R&D - The driving force behind Total’s competitiveness

The R&D team’s innovation culture, punctuated by technological leaps that have become international standards over time, stands at the heart of Total’s industrial dynamic. Its experts, who benefit from legacy studies that are unparalleled in the industry, contribute to the emergence of oil and gas research projects that shall shape the future of the industry and thereby continue to nourish the Group’s pioneering spirit.


Daniel Plathey


Total Research Center Qatar
Total Research Center Qatar.

Anticipation, selectiveness, speed: R&D levers of excellence

In order to make technological progress to produce more economically and more responsibly, the Exploration & Production segment has defined an innovation strategy that is both measured and daring. It is based on anticipation, the careful selection of oil and gas research projects, partnerships with the best international operators and researchers, and the rapid implementation of operational pilot projects.

Anticipation at the service of research

The Prospective Labs are the ‘outposts’ of R&D. Their role is to identify and to appropriate, as soon as possible and in areas other than oil, technology that is not yet mature but very likely to prove ground-breaking when applied to oil and gas. Organized around target subject areas, the Prospective Labs are designed to ensure that their results are quickly transferred (within only two or three years) to R&D programmes or to Technological Innovation Platforms. Today, there are five Prospective Labs: nanotechnology, robotics, biotechnology, digital method, and image processing.

Careful selection of R&D projects

The R&D division focuses on subject areas that are strategic for the future of oil and gas. The division’s work points the Group’s exploration teams towards the best prospects and lets the Group produce better and more, while consolidating its expertise and tools to manage risk and its impact on the environment. The division’s work, spread over eight flagship programmes, particularly focuses on new geophysical data acquisition and processing resources (in order to image the subsoil in as much detail as possible), the improvement of reservoir modelling and simulation tools, and the development of improved recovery technology. Thanks to this work, the Group refines its expertise in acid gas processing, retains its lead in the battle for deep offshore and supports the presence of the E&P segment in unconventional hydrocarbons.

8 R&D Programmes

  • FRONTIER EXPLORATION, to minimize risks and to reduce the exploration costs of high-potential frontier basins.
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    EARTH IMAGING, to provide 3D models of the subsoil in order to further our understanding of complex mining areas that are still largely unexplored.
  • FIELD RESERVOIR, to allow the production of oil that is not yet profitable, to produce more and to develop technological and economical solutions for Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR).
  • SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT, to control the risks and to deliver technological solutions in line with the legitimate expectations of the Group’s stakeholders and regulatory requirements.
    SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT, to control the risks and to deliver technological solutions in line with the legitimate expectations of the Group’s stakeholders and regulatory requirements.
    DEEP OFFSHORE, to ensure the profitability of reserves that are far away from the coast and to address the challenges of Ultra-deep offshore.
  • UNCONVENTIONALS, to optimize the economical development of hydrocarbons trapped in source rock and to control the impact on the environment.
    GAS SOLUTIONS, to develop new solutions for the processing of acid gas and the recovery of natural gas and CO2 which are more economical and emit less greenhouse gas.
  • EP.TOTAL-EXPERTISES_GNL_Wells_69159_1600x1066.jpg
    WELLS, to optimize profitability and to maximize the safety of drilling operations and wells.
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Rapid implementation, operational innovations

Technological Innovation Platforms provide the link between R&D and operations. After bringing technology up to industrial maturity, particularly through pilot projects on operational sites, the platforms work to rapidly integrate this technology into the E&P segment’s development studies, projects and operations. A total of 11 Technological Innovation Platforms cover the E&P segment’s entire business chain:

  • Geology
  • Geophysics
  • Geoscience & Reservoir Integrated Platform
  • Reserve
  • Unconventionals
  • Development
  • Technology
  • Drilling/wells
  • Exploitation
  • HSEQ (Health, Safety, Environment, Quality)
  • Information Systems

Reaching out through cooperation agreements 

In order to make the technological progress expected, R&D also relies on discoveries made externally in earth and materials science, in the physical chemistry of complex multiphase fluids, and in multi-physical and multi-scale simulation, etc. This relationship with the scientific and technical world is based on long-term and high value-added partnerships with global leaders in industry and research. Total works in particular with:

  • ONERA, the European leader in remote detection: a partnership designed to develop technology (hyperspectral imaging, radar, lidar) for exploration and environmental protection purposes (2014-2019);
  • IFREMER and a network of academic partners within PAMELA (Passive Margins Exploration Laboratories): a vast innovative data acquisition programme, a major exploration target (2013-2019);
  • Stanford University: an exclusive cooperation to develop a complete simulation chain of the industrial pyrolysis of oil shale, from the generation of hydrocarbons to their production (2014-2020);
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT): an exclusive partnership to understand hydraulic fracture propagation within source rock and its microseismic response (2014-2017);
  • Ecole Supérieure de Physique et de Chimie Industrielles, Paris (ESPCI): a joint laboratory to further our understanding of complex phenomena occurring at the interface between oil, water and reservoir rock (renewable 5-year agreement, signed in 2015).

