Jul 3, 2019

Sizing up Big Oil's clean tech moves

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Oil giants face tricky strategic decisions as they move into renewables, vehicle electrification and other tech beyond their very dominant fossil fuel lines, argues a new analysis released via the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies.

Why it matters: The OIES analysts argue that giants like ExxonMobil, BP and Shell must navigate two large and contradictory global forces: growing political, societal and market pressure to cut global emissions and the strong likelihood that "significant volumes of oil and gas will be required well after 2050."

The big picture: "This poses a major challenge for [international oil companies], whose current business models and technologies are incompatible with full decarbonization, but whose future depends on them being part of the solution."

Where it stands: Companies are employing a mix of strategies that involve investments — both directly and via their VC arms — in tech that replaces fossil fuels, as well as ways to find and produce oil-and-gas more efficiently and see it burned it with less pollution.

The intrigue: The energy transition is a challenge for companies, as the technology may fall outside their core competency or they're getting involved in businesses that may provide lower returns or use unproven technologies.

One cool part of the paper breaks down oil majors' patents by broad technology types and technologies. It's c0-authored by Rob West, whose consultancy Thunder Said Energy maintains a patent database that provides a window into companies' positioning

  • The high-level takeaway: So far just 8% of the patents are in what's broadly described as "new energies," including renewables.
  • The rest are "aimed at improving the efficiency of fossil fuels, which indicates that companies remain focused on their traditional activities."

But, but, but: The picture looks somewhat different when you turn to the majors' VC arms. They looked at 200 VC investments by the largest oil companies, and new energies had the second-highest total

  • One thing West and OIES director Bassam Fattouh emphasize is that for all the attention renewables and electrification, that won't be nearly enough to decarbonize the energy sector.
  • "The [international oil companies] have an opportunity to develop non-electric zero carbon technologies to help fill this gap," they note.

The bottom line: "IOCs should ramp up on technologies where they see real opportunities and they are in a good position to exploit. But it remains very unclear whether these investments are being pursued as part of a long-term vision or as part of an ad-hoc approach," the paper states.

Go deeper: Southern Company CEO Tom Fanning on renewables, cybersecurity and more

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Coronavirus updates: Global death toll tops 30,000

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC

The novel coronavirus has now killed more than 30,000 people around the world — with Italy reporting over 10,000 deaths, per Johns Hopkins data.

The big picture: The number of deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. surpassed 2,000 on Saturday. The United States leads the world in confirmed coronavirus infections — more than 124,000 by early Sunday. The number of those recovered from the virus in the U.S. passed the 1,000-mark on Saturday evening.

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Gilead expands access to experimental coronavirus drug in emergency cases

Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

Gilead Sciences CEO Daniel O’Day said in an open letter Saturday the company is expanding access to its experimental anti-coronavirus drug remdesivir to include severely ill COVID-19 patients.

The big pig picture: President Trump has called the antiviral drug "promising," but the results of six clinical trials on this investigational medicine are still being conducted, so its effectiveness in COVID-19 the treatment has yet to be proved. The World Health Organization is involved in the tests.

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Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 1 a.m. ET: 664,695 — Total deaths: 30,847 — Total recoveries: 140,156.
  2. U.S.: Leads the world in cases. Total confirmed cases as of 1 a.m. ET: 124,464 — Total deaths: 2,191 — Total recoveries: 1,095.
  3. Federal government latest: President Trump announces new travel advisories for New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, but rules out quarantine enforcement. Per the CDC, residents of those states must now "refrain from non-essential domestic travel for 14 days," with the exception of critical infrastructure industry workers.
  4. State updates: Alaska is latest state to issue a stay-at-home order — New York is trying to nearly triple its hospital capacity in less than a month and has moved its presidential primary to June 23. Some Midwestern swing voters who backed Trump's handling of the virus less than two weeks ago are balking at his call for the U.S. to be "opened up" by Easter.
  5. World updates: In Spain, over 1,400 people were confirmed dead between Thursday to Saturday.
  6. 🚀 Space updates: OneWeb filed for bankruptcy amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
  7. Hollywood: Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson have returned to U.S. after being treated for coronavirus.
  8. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk
  9. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

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