Cambridge spin-out secures $3m to improve oil recovery efficiency


Silicon MicroGravity (SMG), a newly-formed University of Cambridge spin-out that has developed a novel sensor technology used by oil companies to enhance oil recovery, has received initial funding of $3 million from Imperial Innovations Group plc and Cambridge Enterprise, the commercialisation arm of the University of Cambridge, together with grant funding from the UK government.


This innovation could revolutionise oil well recovery and is an example of exactly the sort of innovation we are committed to supporting.
- Stephen Tetlow

SMG’s sensors, developed in partnership with BP, are sensitive enough to measure one billionth the level of Earth’s gravity and are small and robust enough to be sent deep into boreholes to distinguish oil from water.

Once the position of water is established and tracked, reservoir engineers can mitigate the potentially damaging results of water reaching a production well. SMG estimates that the technology could improve yields on conventional reservoirs by up to 2 percent, representing significant increases in production and revenues.

A team of Cambridge scientists, led by Dr Ashwin Seshia, of the University’s Department of Engineering, has been working closely with BP to develop the sensors. Design work began in 2010 and has resulted in several generations of prototypes providing experimental validation of the underlying device approach. A successful test of the technology was conducted in 2012 prompting BP to fund a follow-on project to address further optimisation and pursue large-scale manufacture of the sensors.

SMG was formed in 2014 to accelerate the development of the product and develop a service that can capture and analyse data on behalf of oil companies. The first field trial in a production well is scheduled for 2017.

Innovations led the funding round alongside Cambridge Enterprise, which also invested and licensed the technology to SMG. SMG is also being supported through the Institution of Mechanical Engineers’ Stephenson Fund, a private investor, InnovateUK and NERC, which have awarded a substantial grant.

SMG’s advisory board includes Kevin Dodds, General Manager of ANLEC in Australia, and Professor Roger Howe from Stanford University.

Dr Ashwin Seshia, co-founder of Silicon Microgravity, said: “The SMG devices advance the frontiers of gravity sensor technology building upon several years of University research and innovation. SMG brings together a leading international team of experts to address the next phase of technology translation and we are looking forward to working collaboratively with our partners to deploy these tools widely.”

Paul Vickery, Chairman and co-founder of Silicon Microgravity, said: “I am very excited to form this new company based on a long standing collaboration between Cambridge University and BP. We have created a compelling business plan, raised a sizable initial investment and formed a credible global team to launch the company. I look forward to building a business that can help oil companies enhance oil recovery from their major assets.”

Robert Bahns from Imperial Innovations said: “SMG has an outstanding technology developed at Cambridge University that has been significantly de-risked through a longstanding partnership with BP. The company has all the key ingredients in place to demonstrate the commercial value of the technology, and we are very pleased to be able to lead this funding round to take them through this stage and beyond.”

Julian Peck from Cambridge Enterprise said: “We are delighted that Dr Seshia’s unique technology is being commercialised by SMG. We are very excited by the market opportunity and we are keen to support future progress.”

Akira Kirton from BP Ventures said: “Water management is an increasingly important issue for BP and the whole industry, so we are excited about the potential for SMG’s technology to help us pinpoint where water is within a reservoir and enable us to take mitigating action. This collaboration fits perfectly with BP Ventures’ strategy of investing in new technologies that can be rapidly field tested and deployed.”

Stephen Tetlow MBE, Chief Executive of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said: “We are excited to be supporting such an exciting and cutting-edge technology. The Institution’s Stephenson Fund aims to fulfil the Institution’s original purpose to give an impulse to invention and also help companies overcome the investment hurdle between Research and Development and bringing a product to market.

“This innovation could revolutionise oil well recovery and is an example of exactly the sort of innovation we are committed to supporting.”

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Cambridge Enterprise exists to help University of Cambridge inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs make their ideas and concepts more commercially successful for the benefit of society, the UK economy, the inventors and the University.

Cambridge Enterprise, University of Cambridge