ICIS Innovation Awards 2012: Shell puts focus on business innovation

19 October 2012 09:47  [Source: ICB]

Innovation in the way it does business and works with partners and customers is just as important for Shell Chemicals as innovation in its products and processes


Shell Chemicals is developing a process to make diphenyl carbonate at a development facility in Houston, Texas, US

Copyright: Shell Chemicals

Coming up with new business solutions should be as important as technological or product development. That is the message from Alexander Farina, general manager, chemicals strategy, at Shell Chemicals.

Farina believes strongly that innovation in business can add value and be a competitive differentiator. "Business innovation can add value and drive the right solutions to our customers, and the industry," Farina says.

"Part of it is about how to use technology in a clever way." Shell, he says, recognises that innovation goes beyond traditional product and process development. "We also look at how we can innovate in the way we do business. Our service offerings to customers, partnerships with suppliers, route to market or supply chain and operations."

Shell has a three-category focus to innovation, spanning short-term technologies that support current business activities (core), differentiating technologies in the medium term (firsts), and longer-term, potentially game-changing technologies (emerging).

The company also works with partners across several industries as it continually strives to address the challenges of depleting energy and raw material sources and preserving the environment. These, to name a few, include US computer companies Hewlett-Packard and IBM; King Abdullah University in Saudi Arabia; Italian car manufacturer Ferrari, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US.

"We do have a presence and a brand and people look to us to lead or help," says Farina. He explains about a recent initiative with Italian firms Bertocco - an automotive components manufacturer - and engineer Studio Merli.

The collaboration developed and launched a roll-over warning device (RWD) in 2011 that alerts drivers to the risk of roll-overs. The device gives an early visual and audio warning to the driver if the truck is in danger of turning over. Roll-overs occur most often when the driver misjudges the trailer's roll-over threshold when negotiating a bend or roundabout.

"There was nothing like this in the industry, so we initiated the collaboration with our business partners. We did this not just for ourselves, but also to help customers and other transport operators across the globe make roads safer," comments Farina.

This, notes Farina, is a good example of aligning with an equipment maker to trigger a low-cost innovation that the whole industry can benefit from. "A big effect can come from small investments," he stresses.

Meanwhile, in Germany four years ago, Shell Chemicals decided to initiate a project that would voluntarily reduce its benzene emissions on the river Rhine. The European agreement on the transport of dangerous goods via inland navigation vessels on the Rhine regulates the degassing (emission of vapours) of gasoline but there are no legal requirements for chemicals.

By partnering with Dutch fleet company Unitas, and using more dedicated barges which reduced the amount of venting required, the company has succeeded in cutting emissions by over 90% (as of end 2010) from 2006 levels.

Farina says: "This is a crucial and innovative business change that was needed to sustain our operations in the long term."

An innovation that addresses several business challenges is Shell's ongoing development of its phosgene-free diphenyl carbonate (DPC) technology. It combines technical innovation in the production process, but also innovates in its approach to transporting DPC, which is opening up a different business concept to the polycarbonate (PC) industry as a result.

Shell's solution involves dissolving DPC in acetone for easy bulk transport to customers where the acetone can be distilled off. This combined with the recovery of phenol for bisphenol-A (BPA) production during proces-sing, means customers receive both the raw materials for PC production in one shipment.

"Our DPC technology also provides a very elegant and very efficient logistics solution that is key to unlocking this technology," maintains Farina. He says that it allows the PC producer to be closer to its customers and the market in terms of production, compounding and customising solutions.

Farina stresses that innovation does not always need to be about hard core changes. For him, and Shell, it is about new thinking that adds value to its customers and partners for a sustainable future.

For more on innovation at Shell Chemical, go to www.shell.com/home/content/chemicals/innovation/about_innovation/

By: Elaine Burridge
+44 20 8652 3214

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