Think of greentech and ConocoPhillips Co., and you're likely to think of biofuels.
The oil and natural gas company has announced a $22 million biofuel-research partnership with Iowa State University, a $5 million pact with the Colorado Center for Biorefining and Biofuels and biofuel-research alliances with Archer Daniels Midland Co., Tyson Foods and the U.S. Department of Energy.
But what does an oil company know about batteries?
You might be surprised. ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP) last year launched CPreme Graphite Powder, a material used in the anode - or the positive side - of lithium-ion batteries. In 2006, the company said it was developing the new material, which it claims increases the efficiency and cuts the cost of lithium-ion batteries for hybrid and electric vehicles.
In an interview posted this week, Stephen Brand, head of technology for ConocoPhillips, told Cleantech Blog author Neal Dikeman that the company is rapidly increasing its production of the graphite materials to meet a growing demand for lithium-ion batteries used for transportation.
ConocoPhillips' senior vice president for technology said the company is now developing a new material for the cathode – or negative side – of the batteries, also aimed at reducing the cost of lithium-ions, and added that the material would be available for testing by battery manufacturers soon.
Advances in batteries are among the most important technologies for the energy business, Brand said, according to the Cleantech Blog.
"Breakthroughs in lithium-ion battery technology greatly improve the safety, power and reliability of batteries for hybrid vehicles, thereby improving fuel economy and reducing emissions," he said.
He also named so-called "clean coal" technologies as among the most important.
"Coal-to-gas" technologies, which turn coal into cleaner natural gas, and innovations in capturing and storing carbon emissions, will help energy companies address climate-change concerns, Brand said.
Cleaner-coal technologies are controversial among many environmentalists, who argue that they still damage the environment and that carbon capture and storage technologies still haven't proven to keep emissions buried long-term.
But with the U.S. Energy Information Administration projecting that global coal consumption will increase 65 percent from 122.5 quadrillion British thermal units in 2005 to 202.2 quadrillion Btu in 2030, others say technologies to reduce the greenhouse-gas emissions from coal could have a major impact on the environment.
According to its Website, ConocoPhillips is developing several new projects that could include carbon capture and storage, also known as CCS, including several that could each potentially store up to 5 million metric tons of CO2 per year, and also is working with the U.S. Department of Energy and other organizations to develop new CCS technology.
CCS faces several major challenges, however. It's still costly and energy-intensive, particularly considering that emitting carbon is free today, and policies governing long-term storage haven't been created yet, according to the Website.
Aside from biofuels, batteries and cleaner coal, ConocoPhillips also is developing solar, geothermal and battery technologies, Brand said.
All together, the company has doubled its total research and development spending "in the last couple of years," according to the post, reaching $500 million in investments in 2008. Brand said he expects that figure to grow higher in the future.
The company is creating a global technology center in Louisville, Colo., outside of Denver, scheduled to open in 2012, he said. In February, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter announced that ConocoPhillips had bought the 432-acre corporate campus, formerly occupied by Storage Technology Corp., for $58.5 million (see Rocky Mountain News, Denver Business Journal and The Denver Post).