TRLs: When does technology get exciting?

We categorised 300 of the Oil Majors’ technologies according to their technical maturity. We find the most exciting examples are not the most technically mature, but those on the cusp of commercialisation. Majors that work on earlier-stage technologies also have better overall technologies (c50% correlation coefficient). Hence, to create value, it is important to maintain a constant funnel of technology opportunities.


When we assess an energy technology, we score it on four dimensions: how far does it advance the industry-standard? How large is the potential economic impact? How proprietary is it? And finally, is it “ready”?

To quantify the final category, we use the industry-standard conceptual framework of ‘Technology Readiness Levels’ (TRLs), which are summarised below. It is worth being familiar with this categorization, as it recurs throughout our work.

But when do technologies get exciting?

To some extent, “excitement” depends upon your perspective. Venture funds may find most value on the earlier rungs of the ladder. But most companies and investors get excited in the later stages. We can measure this. The results are surprising.

Below, we have summarised our “TSE Technology Scores” for 300 technologies, used by the 25 oil and gas companies that we follow. The highest scores appear to be for technologies at Readiness Level Seven (chart below).

Even though these technologies are less mature than TRLs 8-9, we think they are more exciting. This is unexpected. As discussed above, our “Technology Scores” specifically award higher marks to more mature technologies, and penalise those that are less mature.

On the other hand, maybe it is not so surprising. Opportunities at TRL7 are, by definition, new and cutting-edge. Conversely, the shine tends to wear off for more mature technologies, that have already spread around the industry.

What does it means for companies?

If the most exciting technologies are the ones on the cusp of commercialisation, it is important that leading companies can embrace them. We think the answer is to maintain a rich funnel of opportunities, including those at earlier stages. Our data suggest that the technology-leaders around the industry are doing exactly this…

Below, we rank the 25 oil and gas companies that we follow. We find a 50% correlation between the companies that are working on ‘earlier stage’ technologies and those that have better overall technologies.

“Technology Scores” across 25 Oil and Gas companies, which are tracked by TSE

Investable insights. To develop a lead in technology, you have to be involved in developing technology. If your sole approach is to buy mature technologies off the shelf, you will only access them later, and with less theoretical context than the leaders. We think this explains the correlation above. We also think it matters for investing in the best energy companies, where technical capabilities are starkly different (below).

“Technology Scores” across 20 Oil and Gas Companies, which are tracked by TSE

How can we help? For our full database of 300 technologies, scores by company, or by industry sub-segment, please contact us. We can also provide consultancy services on your company, highlighting areas where there is most scope for improvement, by reference to peers’ best-practices.

Can Technology Revive Offshore Oil?

The appetite to invest in new offshore oil projects has been languishing, due to fears over the energy transition, a preference for share-buybacks, and intensifying competition from short-cycle shale. So can technology revive offshore and deep-water? This note outlines our ‘top twenty’ opportunities. They can double deep-water NPVs, add c4-5% to IRRs and improve oil price break-evens by $15-20/bbl.


Pages 9-18 of the note outline each of our ‘top twenty’ focus areas, after reviewing 1,500 patents and 300 technologies across the industry. In each case, we outline which companies are most advanced.

Our work shows it is essential to invest with – or have your resources managed by – technology leaders. The industry must also keep improving, to re-excite investment.

Two Majors’ Secret Race for the Future of Offshore Wind?

An exciting aspiration in wind technology is to obviate large, expensive “towers”, and unleash tethered kites into the skies. They can access 2-4x more wind-power at greater altitudes, and at 50-90% lower costs. Intriguingly, we have discovered Exxon and Shell are at the forefront of pursuing this new wind opportunity offshore, based on their patents and filings.

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Mozambique LNG: Can Chevron create more value?

It would be unwise to under-estimate the complexity of creating a new LNG province, with a 50MTpa prize on the table in Mozambique. After the first two trains are in motion, the longer-term opportunity is potentially “another Qatar”. But only if Mozambique can compete for capital with US greenfields and brownfield expansions.

