Open innovation to help decarbonize the chemical industry


Open innovation firm InnoCentive is supporting Shell GameChanger in a new Chemicals Decarbonization Challenge to find innovative technologies that significantly reduce the carbon intensity relating to the Shell Chemicals product portfolio.

Chemical products are vital in maintaining and improving quality of life. But the industrial production of these chemicals is dominated by energy-intensive processes that start with hydrocarbon feedstocks, and their carbon footprint is significant. The challenge for the industry is to decrease the carbon footprint whilst satisfying an increasing demand at an affordable price.

Stephen Fowler, Vice President of Shell’s Chemicals and New Energies technology group, said. “Shell is a major player in the chemicals industry, and it aims to be a net-zero emissions energy business by 2050 or sooner. In addition to our current efforts in developing low carbon technologies, we want to know what innovative technologies are being developed by others which could help us reduce the carbon intensity of the processes used to make our products. By tapping into the collective brainpower of InnoCentive’s solvers, we hope to find some that we can help develop for the benefit of society.”

To that end, Shell GameChanger is seeking partners connected to the InnoCentive network of around 500,000 solvers, comprising engineers, scientists, chemists, entrepreneurs, technologists and more, many of whom work at startups. Selected companies with unproven early-stage technology (TRL 2-5) will be given support, expertise and funding in the range of $200,000 (depending on scope) to progress the technology as a ‘proof of concept’. Companies with mid-stage technology (TRL 6-7) are also eligible for this challenge, but they will be considered for direct collaboration with Shell’s Chemicals technology group.

Shell’s chemical products include building blocks such as ethylene and propylene; intermediates such as styrene, ethylene glycol and propylene oxide; performance products such as long-chain olefins and detergent alcohols; a range of solvents; and polymers including polyols and polyethylene.

Shell is primarily looking for solutions that address conventional hydrocarbon feedstock substitutions; improvements in process efficiency by novel routes or novel unit operations (for example, separations, catalysts, reactor designs); electrification of processes (low and high temperature heat); product substitutions or market adjacencies with a significant competitive advantage; and technologies developed for other industries that could be applied in new ways for the chemical industry.

InnoCentive, a Wazoku brand, is the Open Innovation Marketplace component of Wazoku’s Enterprise Innovation Platform, a suite of tools to power innovation at scale across global enterprises. Its 500,000 strong network has a success rate of 78 per cent in solving challenges for organisations such as Enel, NASA, AstraZeneca and Dow Chemical.

Simon Hill, CEO, Wazoku, said. “We recognise the urgent challenge facing the world to transform to a more sustainable and equitable economy. Reducing carbon in the production of chemicals is a technical challenge but one to which open innovation is especially suited. The InnoCentive crowd is comprised of some of the greatest minds on the planet with many representing a broad range of technology startups. It has a strong record in addressing the world’s biggest challenges, so I am confident that they can help Shell on this current challenge.”

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