Bangalore's beacon of innovation
Technology and human ingenuity are vital in the transition to a lower-carbon future. As Shell opens its new technology hub in Bangalore, the Indian city is becoming known as the Silicon Valley of Asia.
Growing up in the Indian city of Calcutta, Shauvik De would literally set his sights high.
“Looking up to the skies would give me so much joy,” he recalls. “I wanted to be a pilot. But I soon realised that I had a deeper passion for technology – for engineering and for the wonder of human endeavour.”
It was this sense of curiosity that took the son of an engineering professor, now 27, “deep into science” and on to a path of exceptional achievement.
De reached the top 30 of a national exam for Indian undergraduates, which led him to the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai to study for a master’s degree in chemical engineering.
In 2013 De arrived in the Netherlands to study for a PhD in computational science, part-funded by Shell and the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research, a Dutch public-sector funding body.
The PhD75 scholarship nurtures some of India’s brightest minds. Each year more than 20 promising Indian students are selected to complete their doctorates at some of the leading Dutch universities. The programme lasts four years.
Successful graduates go on to find jobs with Shell tackling some of the world’s toughest energy challenges.
De’s planned return to India later this year is particularly significant. Upon return he is set to join a group of graduates working at Shell’s technology centre in Bangalore. The 52-acre site is one of three major Shell technology hubs. The other two are in the Dutch city of Amsterdam and the US city of Houston.
Asia’s Silicon Valley
Shell has had a presence in Bangalore since 2006 and its scientists have made major breakthroughs including developing waste-to-fuel technology and computational modelling to make oil rigs safer. But why choose the Indian city as Shell’s Asia research and development hub?
As home to around 2,000 active start-ups, Bangalore “buzzes with innovation,” says Harry Brekelmans, Shell’s Projects & Technology Director. “Human ingenuity, innovation and technology will be critically important through the energy transition, in India and beyond.”
Other global brands including Amazon and Apple have recently set-up operations there. And, according to one study, Bangalore is the world’s fastest-changing city, eclipsing even established global IT capitals like Silicon Valley and London, says the 2017 JLL City Momentum Index, an annual survey that measures a range of social and economic factors.
The new Shell Technology Centre Bangalore (STCB) will bring Shell’s technology and R&D activities in Bangalore under one roof. It can accommodate up to 1,500 staff. Their fields range from gas technology to geological modelling, data analysis to computational research.
The site, like the ones in Amsterdam and Houston, is dedicated to finding energy solutions for the growing world population. The scientists and engineers working there will strive to find ways to spread access to energy to those who do not have enough.
Saravanan Venkatesan has witnessed India’s scientific advancement first hand. The son of a weaver was among the first intake of graduates to Shell in Bangalore a decade ago.
“When I first joined I didn’t really have a clue of how the world worked – let alone the oil and gas industry,” he reflects. “Working in a multinational was unusual. I remember calling my manager and colleagues ‘sir’ or ‘madam’ because that’s how we’d always been brought up. It took me a while to call them by their first names.”
Much has changed. Having completed placements in the Netherlands and Singapore, he recently returned to Bangalore where he is a gas processing engineer. Now 37, he lives in the city with his wife and seven-year-old son.
“The company I joined has changed remarkably, as has the city I first arrived in more than 10 years ago. The region is at the cutting-edge of science and technology and is where Shell has made a number of scientific advancements. This feels like the Silicon Valley of India.”
Venkatesan regularly returns to his village to inspire the next generation of young people dreaming of a career with a major international company.
As of later this year those are set to include De – the soon-to-be doctorate who spent his childhood watching cricket and playing football. He and his peers are likely to be assigned challenges from developing new algorithms to improving smart grids, or finding new approaches to battery technology.
“India’s energy system has challenges that need to be tackled,” De says. “In many villages people often don’t have reliable modern energy. But that will change. The new intakes of scientists and engineers will join the industry and bring fresh insights with them. Bright ideas can change the world. When I look up to the skies today, I still believe that.”
By Kunal Dutta
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