This outreach strategy is also based on R&D cooperation agreements with National Oil Companies (NOCs) and International Oil Companies (IOCs). For Total and its partners, these projects represent an opportunity to make joint progress in specific areas of expertise while allowing the Group to access sites to undertake innovative technological pilot projects. Among the 28 R&D subjects covered by these cooperation agreements, the following stand out: the thermodynamics of mixtures that contain high levels of acid gas, the corrosion resistance of new special steels and the development of autonomous subsea robots.

CSTJF, high performance computing… resources that make all the difference


Being a leader requires more than just good ideas. Human, organizational and material resources are necessary to bring these ideas to life. At Total, our resources are on a par with our R&D goals and the complexity of the challenges to be tackled.

A community of leading researchers

Protected from operational pressure and emergencies, R&D project teams have access to resources that are guaranteed over time so that they may bring their ideas to fruition. These teams, which are often multipolar in nature, are spread over several of Total’s international R&D centres. Steeped in a culture of innovation, they bring together communities of leading researchers with complementary profiles and areas of expertise: experts in geophysics, materials science or petrophysics, geologists, reservoir engineers, specialists in thermodynamics, well construction and productivity, and gas recovery, engineers in digital methods or robotics, etc.

CSTJF and research centres: a global R&D network

  • Platform for Experimental RESEARCH at Lacq (PERL, France): separation and processing of acid gas • physical chemistry of interfaces • environment.
  • Houston (US): seismic, microseismic, HPC • deep offshore, flow assurance, drilling • chemical enhanced oil recovery, reservoir simulation • environment and societal challenges.
    HOUSTON (US): seismic, microseismic, HPC • deep offshore, flow assurance, drilling • chemical enhanced oil recovery, reservoir simulation • environment and societal challenges.
  • ABERDEEN (UK): 4D seismic • advanced geo-modeling techniques • digital rock physics • oil development technology.
  • DOHA (Qatar): organic geochemical fluids • acid stimulation of wells in carbonate environments • water management • petrochemicals (conversion of CO2).
  • STAVANGER (Norway): environmental technology in a marine environment • flow performance • subsea technology • future technology for drilling and wells.
  • MOSCOW (Russia): deep offshore • mathematical modeling.
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The nerve centre in terms of R&D is the Jean-Féger Scientific and Technical Centre (CSTJF), located in Pau, Southwest France. A leading technological centre in the world of oil and gas, CSTJF hosts a large share of the E&P segment’s scientific expertise and research resources.


There are six other research centres, which specialize in strategic areas, located around the world and as close as possible to the oil and gas industry’s regional centres of expertise. These research centres, which are R&D bridgeheads and sites of excellence, let the Group benefit from cutting-edge regional academic and industrial expertise thanks to their close ties with leading public and private research bodies.

From the petaflop to the exaflop: unprecedented computing power

6.7 petaflops, the processing speed of Pangea, the new Total supercomputer, capable of processing even more seismic data.

The High Performance Computing (HPC) power in place at CSTJF makes Total the world’s leading company in terms of scientific computing power. Increased to 6.7 petaflops (6.7 million billion operations per second) at the beginning of 2016, CSTJF’s HPC processing speed is set to reach the threshold of one exaflop (a billion billion operations per second) by 2020. To remain at the forefront of scientific computing power, the R&D division prepares future HPC architecture, examines programming languages and models, and develops algorithms on the basis of supercomputing operations. The purpose of this work is to maintain Total’s leadership in reservoir imaging and simulation by processing ever-larger data volumes with increasingly sophisticated algorithms in order to achieve results that are ever closer to the physical conditions on the ground.

Large-scale R&D facilities

In order to test and approve its technology on a large scale, the R&D division has a complete chain of high-performance research laboratories. It relies in particular on the Platform for Experimental Research at Lacq (PERL, France), located close to CSTJF and equipped with legacy tools that are unparalleled in the industry.

  • Pilot rivers – This open-air facility is unique in the world and comprises 16 man-made water courses that are fed by a river. It allows researchers to study the impact of industrial discharges on water, to ascertain their seriousness using biological indicators and to assess the risks.
  • Integrated EOR test platform – Reproducing a complete chain of chemical-EOR hydrocarbon production surface facilities, this platform is dedicated to the qualification of waste separation and water treatment processes.
  • Acid gas pilot – This pilot has been used since its construction in 1990 to develop and test our amine-based acid gas processing processes, including HySWEET®, the latest addition to Total’s range of solutions. In 2017, it will be replaced by a new pilot designed to process complex gas compositions and whose modular nature will allow a wide range of processes to be tested.
  • Lacq Pilot Platform (PPL) – Dedicated to hosting large-scale R&D pilots in an industrial environment, the PPL constitutes an ideal six-hectare test site for the R&D division’s programmes. Located in a Seveso III industrial complex, its purpose is to host pilots that function in conditions similar to those of the production sites.

Innovation stands at the heart of the Group’s oil and gas research projects


In 1957, thanks to its R&D work, Total developed the world’s first reserve of very acid gas (Lacq, France); in the 1970s, the Group invented horizontal drilling, which was implemented in the Rospo Mare oil field (Italy). More recently, the Group rolled out the world’s first deep offshore subsea gas/liquid separation system (Pazflor, Angola). These major innovations, which testify to the pioneering spirit and the creativeness of our R&D researchers, constantly push back the frontiers of E&P.