, or less energy.  

This energy-saving technique is the inspiration behind Peloton – a connected and automated vehicle technology company dedicated to improving the safety and efficiency of freight transportation. Travelling in this way, minimising drag, can result in overall fuel savings of between 8-15% - all done by machine-to-machine control. 

The driver-assistive grouping system links the active safety systems of pairs of trucks, and connects them to a cloud-based Network Operations Centre that limits grouping to appropriate roads and conditions. The automated system monitors and then instantaneously synchronises each of the trucks’ acceleration and braking to maintain a safe distance between the vehicles. Today, the system is designed to ‘pair’ two vehicles; in the future the system expects to manage more vehicles and higher levels of autonomy.

The Peloton solution also improves the safety of individual trucks by using collision avoidance systems and other safety features that are active both in and out of groupings.

Understanding this technology helps BP prepare for the likely advent of autonomous vehicles in the market through understanding how technology is being developed inside the vehicle, the business models around its deployment and how best BP can interact with the system to ensure products and services are readily available.

Solidia – concrete carbon reduction

The human race uses more concrete every year than any other substance, except for water: 33 billion tonnes are produced annually as part of the $1.3 trillion concrete and cement market. Such a huge market carries a big environmental impact – cement production accounts for 3-5% of total global carbon emissions, as well as requiring an estimated 2.15-2.6 billion tonnes of water annually. 

What are concrete and cement, and what is the difference?

  • Cement is essentially the glue in concrete. It is made by grinding together a mixture consisting mostly of limestone, aluminium and silica oxides which is then heated to 1,450°C.
  • Concrete is a mixture of materials like sand, gravel and small rocks which sets hard when combined with cement and water. 
Given the scale of global cement demand, a more sustainable method of production could have significant environmental benefits, and that is exactly what Solidia Technologies are aiming for. 

By changing the chemistry behind production and curing its cement with CO₂ instead of water, Solidia’s technology reduces carbon emissions by up to 70% and enables 80% of the water used in production to be recycled. 

The process also produces a more stable end product, and one that reaches maximum strength in 24 hours, compared to a traditional wait of 28 days.

David Gilmour concludes: “The oil industry is 150 years old and to compete and succeed we need to continue to evolve. The history of BP tells us we are adaptable and experienced in managing changes – from finding new resources in different geographies to developing new types  of energy businesses, including  renewables like wind and biofuels. 

The way we see it, is that we have a choice: we can sit on the sidelines and watch change happen to us, or embrace the challenges and opportunities. I’m excited to say we’re choosing to embrace change and invest for the next generation.”

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