Royal Dutch Shell further leaned in to the clean energy transition yesterday in announcing a new multiyear, multimillion-dollar cleantech accelerator program. 

The Shell GameChanger Accelerator was launched in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), and will initially focus on "technologies enabling the grid of the future through long-term energy storage and controls," according to a press statement.

The program, dubbed GCxN for short, will leverage the expertise and resources available through both Shell and NREL to help de-risk emerging clean energy technologies and accelerate their path to market.

Shell, one of the largest oil and gas companies in the world, has been steadily growing its presence in the cleantech sector. According to Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables, formerly GTM Research, Shell has made six investments or acquisitions in grid edge companies — including e-mobility, energy efficiency and demand response startups — since the beginning of 2017. 

Earlier this year, Shell released its "Sky" scenario that outlines a future energy system dominated by solar, electric vehicles and carbon-capture technologies. While the plan has been criticized by some environmentalists, many energy experts celebrated Shell for producing the forward-looking document. Shell also announced last year that it plans to invest $1 billion per year on its New Energies division by 2020, and potentially even more, as it looks to diversify.

According to Lene Hviid, global manager of Shell GameChanger, the new accelerator program aligns with Shell's views on decarbonizing the energy system. 

"We take our responsibility for the world very seriously, and when you see where some of the developments are going, we don’t want to sit back and let that happen — we want to lead the change," she said in an interview.

"To actually deliver and make a new energy business, you have to make sure you have a long-range tech strategy," she added. "We’re very excited about [GCxN], because for us it will really help with a healthy innovation funnel.”

By drawing on NREL's internal expertise and outside channel partners, including 40 cleantech incubators, accelerators and universities, Shell will select a group of promising cleantech startups eligible to receive up to $250,000 in non-dilutive funding. Funding will come in the form of technical support and validation, with the opportunity for follow on funding and beta testing with a strategic program partner.

Modeled on the IN2 program NREL launched with Wells Fargo in 2014, GCxN is designed to fill a gap in the evolution of tech startups, said Hviid. It's specifically designed to help early-stage companies get to commercialization faster. Participants in the GCxN program may go on to receive additional funding from Shell, including the New Energies division or another area of the business.

IN2 companies have collectively raised over $100 million in external investment following the program. 

"Both programs are technology-incubating programs, and really what we’re doing is seeking to give nascent tech companies a head start by providing them with the resources of NREL and other national labs," said Richard Adams, director of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center at NREL.

NREL and its partners are specifically looking for battery chemistries for Shell to invest in, other than lithium-ion. That means considering different form factors for energy storage products and looking at longer-range storage options, such as flow batteries, said Adams. Durability is also a strong focus area.

"Storage solutions have limited lifetime capabilities," he said. "The focus of [GCxN] is to say, 'Can we do things to make the technology last longer and match the durability of a wind farm or a solar farm?'”

The new Shell and NREL partnership stands apart from the long-duration energy storage technology the DOE is looking to fund. Under GCxN, all funding is provided by Shell. According to Adams, applications for GameChangers will open in November and the first four program participants will be selected before the end of the year.