Shell GameChanger: Investing in energy innovation for the future


Since its foundation in 1996, Shell GameChanger has practiced its open invitation to innovative ideas that have the potential to impact the future of energy. On November 13, GameChangers Henk Mooiweer and Hans Haringa visited Arizona State University to discuss how the program is working toward increasing innovation at Shell by turning ideas into reality. The lecture was made possible by the co-sponsoring of ASU LightWorks and the Center for Science and the Imagination.

Mooiweer first began by explaining Shell’s progress in research and development compared to other large energy companies. The company invests in more R&D than any other international oil company and hires the top engineers and scientists to focus on energy challenges. Although technology innovation is a core investment at Shell, Mooiweer said that getting ideas to the table can sometimes be a challenge. Mooiweer explained that some of Shell’s challenges are communicating and connecting with the public and investing in innovation from outside sources. These challenges are answered by the mission of Shell GameChanger, which is to identify unproven ideas submitted to them from the public and create a proved concept plan for those ideas.

Anybody can submit a project proposal. If the project is promising, Shell GameChanger contacts the innovator right away. To date, the program has worked with over 1,500 innovators and turned more than 100 into reality. “GameChanger projects mostly fail about 90% of the time,” Mooiweer explained. “But that’s okay, because the point is to continuously refresh the R&D portfolio and testing out of new ideas.” Shell GameChanger works with innovators from a variety of different fields. Haringa noted connecting with ASU faculty and students at the first Herberger Institute for Design and Arts Emerge event in 2012. Shell GameChanger hosted a workshop at the event that encouraged attendees to imagine alternative futures and then build artifacts on a 3D printer to capture the material makeup. The workshop generated a plethora of ideas which gave Shell GameChanger a sense of where innovation is heading. Haringa believes that innovation is ultimately found on the edge. In other words, innovative ideas do not necessarily come from energy experts, making interdisciplinary perspective all the more necessary.

Shell GameChanger aims to boost the future development of Shell’s energy resources. One project proposal that Shell GameChanger funded was SWELLFLEX®, which is a “synthetic rubber seal that swells on contact with water and can withstand enormous heat and pressure from underground by swelling as soon as water appears.” Shell uses this seal to prevent water from entering the well and keep the oil flowing, which ultimately lengthens a well’s life. By lengthening a well’s life, the company has more opportunity for enhanced oil recovery (EOR) which increases the amount of crude oil that can be extracted from a field. This can be perceived as positively benefiting the environment because the company can focus on tapping fewer wells, although it is still a non-renewable fuel technology and should eventually be replaced by new innovations in renewable energy. Below is a video explaining the project further.

Although Shell primarily focuses on oil and gas projects, through Shell GameChanger the company is making steps toward making this process more efficient and sustainable. Shell GameChanger also welcomes ideas that do not necessarily focus on combustible energy. The point of GameChanger is to welcome innovation as progress and recognize that change at Shell will be inevitable. Haringa quoted Marshall McLuhan, Canadian philosopher of communication theory, who wrote, “It is the framework which changes with each new technology and not just the picture within the frame.” The future of energy will be shaped by people presenting their innovative ideas to progress us forward. If you have an idea to benefit our energy future, visit Shell GameChanger’s website to submit your idea.

Written by Gabrielle Olson, ASU LightWorks

Photo retrieved from Shell GameChanger homepage