Lux says “big oil” industry turning to nanotech

April 8, 2008 — A new report from Lux Research, “Petroleum Players Seek Nanotech Solutions to Oil Supply Woes,” says that new collaborations are needed to apply nanotechnology effectively to petroleum discovery.

Oil and gas exploration is increasingly fruitless, says Lux: Since 1999, the world’s five largest international oil companies have replaced only 82% of the reserves that they’ve consumed, and even Royal Dutch Shell CEO Jeroen van der Veer has said that “easily accessible supplies of oil and gas will no longer keep up with demand.” Nanotechnology can help the oil and gas industry find new fields and extract more from existing ones — but only if new collaborations bridge the industry’s historical divides.

“Underground oil inhabits nanoscale pores; oil wells’ extreme temperatures and pressures benefit from nanostructured materials and coatings; and engineered nanocatalysts can upgrade heavy oils to lighter, more valuable ones,” said Mark Bünger, Research Director at Lux Research. “With these benefits in store, it’s no surprise that 78 nanotech start-ups focus on oil and gas – and that associations like the Society of Petroleum Engineers and the Advanced Energy Consortium are investigating everything from subsurface nanosensors to autonomous nanobots.”

Lux’s report includes a global inventory of research initiatives, corporate R&D programs, and start-up companies in the field. It concludes that:

— Tiny oil and gas R&D budgets constrain large companies’ nanotech development. International oil giants are spending just 0.2% to 0.5% of revenue on R&D — 50 to 100 times less than in other technology-dependent sectors like aerospace, biotech, and information technology.

— The oil and gas industry’s fractured history keeps players from combining their efforts. Increasingly bitter rivalry keeps international oil companies like Shell and ExxonMobil (which have a history of deploying new technology) from collaborating on nanotech with national oil companies like Sinopec and Gazprom (who own the reserves but have not focused on technology in the past).

“Petroleum Players Seek Nanotech Solutions to Oil Supply Woes” is part of the LR Nanomaterials Intelligence service. For further information contact John Schwartz.


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