BP Centre for Petroleum and Surface Chemistry: partnering with the University of Surrey for a model new research project

BP Centre for Petroleum and Surface Chemistry: partnering with the University of Surrey for a model new research project

Through a partnership involving mutual respect and trust, a research project is enabling both university and business to break new ground.

This case study orignally appeared on page 32 of the State of the Relationship 2014. The report outlines the state of university-business collaboration in the UK, featuring expert views and over forty case studies. Read the full report.

"In any process of collaboration it is important to get to know the partners, establish trust and set clear expectations and goals. In particular, it is imperative that the partners’ wider teams are engaged in achieving these shared aims. From fellow researchers to lawyers and accountants, everyone in the process is instrumental, and needs to trust and be trusted.”

Professor Spence Taylor, University of Surrey

In August 2013, a £4.2m ($7m) research centre - the BP Centre for Petroleum and Surface Chemistry - was officially opened at the University of Surrey. The aim of the centre is to study recovery processes related to viscous oils, minimising the cost to the environment and enabling the development of these hydrocarbon energy supplies for the future.

The opening of the centre was the culmination of a long-term collaboration between the University of Surrey and BP, which began as a result of research undertaken in 2010 by Professor Spence Taylor, then a visiting researcher at the university and previously a BP employee. At this time, Professor Taylor had been conducting small-scale research projects within the University of Surrey’s Department of Chemistry. BP’s own in-house research facilities had been scaled down over previous years, and the combination of Professor Taylor’s experience with the level of facilities available at the university made it ideally suited to support a new project in BP’s Heavy Oil team.

For several months, Professor Taylor worked as an integral part of the BP team. In 2011, it became clear that the project would demand greater resources to support the project’s growing remit. In May 2011, Professor Taylor proposed that the University of Surrey could provide facilities and expertise, for relatively modest investment.

The proposal was a departure from BP’s usual way of conducting research. However, with ardent support from Chris West, Vice President of Heavy Oil at BP, it is now a model that may be repeated by BP in other research areas.

In negotiation, potential pitfalls around ownership of intellectual property and publication of results were avoided by sensible acceptance of both partners’ positions. BP understood that academics need to publish, and the university respected BP’s commercial position in maintaining confidentiality and technology ownership. This led to the signing of contracts in September 2012.

“In any process of collaboration it is important to get to know the partners, establish trust and set clear expectations and goals. In particular, it is imperative that the partners’ wider teams are engaged in achieving these shared aims. From fellow researchers, to lawyers and accountants, everyone in the process is instrumental, and needs to trust and be trusted. Alongside this is a need for flexibility and open dialogue. With these foundations, the partnership’s big picture, and in turn its small details, become a lot easier to navigate and achieve,” says Professor Taylor.

Under the agreement, the relationship between the university and BP has grown. Through the centre, BP has access to a wide pool of expertise and facilities across the faculty, aside from those within the centre itself, offering value for money and greater collaborative opportunities. For the University of Surrey the partnership marries industry and academia, and provides students with the opportunity to gain hands-on industry experience. 

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