Kate Mackenzie Exxon’s quiet CCS play

ExxonMobil’s acquisition of gas producer XTO has set the energy M&A world alight. As we noted earlier today, it also signals confidence that a lower-CO2 future is inevitable, particularly if natural gas CCS is deployed.

Exxon, you may or may not be surprised to hear, is by far the biggest owner of patents for carbon capture and storage. In fact it holds more than twice as many patents as its nearest rival, Shell, according to a report by independent UK think tank Chatham House. 

Chatham House

Source: Chatham House

As the authors note, oil companies are active in CCS partly because their enhanced oil recovery knowledge – such as injecting CO2 into the earth to extract oil – dovetails neatly with the ‘storage’ part of CCS.

But Exxon also ranks very highly for the four patent categories related to ‘capture’, too: fifth for adsorbent methods, first for absorbent and solvent, and second for membranes. Big oil peers BP, Shell and ConocoPhilips also also in some of these categories, but appear noticeably fewer times.

Patents are not a perfect measure of R&D activity, of course – they may reflect a company’s attitudes to patenting, or its internal policies for example – but they do provide a useful rough indicator of who’s interested in what.

Related links:

Exxon finds good use for its money (FT Energy Source, 15/12/09)
Exxon’s XTO deal a bet that Copenhagen talks will succeed (FT Energy Source, 14/12/09)
Nuclear energy advocate sees Da Vinci Code-like evidence of Exxon’s nuclear ambitions (GreenSheet)
Exxon’s biofuel’s research is not such a shocking move (FT Energy Source, 14/07/09)