Fixing today to transform tomorrow – deep science, innovative technology and entrepreneurship


David Millar

David Millar

Technology Accelerator Director

In June 1947 the cover of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists depicted the first image of the Doomsday Clock which shows the level of continuous danger in which humanity lives - the closer to midnight, the closer humanity is to global catastrophe.

This clock has seen its closest point to midnight on just two occasions since 1947:

  • The first was 1953 following the US and Soviet Union test - first thermo nuclear devices which saw the clock adjusted to 2 minutes to midnight.
  • The second is now, 2019, due to the failure of global leaders to tackle pending nuclear war and the dangers of climate change.

According to last year’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), we are headed towards a global temp rise of 3oC… and this is just the median of the various predictions. That sort of temperature rise may seem small but would cause catastrophic and irreversible damage to our planet.

To keep global warming below 1.5oC and save the world, we must reduce global emissions of carbon dioxide by 100%, by 2050, and increase renewable energy to 85% of global electricity by 2050. Many would argue we have to deliver all that way before 2050 if we stand any chance of stemming the pending global catastrophe. The mindset, effort and cost required on a political and economic level is eye watering and we should have started decades ago. We’ve had these warnings for over 40 years, but no one was listening.

With a 3oC rise in temperature we will have sea level six metres higher, which is enough to put many coastal cities, from Miami to Shanghai, underwater displacing tens of millions of people.

Is this all still just an inconvenient truth or are we now listening?

This year, climate change activism really came of age with the name Greta Thunberg, now a household name and empowering millions of people of all ages to take a stand for our planet. As per her recent speeches, she doesn’t want our hope, she wants us to panic. Even Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) is stepping up to be part of this new movement creating a new company that will use artificial intelligence and robotics to help tackle the crisis.

The narrative from the oil and gas industry has also shifted and the term “social license to operate” is a real talking point. The Oil & Gas Technology Centre (OGTC) is a proud supporter in moving the UKCS towards a net zero carbon basin.

We must do this in a responsible manner aligned with the Just Transition principles to ensure energy security and transition to environmentally and socially sustainable jobs, sectors and economies. Given the oil and gas industry in Scotland employs some 100,000 people and supports 300,000 jobs across the UK we have the strength and capability to manage the transition.

At the OGTC, we believe deep science, innovative technology and entrepreneurship can help address this by fixing today, maximising economic recovery and transforming tomorrow towards a low carbon future. We felt we could not leave it up to chance that others will innovate where we need to… and to be masters of our own destiny in the low carbon space we created TechX Ventures - our collaborative partnership with Deep Science Ventures in London - co-funding a unique and dedicated programme that creates the next generation of technology start-ups focused on the low carbon agenda.

From the three-six new start-ups created from each programme, we then select the best of these to go through our award-winning start-up accelerator programme TechX Pioneers - accelerating them towards field trial and commercialisation. Over the next eight years, we aim to support the creation and acceleration of over 15 totally new carbon focused start-ups on top of the 100 tech start-ups we aim to support through the Pioneer programme.

The first two TechX Venture spin outs, Eltiera and Optic Earth, were incorporated in April 2019, and joined TechX in May 2019. We are already seeing phenomenal progress from them.

Eltiera saw the opportunity in the offshore and marine sector to take advantage of engine inefficiency where even the best engines are only 49% efficient, with most of that lost as heat. Tightening regulations for sulphur emissions also mean that operators have to switch to costlier fuels and the lack of available power offshore can also defer developments or reduce available redundancy. Eltiera’s waste heat recovery technology offers a solution much more efficient more cost effective than traditional organic rankine cycle suffers from reliability and suitability.

Following their time on the TechX Pioneer programme Eltiera is growing their team and conducting feasibility studies with a North Sea operator and a global shipping operator.

The second TechX Venture spin out, Optic Earth is equally making amazing progress since their incorporation in April 2019. They have identified an opportunity in the processing and interpretation of seismic data which has barely changed since the advent of the PC. Seismic imaging takes around six months, leaving no time to reprocess for error correction and interpretation then compounds these errors with human bias, due to experience and time pressure. Optic Earth approaches this problem by using the state-of-the-art in machine learning that simultaneously reduces the cycle time and the compute power required. This reduces error and allows more time to reduce bias.

Following their time on the TechX Pioneer programme, Optic Earth are also building their team and currently completing their first paid project with a Norwegian operator, as well as pursuing filed trial opportunities with major North Sea operators.

Spurred on by the amazing results of the initial TechX Venture programme with DSV, we now look to TechX Ventures II, which we kicked off in May this year focusing on two new areas of opportunity:

  1. Second life – looking at the repurposing of offshore facilities
  2. Clean hydrocarbons – looking at net zero tech across the value stream

By March 2020, we expect another six brand new start-ups to be created with a net zero carbon future in their sights and up to three of those will join our third TechX Pioneer Cohort starting mid May 2020.

We have so much to do and so little time to make a transformational impact to the climate change crisis that the 7.7 billion people on this planet are facing.

What is important is that we are listening and taking action. We may be up against the ropes and just 2 minutes from midnight, but we cannot afford to give up – we are in the race for our lives. We must keep moving forward and demanding change and the OGTC and TechX are a driving forward in support of this important transition.

David will be presenting “bitesize entrepreneurial insights: investor readiness” at SPE Offshore Europe on stand 1A51 on Thursday 5 September 2019, at 11.45 – come and join him to find out how a start-up becomes investor ready and why it is an important part of the TechX programme.