May 2014

Innovative thinkers

Battelle: A history of innovation

Melanie Cruthirds / World Oil


 Much like the impact of the enabling technologies that it has helped to develop, Battelle’s presence is felt continuously, if not always seen. With the oversight of the national labs, Battelle manages 22,000 employees. The group has grown to be the world’s largest non-profit research and development organization. In an industry where the slightest movements in profit margins or shareholder returns can send an organization into panic mode, Battelle, with roughly a quarter of its Energy and Environment business concentrated in oil and gas, does not share those worries.


The development and assessment of advanced materials is a core element of Battelle’s growing offshore oil and gas business. Other capabilities include infrastructure integrity and product performance, subsea and downhole technologies, and environmental services.

Founded in 1929 by an industrialist named Gordon Battelle, the organization has since grown far past its chartering mission as an educational trust, designed to help the communities in which it operates. While those admirable goals still guide Battelle, the group has established an R&D foothold that dwarfs many portfolios: it churns out more than 3,500 projects annually, including developments across unconventional resources, subsea technology and advanced materials.

Torrance Haggerty, Battelle’s oil and gas technology lead based in Houston, said that when the company’s team members are not busy managing six of the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Laboratories, intellectual property (IP) rights are a core focus. While Battelle brings to market products like smart coatings, which can detect and prevent corrosion, and AUV’s with highly customizable payload capabilities, the organization also helps outside groups develop, license and commercialize their own IP.

Like many organizations that got their starts in the full-speed-ahead industrial environment of the 1920s—Mitsubishi, Schlumberger and supermajor Total included—Battelle’s R&D focus has shifted and expanded over the years. Today, said Haggerty, who is a geophysicist by training, the organization is active in rapidly evolving areas, including shale, environmental management and subsea. As many companies seek to increase their understanding of subsurface structures, Battelle has broken down the approach to reservoir characterization into a logical three-part model.

First, the group looks at previous knowledge about the play, as well as available well data, before tackling current seismic data interpretation. Battelle works with service providers to acquire local seismic, well log and core data, then uses enabling technologies to process acquired data. Lastly, the organization’s reservoir modeling team assimilates all of the findings, to give the end-user a clearer picture of what is going on downhole, so that they can better manage drilling campaigns—for example—on a given formation. Steps like these can be of critical importance, especially in the shale plays that continue to perplex and bust profits for some operators in the U.S.

While Battelle is already heavily involved in the onshore shale resources market, through various technologies and proprietary packages, an area that is seeing increased advancement is the organization’s offshore oil and gas business. Although it already backs products and services relating to advanced materials, and infrastructure integrity and product performance, Battelle considers its ROV/AUV technologies just as ready for oil and gas applications. Haggerty said the organization, through subsidiary Bluefin Robotics, has developed vessels that would be suited to projects in offshore surveying, as well as subsea environmental protection and monitoring. With development in the Arctic, among other regions, expected to open up over the next few years, there is great untapped potential for Bluefin’s capabilities in the upstream market. WO

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Melanie Cruthirds
World Oil
Melanie Cruthirds
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