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A century of ideas

Speech given by Ben van Beurden, Chief Executive Officer, Royal Dutch Shell plc, at the Centennial celebration, Shell Technology Centre Amsterdam, the Netherlands on July 2, 2014.
Ben van Beurden

The world faces two major, parallel challenges: how to boost economic development, and protect the environment. Energy is at the heart of both, argues Ben van Beurden. We need more energy and cleaner energy, but we must also make sure the world’s technologies are economically sustainable. Only innovation can make this happen. Shell’s approach follows two routes: the first is to make current energy sources cleaner and more efficient, and the second is to produce and distribute energy in potentially new ways.

A century of ideas

Your Majesty, your excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, it’s my pleasure to welcome you to Shell Technology Centre Amsterdam.

We’re here to celebrate a century of ideas. One hundred years in which the achievements of this Centre’s staff have made a significant difference. A difference to Shell, but also to the wider world.

We aspire to be the most innovative energy company in the world. Those who work here – and at our other research centres around the world – are vital to that journey.

Their technologies and techniques have laid the foundations for improvements in refining, transportation, and fuel efficiency — to name just three examples.

Actually, the roads on which you drove or cycled to get here, owe their existence to Shell scientists of days gone by.

Nearly 100 years ago we developed a breakthrough technology to use bitumen – the residue of oil refining – to make the road surfaces needed for the increasing traffic of the 1920s.

In the decades that followed we refined this technology and used it to build better roads, better cycle paths, better playgrounds.

It’s a modest example. But it gives you some idea of how Shell’s innovative technical cadre can make a difference.

And it’s certainly not the only example. This Centre also played a key part in the development of gas-to-liquids technology.

GTL makes it possible to use natural gas, rather than crude oil, as the raw material for a range of products. These include cleaner fuels for cars, boats and planes.

Our research on GTL started 40 years ago, right here in Amsterdam. By the 1980s we were producing GTL at a demonstration facility, still here in Amsterdam. That, in turn, led to the world’s first commercial GTL plant in Malaysia in 1993.

And, more recently, it led to our Pearl GTL project in Qatar. Over the course of its lifetime, this plant is expected to process the equivalent of 3 billion barrels of oil.

GTL has come full circle, back to Amsterdam.

We were the first to introduce GTL for its famous canal touring boats. And today, Van Keulen — an Amsterdam based supplier of wood and construction materials — uses our GTL fuel in its vehicles.

Development and environment

So, GTL helps to make cities a bit cleaner. This, ladies and gentlemen, is no coincidence. It’s our goal to help energise the world in a responsible way. Not only in Amsterdam, but across the globe.

The world faces two major challenges. One is the battle to lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. Another is the battle against climate change, air pollution, and the depletion of resources like water and food.

In short, how to boost economic development, and protect the environment at the same time. Energy is at the heart of both matters.

We know that rising population and growing aspirations, particularly in emerging economies, mean increasing energy demand. There will be more people, more people living in cities, and more people with improving living standards.

By 2035 energy demand is likely to have increased by one-third, says the International Energy Agency. So we need more energy. We need cleaner energy. But we also have to make sure our technologies are economically sustainable.

Innovation

Only innovation can make this happen.

Our approach follows two routes.

The first is to make current energy sources cleaner and more efficient, by producing cleaner fuels, for example; by drawing on natural gas, a cleaner-burning alternative to coal in power generation; and by demonstrating the potential of technologies like carbon capture and storage.

The second route is to produce and distribute energy in potentially new ways. Here and elsewhere, we’re building our knowledge of hydrogen, of renewables like solar and biomass, and of ways to use and store heat and electricity.

As ever, people will be the driving force that makes all this possible. Not only the men and women who work here today, but also those who will work here in the future. We need young people to build our energy future. This is why Shell promotes education in technical subjects and encourages young entrepreneurship.

I know — we all know — that the ideas and the enthusiasm of future generations will be indispensable.

Making a difference

Your Majesty, ladies and gentlemen, there are many reasons why I get up in the morning and feel proud of Shell. The existence and success of Shell Technology Centre Amsterdam is one of the very best of those reasons.

One hundred years ago, a forerunner of this Centre was founded with nine employees from one country — the Netherlands. Now, it employs over a 1,000 people from 50 countries.

Some of the finest minds from around the globe gather here to solve one of the world’s most pressing problems. I’m certain they’ll make a significant difference once again — to Shell and to the world.

Honoured guests, thank you for coming. Staff of Shell Technology Centre Amsterdam, thank you for your extraordinary endeavours. Happy 100th birthday to you all.