Hence we have reviewed 200 of Chevron’s patents from 2018. The company’s ability to develop a new, deep-water LNG province is notable. Ten examples are tabulated below.

It was interesting how many of the patents were filed in Australia and may have derived from learnings at Gorgon and Wheatstone.

For a primer on different LNG process technologies, please see our data-file (here).

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Our Top Technologies for IMO 2020

So far we have reviewed 400 patents in the downstream oil and gas industry (ex-chemicals). A rare few prompted an excited thought — “that could be really useful when IMO 2020 comes around”.

Specifically, from January 2020, marine fuel standards will tighten, cutting the maximum sulphur content from 3.5% to 0.5%. It will reduce the value of high-sulphur fuel oil, and increase the value of low-sulphur diesel.

This note summarises the top dozen proprietary technologies we have seen to capitalise on the shift, summarised by company (chart below).

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EOG’s Completions: Plugged-In?

EOG has patented a system to deploy pressure and temperature sensors in its frac plugs, which are then retrieved at the surface, providing low cost data on each frac stage. The data can be used to improve subsequent frac stages. We model the economic uplifts at +$1M NPV and +5% IRR per well (at $50 oil).

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Is gas a competitive truck-fuel?

We have assessed whether gas is a competitive trucking fuel, comparing LNG and CNG head-to-head against diesel, across 35 different metrics (from the environmental to the economic). Total costs per km are still 10-30% higher for natural gas, even based on $3/mcf Henry Hub, which is 5x cheaper than US diesel. The data-file can be downloaded here.

The challenges are logistical. Based on real-world data, we think maintenance costs will be 20-100% higher for gas trucks (below). Gas-fired spark plugs need replacing every 60,000 miles. Re-fuelling LNG trucks requires extra safety equipment.

Specially designed service stations also elevate fuel-retail costs by $6-10/mcf. Particularly for LNG, a service station effectively ends up being a €1M regasification plant (or around $250/tpa, costs below).

We remain constructive on the ascent of gas (below), but road vehicles may not be the best option.

To flex our input assumptions, please download our data-model, comparing LNG, CNG and other trucking fuels across 35 different metrics .

Turn the Plastic Back into Oil

Due to the limitations of mechanical recycling, 85% of the world’s plastic is incinerated, dumped into landfill, or worst of all, ends up in the oceans. An alternative, plastic pyrolysis, is on the cusp of commercialisation. We have assessed twenty technology solutions. Excitingly, this nascent opportunity can turn plastic back into oil, generate >30% IRRs on investment, and could displace 15Mbpd of future oil demand.

These are the conclusions of our new, 16-page report…


We have diligenced 20 companies (above), operating 100 pyrolysis facilities globally. Our work included two site-visits and multiple patent reviews. Three early-stage companies hold particular promise. You can download our technology-screen here.

Larger companies (BASF, OMV, BP, TOTAL and Exxon) are also waiting in the wings, to scale up in this space. Their own patents and progress are reviewed in the note.

Economics will be strong, and should surpass 30% in our base case, modelled here. With another c25% deflation, it could become economical to deploy the technology in removing plastic from the ocean.

9Mbpd of oil and condensate are currently consumed for chemicals, as broken down here. Even as plastic demand trebles by 2050, plastic-recycling could eliminate any net demand growth for oil; or even halve it, as modelled here.

Machine Learning on Permian Seismic?

Pioneer Natural Resources is improving the accuracy of its Midland basin depth-models by up to 40%, using a machine-learning algorithm to re-calibrate its seismic from well logs. Faster drilling and better production rates should follow.

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Who else wants more shale?

The Majors’ deepening interest in shale was illustrated by Chevron’s $50bn acquisition of Anadarko. Consolidating in the Permian fits our ‘Winner Takes All‘ thesis.

But who else wants more shale in their portfolio? This is not to speculate on M&A, but simply looking at the companies’ research activity last year…

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If you would like to read our latest deep-dive note on shale-technology it is linked here. The full database, covering all 300 technical papers is available here.