Amplifying our Technology DNA to serve the Energy Transition
Interview with Wei Cai, Chief Technology Officer
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Wei Cai is Chief Technology Officer of Technip Energies.
Before joining the company, Wei has spent over 18 years working in our industry with a strong focus on technology and R&D. She holds a PhD in Material Chemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Diversity & Inclusion has always been a very important part of her management approach.
What does the role of Chief Technology Officer consist of and why is it so important today?
When I joined Technip Energies at the end of 2021, I realized the company’s ambition is to transition from being an engineering company with technology to a technology company with strong engineering capabilities. To me, this means amplifying the technology DNA of the company.
This transition is an inspiring challenge to tackle. We first start by establishing a technology framework in line with our enterprise strategy, which is to focus on our four energy transition pillars: Gas & Low Carbon LNG, Sustainable Chemistry, Decarbonization and Carbon-Free Energy Solutions. In doing so, we need to gradually build our internal capabilities, to nurture open innovation not only internally but also by working with strategic alliances and various actors in the external ecosystem, like startup companies and research institutions. As we develop our technology strategy, strong execution rigor in Research and Development (R&D) is a must-have to drive the business outcome as well as ESG impact. We need to implement a methodology to measure our success and also an operating mechanism in coordination with the business lines and key functions.
Equally important is our talent development strategy, if not more important. We cannot deliver technology and innovation without capable and talented people. With a strong partnership with our People and Culture function, we focus on three priorities in technical talent development: first is to build on top of the talent we already have, connecting and amplifying our internal technical network, such as the technical expertise program. Second is to promote innovation culture through initiatives like IP training, internal innovation challenge, just to give two examples. The third aspect is talent mapping: together with the Operating Centers, we continuously identify and fill talent gaps as this new company evolves.
How do you attract, promote, and retain technical expertise and experts within the company?
I would say that there are two key factors. The first is to inspire and attract people with challenging and rewarding work. We are well positioned at Technip Energies because our work and potential impact in energy transition is very exciting. Our ambition to help the world solve this grand challenge excites many of us.
Secondly, once the technical talents join our company, we need to help them grow and thrive. We would like to offer an environment for every employee to build their skills and progress along their career paths. In my experience, people care more about what they do every day and the impact they make, they want to feel that they’re contributing and are part of something big. Each individual is different, but my job, and that of my team, our responsibility is to find the internal fire of each employee, to ignite it, and to keep it burning. That’s how you retain the best people.
In your view, which technologies will have the most impact over the next few years in terms of cutting carbon emissions and reaching net zero? Can you give some examples?
There is no silver bullet to get us to net zero, it will involve several things. The first is electrification, which means generating as many green electrons as we can, using the sun and wind, or other renewable resources. The second is to improve energy efficiency, to shave down carbon emissions. In the next five to ten years, we will see a lot of growth in carbon capture, utilization, and storage technology. These are the low hanging fruit, but they are not enough.
We also need to address the source of carbon in our daily lives, in the chemicals and plastics that we use, and the fabrics we wear. So much comes from fossil fuel sources, so we need to consider alternative fuel replacements, using different molecules, including bio-sourced material, clean hydrogen and ammonia. We need to look at the entire energy value chain and come up with technology ideas that address each block. Some technologies will bring results quickly, others will take longer. This is the way we have built our roadmap to position our technology portfolio along different timelines.
What technological breakthroughs are necessary to accelerate the drive to net zero?
Affordability is key. For example, we have the technology to produce hydrogen using electrolysis, but cost remains a major issue. This is why governments have a lot of incentive to build demo plants for carbon capture and hydrogen generation, to encourage breakthroughs that reduce costs.
We see a lot of good ideas in the labs that are scientifically solvable, the challenge is to take these ideas from the lab and find the right path to scale up and industrialize them. And this is where our skilled engineering and experience can help. Our job is to take lab innovations and turn them into scalable, commercial products and solutions.
Scaling up involves a lot of capital investment, but it also brings about reduction of costs. And it involves lots of different players, from the policy side to support with regulations and standards, through to financing, and coordination of consortiums to reduce risk. Everyone has a role to play.
This is why we are supporting open innovation, tapping into the innovation ecosystem and keeping our eyes open to different global opportunities. By joining forces with MIT, Stanford, and a host of universities, we gain exposure to startups and their technologies. We then review them on a case-by-case basis, to work together, as well as with some of the major energy companies such as Shell at their Amsterdam campus, to accelerate development.
As a very successful leader in the industry, what is your message to women considering a career in the STEM field?
My message to women considering careers in STEM is to be confident, reach out and don’t underestimate your talent. I’m glad to see at Technip Energies, 50% of our graduate new hires are women. This is made possible because demographics in universities are shifting and thanks to the efforts that are being made to encourage young girls in the STEM field. The pipeline of women graduates is increasing.
Once these young engineers join the company, it is important to foster their growth along the career path, to give them training and proper exposure, put them on interesting projects, and provide mentors. As leaders, we need to actively grow and promote women. More generally speaking, at Technip Energies, we are setting up internal programs that include uncovering bias, mentoring, and coaching, among other things. I believe it’s essential to have space where everybody can discuss their challenges, to learn from them and thrive.