In 2007, we started applying a white paper process to explore emerging technologies. These studies help to educate the company on emerging technologies, define our potential contribution to the science, and assess the future applicability of the technologies to our businesses. The Corporation has engaged experts from a variety of disciplines within functional research labs to write white papers on topics ranging from biofuels to nanotechnology. In the course of developing these papers, EMEST may determine a particular technology warrants future investment. For example, the team’s findings on photovoltaics informed the updated Outlook for Energy.
The standard process for technology investment requires assessing technical feasibility through R&D. ExxonMobil’s research functions follow a stage-gate research management system to progress technologies from the early stages of innovation through the final stages of deployment. Researchers partner with the business lines to determine the business benefit of a technology, establish research and development goals and timelines, steward independent project reviews, and authorize project funding.
Time horizons for these projects vary significantly. For example, we began evaluating remote gas detection in 2007. Researchers at EMRQ determined its technical feasibility in 2010. In 2011, EMRQ partnered with Louisiana State University Fire School to conduct field testing. Based upon adjustments made after field tests, we anticipate the technology to be ready for commercial application in 2012, with potential deployment in 2013.
Breakthrough technologies can take much longer to develop. More than 20 years ago, an ExxonMobil researcher hypothesized that freezing the carbon dioxide (CO2) that is sometimes produced from underground natural gas reservoirs could be a more efficient approach to separation. ExxonMobil Upstream Research Company is currently testing the Controlled Freeze Zone™ (CFZ™) technology at our LaBarge, Wyoming, gas facility. There, a tower freezes and separates CO2 from natural gas into a high-pressure stream, ideal for use in sequestration or in enhanced oil recovery. CFZ™ technology will require further evaluation before full commercialization and deployment might be possible.