Key elements: Multi-institution consortium + bespoke research programmes + EPSRC Prosperity partnership + hackathons + thought leadership
An overview of Imperial's relationship with the energy giant BP.
BP’s collaboration with Imperial College London has shaped research programmes, facilitated industry-academia debates and involved testing novel approaches to new disruptions. In the past five years alone the partnership has resulted in the co-authorship of 23 journal and conference papers and strong connections with academics from nine of Imperial’s departments.
Over many years the research at Imperial has made a significant contribution to BP’s capabilities across Upstream and Downstream technologies in the areas of energy storage, reservoir modelling and characterisation, single phase and multi-phase fluid flow, computational fluid dynamics (CFD), process engineering, systems engineering, catalysis, wave kinematics, non-destructive testing, physical properties modelling, combustion modelling and tribology. Below we cover some of the partnership’s highlights.
Imperial and BP have pooled their resources and expertise to help address some of the industry’s current challenges. The BP International Centre for Advanced Materials (bp-ICAM) is one example of this collaboration. bp-ICAM was set up by BP in the autumn of 2012 with a $100 million investment and brings together the strengths of Imperial and three other world-leading universities (Manchester, Cambridge and Illinois at Urbana-Champaign). Using BP’s additional expertise in the oil and gas sector, the aim is to create an international centre of excellence in advanced materials research.
Imperial, along with other partners in the collaboration, has contributed its world-class expertise by leading a project in bp-ICAM's separations research theme. Professor of Chemical Engineering, Andrew Livingston, took on the challenge of developing a new understanding of the structure and function of polymer membranes used for reverse osmosis.
The group has used a mix of experimentation and mathematical modelling to investigate how these membranes work and how they can be improved. One of the biggest successes has been the discovery of a way to make extremely thin membranes, which let liquids through very quickly and necessitate a much smaller membrane plant than would otherwise be possible.
More recently the EPSRC awarded a multi-million pound Prosperity Partnership to BP and bp-ICAM focusing on corrosion and surface degradation in demanding environments. Professor Nic Harrison, Department of Chemistry and Co-Director of Imperial’s Institute for Molecular Sciences and Engineering (IMSE) is involved in one of the work packages focusing on materials modelling of corrosion.
“Universities are becoming the hubs of modern innovation,” commented Professor Harrison. “Partnerships with companies that extend from molecular level science to the final engineering solution are essential to the way we work. Our current project on corrosion resistant materials, co-funded by the EPSRC and BP, allows us to perform research with BP from initial conception, through laboratory testing to a validated system. Fully integrated research and development allows us to extract much more value from our research and to facilitate robust, long-lasting applications.”
NEW RESEARCH PROGRAMMES
Alongside these large consortia projects are a collection of smaller, bespoke, technical research projects, carried out by groups of trusted Imperial researchers across more than nine departments.
One of the most recent bp-ICAM projects of this kind is a two-year programme supervised by Professor Chris Pain from the Department of Earth Science & Engineering. The work is based on Professor Pain’s open-source, modelling software code “Fluidity”, which is being tailored to address BP’s modelling of massive parallel simulations of multiphase flows.
NOVEL RESEARCH APPROACHES
Within their portfolio of work with the College, BP has been an ally in pushing the boundaries of problem-solving techniques.
The hackathon was a great way for us to access a new way of thinking about ideas that are relevant to us."
Technology Director, BP
In 2017, BP worked with the Imperial College Hackspace to sponsor the College’s first ever corporate hackathon. Fifteen teams participated in the hackathon, which explored the applications for voice activated technology in BP’s interactions with their customers.
The BP-Imperial Hackathon brought together engineers, scientists, developers, designers, entrepreneurs and hardware hackers to invent innovative ideas and turn them into a reality, in one week. The Hackathon received more than 120 entries with a diverse range of backgrounds, experience and expertise and included student, alumni and staff participants.
Besides its collaboration on technical projects, BP has been part of the constantly-evolving conversations concerning emerging tech trends and their intersection with industrial R&D since the creation of the College’s industrial relations platforms. The company has contributed heavily to the College’s thought leadership by allowing representatives to attend industrial forums such as the Imperial Business Partners (IBP) Executive Insights series and the Tech Foresight conferences.
Imperial College London is one of BP’s key UK university partnerships...[and] we are confident Imperial will remain a key partner going forward."
Associate Director in the bp-ICAM, BP
Such events have allowed the company to give their perspective on topics from automation and artificial intelligence to the future of work alongside other industry giants from sectors as diverse as finance, heavy industry and telecoms.
In addition to the above BP has been involved in consultancies, studentships, the sponsorship of conferences, knowledge exchange trips and novel visualisations in the Data Science Institute. The multi-faceted nature of this relationship has resulted in tangible benefits for company and College alike.
“Imperial College London is one of BP’s key UK university partnerships," says Sheetal Handa, Associate Director of the bp-ICAM, BP. "Imperial’s multidisciplinary environment and breadth of applied science and engineering means we have projects in several departments from Chemistry to Mechanical Engineering. This exemplifies the broad nature of BP’s research at the College and has contributed to the success of the BP-ICAM. In addition, Imperial is a consistent source of high-quality STEM graduates and continues to be the number one for UK STEM recruits for BP. We are confident Imperial will remain a key partner going forward.”
“Imperial see BP as one of its main industry partners in terms of total research funding, recruitment and a key source of support, advice and insight in the development and application of future technologies,” said Dr Rebecca Wilson, Head of Corporate Partnerships for the Faculty of Natural Sciences. “We look forward to progressing our strong and influential relationship.”
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