TechX Ventures is a new initiative to develop UK oil and gas tech start-ups
The Oil & Gas Technology Centre and Deep Science Ventures (DSV) have formed a new partnership, TechX Ventures, to help create technology-based start-up businesses to support the oil and gas industry make the transition towards a low-carbon future.
InnovOil spoke to Oil & Gas Technology Centre Technology Accelerator director David Millar about what TechX’s start-ups have been working on.
“TechX Ventures is pre-idea, pre-company, so it’s actually a company builder – it’s about creating the next generation of start-up companies,” he said.
The Oil & Gas Technology Centre has GBP180 million (US$234.6 million) of funding from the UK and Scottish governments to utilise over the next 10 years. It is focused on identifying the most exciting technology to unlock the full potential of the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) and the UK oil and gas industry.
DSV is a London-based spinout from Imperial College that specialises in running deep science-based challenge programmes. It works with partners to identify challenges facing an industry or a sector and brings in scientists to form new ideas and new technology opportunities.
Their programmes generally produce two or three new companies, which DSV then invests in and helps accelerate towards a market entrance.
With similar mandates, the two companies were logical partners.
“We were looking for a very different way of approaching some of the future challenges facing the industry and [at taking] a different approach to picking apart those challenges and coming up with new technology opportunities. They were developing new programmes that were delivering exactly that, but in different sectors and industries and coming up with hugely exciting technology opportunities,” Millar said. “Straight away, we knew that we needed and wanted to work together, and we’ve built a collaborative partnership which we’ve just recently launched.”
The two groups have provided a combined six-figure sum to help fund TechX Ventures.
DSV has recruited three teams of scientists and engineering specialists from around the world to help tackle key challenges.
“These are scientists from various backgrounds around the world, not just the UK. There are people who are former NASA scientists, Harvard graduates, MIT graduates, as well as various universities in the UK and across the world, [who will] all come together on the programme for the next nine months,” Millar said.
The teams will help the scientists ideate solutions to three future-focused challenges facing the oil and gas industry.
The first challenge is carbon-negative operations, with TechX working on technologies such as carbon capture at source, safe carbon storage and conversion into other useful products.
“We’re looking at other areas of reducing carbon footprint,” said Millar. “Can you look at some of the processes in oil and gas that are producing CO2 and break down the fundamental chemistry of that process to prevent CO2 from forming? Or can you take some of waste streams that we’re burning like flare gas and turn that into product streams like hydrogen and graphene?”
The second team will examine automation in oil and gas, focusing on adopting robotics and artificial intelligence within North Sea operations to improve safety and enhance production.
The third challenge is energy movement. The aim here will be to revolutionise the movement of energy from well to customer by creating technologies which convert the reserves to electrical energy at source, store and transport electrical energy and convert currently wasteful processes.
As part of the TechX Ventures programme, the scientists will go through a nine-month programme to develop their ideas. At the end of the nine months, 2-3 new companies will be formed from the most promising ideas and receive investment from DSV. At this point they will be eligible for the TechX Pioneer programme, which will see them receive further assistance to break into the oil and gas industry.
“The first three months are for recruitment, so to recruit all of the scientists onto the programme,” Millar said. “At the end of the three months, we will have the full cohort of scientists, which we hope to be around 30. Then they work together as teams to generate new ideas and opportunities which get reviewed and whittled down by some of the experts we provide onto the programme for the different streams.”
“The next milestone after that is November, when they come up to Aberdeen and pitch the most exciting ideas they have generated from the three different streams to a panel of experts. We then provide some support and guidance for the ones we think are most likely to get the most traction and have the biggest impact on the industry.
“They go away, do some further refinement on that and then we’ll see those selected down to about two or three real opportunities that we’ll spin out as new companies. The IP will be assigned, Deep Science Ventures themselves will invest in those three companies – we expect that to happen in February or March next year.
“We will then invite those companies up to Aberdeen and give them access to the TechX+ incubator space that we’re setting up at the moment in partnership with Elevator and Opportunity North East, accelerator partners in Aberdeen, where they’ll receive guidance and support before they begin the TechX Pioneer programme in May next year.”
The Pioneer Programme is a 16-week accelerator at the OGTC in Aberdeen, where the start-ups will each receive GBP100,000 (roughly US$130,000) of funding, along with their mentors, partners and deep market access to the industry. This is then followed by a 12-month incubator called TechX Plus to provide additional assistance and support to help the start-ups to commercialise their offering fully.
“The Pioneer programme has spaces for 10-15 companies – there’s three reserved for the companies coming out of the TechX Ventures, and then we have an open call to the general population. It’s a competition process to assign the other 10 spaces and we do that over the course of four or five months.”
In mid-September, the TechX Pioneer programme completed its first cohort of 10 exciting new start-ups selected from 125 applications from 24 different countries.
“These start-ups cover everything from a new way of connecting pipes to downhole data analytics to inspection of tubing, to micro-seismic devices on the seabed,” Millar said.
“Our call for the next Pioneer programme launches on the first of October this year and will be open until the end of January. We then begin the process of selecting from the hundreds of applicants our next 10 pioneers at the end of February.”