Oil refinery

The Shell-Imperial College Grand Challenge on Clean Fossil Fuels was a collaboration between Shell and a number of departments at Imperial College London. It ran for five years, from 1 February 2007 to 31 January 2012, with Shell providing £3M of funding over this period. It was led by Professors Geoff Maitland and Martin Blunt and managed by Steering Committee comprising of Dr Claus Otto (Shell), Dr Rick Wentinck (Shell), Professor Geoffrey Maitland and Professor Nigel Brandon (then Director of Energy Futures Lab).

Alongside the industrial involvement from Shell the project brought a multidisciplinary view to the research, the departments at Imperial involved were:

Coordinated by Energy Futures Lab, the project focussed on developing processes that would enhance extraction of difficult hydrocarbons with minimal release of greenhouse gases. The research examined a wide range of processes from the extraction stage through to downstream delivery of energy and chemicals to the consumer.

Research themes and aims

The project looked at two major themes:

  • Theme A
    Carbon dioxide lifecycle engineering in the reservoir
  • Theme B
    Low energy, low environmental impact processes for the recovery of non-conventional hydrocarbons

The project's overall aim was to enhance the energy efficiency of fossil fuel recovery, dramatically reduce its environmental impact and transfer the responsibility for reducing carbon emissions to the primary producer.

The core idea of the project was researching new methods to produce at surface only what is required – low or zero carbon fuels, heat and power, and the chemical building blocks for materials and chemical products. The work looked at how much of the downstream fossil fuel processing currently carried out on surface could be relocated in the sub-surface, exploiting the high temperature-high pressure environment and transforming the subterranean well network from a passive fluids transportation conduit to an active, continuous processing plant. This would allow a large part of the carbon to remain underground, either as low-value residues or as CO2 produced, captured and stored in the reservoirs without release.


The Shell-Imperial College Grand Challenge on Clean Fossil Fuels work is being continued, with a focus on Qatar, by the Qatar Carbonates and Carbon Storage Research Centre a collaboration between Imperial's departments of Chemical Engineering and Earth Science and Engineering, Shell, Qatar Petroleum and Qatar Science and Technology Park. In 2008 the research centre was founded with $70M (US Dollars) from its partners to fund a 10-year research programme. Its aim is to strengthen Qatar's engineering talent and expertise and expand research capacity in carbon capture and storage  and cleaner fossil fuels.