Prospective Labs are the “reconnaissance teams” of our R&D organization and embody its open innovation and foresight strategy. Their role is to identify and test emerging technology breakthroughs taking place beyond the scope of our core businesses but having game-changing potential for Total’s E&P or other branches. The aim is to give Total a head start on capturing these disruptive innovations.
Anticipating tomorrow’s disruptive innovations
The future of our industry is also being shaped, beyond our usual scope, by emerging scientific and technological developments that hold game-changing potential for our own operations. For example, the membranes currently revolutionizing our water treatment processes were originally developed for the food processing industry. Graphics cards, which can be leveraged to accelerate high-performance computing, were initially the brainchild of video game developers.
Our Prospective Labs are in charge of exploratory research into innovations at a low stage of technological maturity that are unfolding outside our traditional scope. Their mission is to position Total in the vanguard by identifying scientific or technological breakthroughs with the potential to deliver decisive advantages to Total’s E&P or other branches, as far “upstream” as possible.
As bridges between our R&D activities and scientific and technological disciplines adjacent to -- but not strictly a part of -- the E&P sector, each Prospective Lab is dedicated to a strategically selected discipline and revolves around partnerships with teams of scientists. The Labs have a limited lifetime, which is consistent with the aim of quickly transferring research outcomes to the R&D Programs or Operations, depending on the stage of maturity of the innovations. This also ensures frequent turnover in our portfolio of Prospective Labs.
Five Prospective Labs
The E&P branch is currently sponsoring R&D activities under five Prospective Labs that focus on topics strategic for our future operations.
Petroleum exploration and production depend on data from a vast number of physical and chemical measurements; these serve to identify deposits, evaluate their potential, monitor changes in the reservoir during its producing life, perform production allocation and check that production and ancillary processes comply with safety standards and environmental regulations.
The measurements required are extremely diverse in nature, including seismic, pressure and temperature readings, positional coordinates, chemical analyses, gas detection and more. Many of the measurements must be taken in situ, in challenging physical conditions such as bottomhole or on the seabed. Despite the harsh conditions to which sensors are exposed, they must have the longest possible service life and the lowest possible frequency of maintenance interventions.
Accordingly, the priorities of this Prospective Lab are to miniaturize sensors, extend their autonomy and make them more robust. The need to monitor expansive fields and extremely large-scale facilities (such as pipelines) calls for the development of distributed sensors, specialty cameras or communicating sensor networks. We must also take advantage of innovation to optimize the real-time monitoring of our facilities and processes. The foreseeable rise in the number of sensors goes hand in hand with the issue of how to organize the huge volumes of data (Big Data) that the sensors will generate, and manage the findings they deliver.
This Lab is aimed at contributing to the development and dissemination of the many disruptive innovations spawned by the nanoscience revolution that hold potential for Total’s E&P and other branches. Indeed, our activities offer an extremely broad spectrum of applications for nanotechnologies. And on the periphery of the Exploration & Production sector, nanotechnologies could also be leveraged to achieve improvements in operational as well as HSE performance.
Robotics affords an answer to some strategic challenges, with the potential to improve both the technological and the economic performance of our operations. It will also play a decisive role in optimizing safety by limiting human presence – and thus risk exposure – at our facilities.
The many configurations of our activities offer a corresponding number of potential applications for robotics. Designed to operate on uneven exploration terrain, surface facilities, inside pipes, in the air or under water, robots will be a key path to data – especially in areas inaccessible to human operators. They must meet a broad range of needs in terms of size; mobility (travel mechanism); autonomy (energy and/or decision-making); design (ATEX-compliance for surface robots for deployment in explosive atmospheres) and communication systems.
We are already at work on the development of the first autonomous surface robot tailored to the needs of oil and gas facilities and able to carry out routine inspection procedures in fully autonomous mode. We are targeting delivery of an initial prototype, tested in a pilot phase at one of our sites, in the course of 2019.
Microbes are omnipresent in industrial E&P facilities. Their metabolic activity within the reservoir and over the entire production chain is a source of risks but also of potential benefits. For example, bacteria can cause biocorrosion of metals, which presents a major risk for asset integrity, human safety and the environment. Conversely, some of the bacteria populating petroleum reservoirs could, if stimulated, help improve oil recovery or keep certain phenomena in check, such as the souring of wells due to the generation of H2S.
The research conducted under this Prospective Lab aims to identify and develop biotechnology applications for E&P activities and to enhance our knowledge, understanding and mastery of biological activity in the reservoir and downstream of the well.
Computer Vision, Graphics and Image Processing
The aim of this Lab is to identify technologies in the areas of computer vision, infographics and image processing that could affect our activities, particularly for applications in:
- Digital Rock Physics (DRP), an emerging discipline for viewing and simulating dynamic phenomena in a porous network at pore scale, notably to improve our understanding of the properties of carbonate reservoirs;
- Geological modeling or mechanical simulations of petroleum basins by applying synthetic imaging technologies to simulate geophysical deformations under both in situ and laboratory conditions;
- Deep learning technologies applied to image processing and shape recognition.
Research & Development
The Driving Force Behind Total’s Competitiveness