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A baker testing recipes for a wedding cake makes a batch of cupcakes, varies the ingredients in each and then tries several of the most promising at a larger scale.

The same approach helps accelerate the testing of new processes and technologies at Shell. Scientists in some 50 different research projects are working with tiny test samples of materials that robots have measured and blended with precision. The projects range from developing advanced catalysts to improve a refinery’s efficiency, to creating more effective chemical mixes for injection into ageing oil fields to boost production.

Creating markets for sulphur, one of the most plentiful by-products of oil and gas processing, makes economic and environmental sense.

Creating markets for sulphur, one of the most plentiful by-products of oil and gas processing, makes economic and environmental sense.

One such project focuses on sulphur, a growing by-product of the oil business commonly used in industrial processes. It’s already used as a binder, known as Shell Thiocrete, to replace cement in concrete.

The goal now is to make it even stronger, and more resistant to corrosive environments. So scientists at Flamac in Belgium, one of many specialist companies working with Shell on these research projects, are cooking up new mixes – in tiny cubes.

The difference in scale is dramatic. While traditional test units weigh 500 grams (1.1 lbs), the mini versions are only 8 grams, the weight of a small coin. Researchers produce 30 of these a day, each with a different mix. The robots bend, dunk and weigh the chunks, testing for strength and porosity.

Shell believes one of these cubes could hold the key to an enhanced blend of Shell Thiocrete for more durable pavements and products for industrial and marine environments.

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In a world that is demanding more energy, Shell Sulphur Solutions is establishing sulphur as a positive asset contributing to a better world, by taking sulphur out where it does not add value, and adding it to where it does.