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Statoil, NASA and CalTech: Synergies between Space Technologies and Energy Exploration


At first blush, space technologies might not seem especially applicable to oil and gas exploration and production. But energy development is increasingly moving into frontier regions with harsh conditions, and no entity knows more about exploring frontier areas than NASA.

With that in mind, Norway-based Statoil – one of the world’s leaders in energy exploration and production, with a significant presence in North America and offices in Houston – in 2013 signed a five-year, renewable agreement with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California, to explore a range of technologies that could have applications at Statoil. Playing a key role in implementation will be the California Institute of Technology (CalTech), which administers the Jet Propulsion Lab.

Both Statoil and NASA could potentially benefit greatly from the collaborative research. Areas of research under the agreement include materials that can protect both energy and aerospace equipment in harsh conditions, robotics, supercomputing, new tool development, and communications.

The agreement is not at all out of character for Statoil, which is an exceptionally technology-intensive energy producer. It invests about $550 million per year (USD) on research, development, and innovation endeavors. Such investments have made it possible to access energy reserves once thought impossible or impractical to develop, both on offshore and tight-shale locales. Nor is the agreement out of character for NASA, which is increasingly focused on transferring technologies with commercial potential to the private sector.

Today’s global share of fossil fuels in the total energy mix is 82 percent, the same as it was a generation ago. Even with the growth of renewables, oil and gas will continue to play an incredibly important role in the energy mix, and in enabling our quality of life, for decades to come. Given that reality, the innovative work coming from energy companies like Statoil is a Great Manufacturing Story.