Q&A with Kristin Aamodt, head of Statoil Technology Invest (STI)

As head of Statoil Technology Invest (STI), Kristin Aamodt’s job is to promote good ideas from innovative companies that will help recover oil and gas in more efficient and sustainable ways. 

Statoil employee

Name: Kristin Aamodt

Position: Head of Statoil Technology Invest

Time at Statoil: Nine years

Education: Graduate Engineer, NTNU, 2003

Hobbies and interests: I love nature and sports, and particularly mountain-biking. I came 35th in the World Championships, but my personal highlight was when I won a prestigious stage race in the Alps.

One of the recommendations Statoil received from the “Good Advice from Young Minds” project was that the company should improve its collaboration with start-ups and entrepreneurs. The interviewees pointed out that many small companies innovate boldly in new ways, and that Statoil would be wise to collaborate with them. Kristin Aamodt’s unit, STI, does exactly that.

Can you explain what STI is?

“Our task is to help build up new suppliers in the oil and gas market. We do this by investing in start-up companies with pioneering technology. Through our investments, we help the companies translate their good ideas into products and services that Statoil and other customers can buy. Every time we succeed, Statoil gains a new potential supplier, and the entrepreneur realises their idea. We have been doing this for over 15 years and have been very successful.”

How many ideas do you consider in the course of a year?

“We consider 300 to 400 ideas and companies each year. Sometimes the entrepreneurs come to us, and sometimes we call on the entrepreneurs. The assessments are made in close cooperation with the various specialist groups at Statoil, so that we have the greatest possible chance of recognising and investing in a golden egg.”

And when you find a potential golden egg?

“Then we make an investment and acquire an ownership stake of 10 to 40 per cent. The size of the investments varies, but it is often in the range of NOK 10 to 100 million per company. We are active owners and help the company understand how they can develop a product that the customer will buy—regardless of whether the customer is Statoil or another oil company. We also advise on how the company should be organised and financed.” 

How do you measure whether you have succeeded?

“We have succeeded if we manage to sell the company for more than we have invested, or the company manages to sell products to Statoil so that it creates added value for our operations. This may mean that we manage to produce more oil from an existing field, that we find more oil, or that we can produce in a more sustainable manner.”

About the projects

The Eelume Project

  • Eelume is a snake robot that maintains subsea installations.
  • The pilot project between Eelume, Kongsberg Maritime and Statoil started in 2016.
  • The battery-operated snake robot will make it easier and more cost-effective to both develop and maintain subsea systems in the future.

Corvus Energy Limited

  • Corvus Energy Limited has developed a battery system for use on board vessels. With these batteries, vessels can operate either on electric propulsion alone or in combination with diesel or LNG propulsion in a hybrid vessel.
  • Corvus was the first company to install lithium-ion batteries on a supply vessel.
  • Statoil currently has two supply vessels with hybrid propulsion, and is continuously looking at new solutions in this area.
  • The batteries are charged by onshore power when the vessel is docked. With hybrid propulsion, the engine can run more optimally, save fuel and reduce CO2 emissions from 20 to 25%.

How many projects have been successful?

“Measured by the financial return to us, we see that typically a third of the companies are very successful, a third do fairly well, while we do not manage to create any value in a third of the companies. We are very satisfied with this ratio.”

Are you satisfied that only a third of the investments are successful?

“Absolutely. You have to bear in mind that among entrepreneurs in general, only a few per cent are really successful. We try to be successful in all the companies we invest in, but sometimes we must dare to invest in companies with innovative technology that isn’t guaranteed to succeed in the market. If we were 100 per cent successful with our investments, we would not be being offensive enough. In this industry, the development of technology takes place so rapidly that we have to dare to think big—to dare to invest in untested technology.”

What characterises the projects that are successful and those that fail?

“Successful projects typically share the fact that they are based on a good idea, have unique technology, are backed by a good team, and that there are enough customers that simply ‘must have’ this solution. ‘Nice to have’ solutions do not cut it, especially in these times of cost cuts and severe expenditure limits.  

The reason some of the projects we have invested in are not successful may be changes in the parameters or competitors that launch similar solutions more quickly than assumed. The greatest challenge is nevertheless to make it safely through the 'Valley of Death’.”


The Valley of Death?!

“This is the unofficial name of the period from when the company has been established to when it starts earning money. This period is often longer and costs more than the entrepreneur has envisioned. This period can last for several tough years. As long as we believe that the company will succeed, STI will contribute capital and expertise, so that the companies do not collapse during this phase. However, this is often challenging.”

Does Statoil collaborate with research communities, such as at NTNU?

“We have very good contact with various research communities and specialist groups. This applies both to international and Norwegian communities, such as NTNU. STI has, for example, a good dialogue with the NTNU Technology Transfer Office, which also helps entrepreneurial companies with technology developed by NTNU to succeed commercially. STI currently has around 20 companies in its portfolio. Many of them have originated from NTNU and other research communities.”

Can you describe such a company that STI is promoting now?

“The Eelume concept is a snake robot that will change the way today’s subsea platforms are maintained, and how tomorrow’s installations will be constructed. Today, all maintenance of our subsea systems is performed with advanced subsea vessels. They are large and heavy. They cost a lot to operate, and it can take time to mobilise them when a problem arises. With Eelume, half of the jobs can be performed much faster and more simply. The robot will be battery-operated and reside permanently on the seabed. In a special subsea garage, the equipment that is required can be attached to the snake robot, including cameras, brushes and various tools, before it is sent out on a job. In other words, it will be a bit like a ‘Subsea Swiss army knife’—always ready for action.”

What role does STI play in the project?

“Eelume is a joint venture between NTNU, Kongsberg Maritime and STI.  STI supports the project financially and participates with Statoil experts who can operate subsea installations and know what is important for development of the product. There is an ongoing, close dialogue, so that the company develops the product in accordance with what a customer such as Statoil needs. The plan is for Statoil to be the first user of the snake robot, and we are currently planning a pilot programme.”

Can you describe in brief an STI project that has been implemented commercially?

“One example of a success is the company Resman, which has developed tracer technology that enables us to monitor oil reservoirs in a smarter way. STI invested in this company in 2005 and sold its stake in the company in 2015. We had then multiplied the capital we had invested many times over and implemented the technology in some 30 Statoil wells.”


What is STI doing to contribute to a more sustainable oil and gas industry?

“We are looking for new technology that can reduce the CO2 emissions from our operations. An example of a company we have invested in is Corvus Energy, which was the first company to develop a battery solution that was robust and reliable enough to be placed on board a supply vessel in the North Sea. The battery is charged by onshore power when the vessel docks, and as a result of this we can have hybrid operation with diesel and battery. This rechargeable battery corresponds to the power of ten Tesla batteries and reduces the vessel’s greenhouse gas emissions by up to 20 per cent annually. This corresponds to 2,000 tonnes of CO2, or the removal of 1,000 cars from the road for an entire year.”

Has the Corvus technology affected the industry in any way?

“Yes, as one of the most experienced companies in this area, Corvus has helped set standards for ensuring the safety of the batteries for the marine market. Several supplies are currently working on the development of new batteries. This is positive for Statoil, the offshore industry and, not least, the environment.”

What do you think about STI’s future path?

“I am an incorrigible technology optimist! We are already working on many exciting projects that will help reduce emissions and improve sustainability. To succeed in the future, I think it will be even more important to collaborate with small, innovative groups and companies in the years to come.”