Hitoshi Nishimura Shell

How I align our research strategy with our future energy transition ambitions

Ed shares how he works to develop the catalyst solutions needed for a net-zero carbon future.

By Ed Ganja, GM Refining Catalyst Technology on Jun 7, 2021

Ed Ganja is based in Houston, Texas, where his role at Shell Catalysts & Technologies is General Manager – Refining Catalyst Technology. He is transitioning to a new role of VP Catalyst and Analytical Technology.

Ed joined Shell in 1990, where he worked in a variety of technology, manufacturing/operations and technical support roles before moving into catalyst R&D management in 2006. Today, Ed’s global team is responsible for the invention-to-deployment of new and innovative refining catalyst solutions.

For the first of our “How I Make Every Molecule Matter” interview series, Ed shares a behind-the-scenes look at how he works with a team of researchers to invent the catalyst solutions needed for both core refining applications and for a net-zero carbon future.

1. Could you tell us about your role and how it aligns with future energy transition ambitions?

My role is to make sure that I am a good steward of business objectives and the funding Shell provides for our applied catalyst research programs across the globe. Aligning our R&D strategy with our business strategy assures our innovations are focused on meeting the needs of the global marketplace.

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We are proactively transitioning our technology programs to meet the energy transition needs of the future. As we’re moving into the energy transition, we are trying to position and pivot the catalyst work we’ve been doing for our core technologies to understand where the synergies are in newer energy transition applications. I work across the organisation to ensure that we are aligned on working on the right business value opportunities for the global marketplace.

2. How do you work across teams to incorporate business strategy into applied research?

Our goals and objectives are focused on managing a diverse set of technical programs through our technology funnel from invention to deployment. We aspire to provide differentiated customised technology solutions aligned with our customers’ refining economics and value opportunities. Our commercial solutions continue to reduce energy consumption as well as greenhouse gases. With the energy transition, the view is now bolder on the solutions needed for the future. This is also what Make Every Molecule Matter is all about.

We leverage our global integrated project teams and our R&D toolkit to ensure we are conducting our innovation work efficiently and effectively. Our toolkit includes world-class capability in the areas of enhanced experimentation, catalyst characterisation, reactor application testing, catalyst synthesis, modelling and digitalisation.

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Our state-of-the-art capability combined with the diversity, technical expertise and competencies of our scientists, engineers and support staff are key enablers in reaching our future technology aspirations. As a result, we can offer differentiated and innovative technology solutions by understanding our customers’ key value drivers.

We work with our business, commercial and marketing teams to understand where the future business strategy is trying to go and how to adapt our technology strategy to meet the needs of customers around the globe.

Adapting our product portfolio to successfully meet customer needs is an important aspect of customised solution deployment. Customer centricity is key to understand the primary economic value drivers. We gain clarity in understanding our customer’s value proposition and integrate these value drivers into our program objectives to ensure we innovate differentiated solutions. Understanding these commercial and global impacts are key to Make Every Molecule Matter and winning in the energy transition.

3. How did researchers adapt to safety measures throughout the pandemic?

We have all faced many challenges over the last 15 months. At Shell, we have focused on modifying our safety barriers to ensure our experimental work can be conducted in a safe manner. It is important to routinely review barriers and guarantee the safety and health of our staff.

We’ve been successful in being able to create a safe working environment for our teams at each one of our technology centres. New barriers including masking, improved hygiene and social distancing have been key enablers to ensure continuity of our laboratory activities. Our priorities of maintaining a Learner Mindset and showing Care for People have helped us in building community during this long period of remote working.

With new safety barriers in place, our teams have worked safely, efficiently and effectively at our technology sites every day to ensure we continue to meet our project timelines. The experimental teams have done an excellent job to adapt to new ways of working and sharing best practices. Their dedication and commitment have been commendable.

We’ve taken an agile approach to our activities; we learn as we go and make changes as needed. Assessing weak signals and implementing improvement to our safety barriers and workstream have been keys to demonstrating a generative safety culture.

During recent months, we have also strengthened our workstreams leading to improved, innovative operational excellence and lean R&D. Integrated work teams, fast decision-making and improved priority setting have led to moving innovations rapidly through our technology funnel. This has supported our technology transfer aspirations in the applied research arena.

4. How have you kept virtual teams motivated?

More frequent virtual engagements have been key to connect colleagues both locally and globally. Our teams are finding a new cadence to managing projects, actions and timelines.

Keeping our business and commercial stakeholders updated on our activities has also been conducted remotely. This has been a significant change from a year ago. We have talked in our teams about how we can engage our stakeholders more effectively.

We discuss: What is your experience with remote working? How can you make it more effective through virtual networking and virtual collaboration?

We also discuss forward-looking questions: What has worked? How can working remotely lead to good decisions, good project outcomes, efficient and effective project delivery, and at the same time, facilitate risk management associated with projects?

I do think that our virtual team meetings and conversations are more effective and productive. It’s also allowing us to bring all parts of the globe together in different and more collaborative ways. Clearly, it’s not the same experience as meeting face-to-face with colleagues.

Our future will continue to involve more remote and flexible work. As a result, we continue to assess how we would choose to conduct those meetings today and in the future. We continue to bridge the gaps to improving team performance in a virtual world. These learnings will evolve and improve our technology delivery.

5. What are you most looking forward to?

There is no question that what has happened over the last year has provided a step-change in accelerating the energy transition. As a technology organisation we will need to be adaptable, flexible and capable in leveraging our capability to meet our future energy needs. New innovations will be key to deliver a cleaner energy future. Successful global deployment of these new and diverse technology platforms will be critical to making the energy transition a reality.

I am very excited about the energy transition ahead and the role technology can play in the Shell strategy. Similarly, Shell Catalysts & Technologies has a very exciting future ahead with Make Every Molecule Matter. We are working on real energy transition opportunities needing robust and practical technology solutions. We are working to solve the technology challenges that drive global impact. I look forward to the future and how Shell Catalysts & Technologies will play an active role in delivering the technology solutions of the future.

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