Cambridge Enterprise, the commercialisation arm of the University, is one of the four entities which funded SMG‘s latest roundContra/University of Cambridge/Youtube

Silicon Microgravity (SMG), a joint research venture by the University of Cambridge and BP in developing oil and gas technology, has raised $7m (£5.3m) in its latest funding round, amid growing scrutiny of Cambridge’s ties to fossil fuel companies.

A spokesperson for SMG, a private company which primarily develops and applies surveillance and production technologies of oil and gas, has said that the investment “will allow the company to commercialise its technology and grow rapidly”. Their research also has applications to carbon dioxide storage and water management in improving energy efficiency.

The $7m figure includes investments from IP Group, Parkwalk, BP Ventures, and Cambridge Enterprise. Cambridge Enterprise, a subsidiary of the University, helps “academics and staff form and fund spin-out companies”. One of the group’s aims is to “produce a financial return for inventors, departments and the University”.

A University spokesperson on behalf of Cambridge Enterprise said that SMG’s “technology has potential applications well beyond the oil and gas sector, including carbon storage monitoring, early-warning systems for earthquake-prone zones, geotechnical surveying for projects such as HS2, or monitoring ground movement.”

Silicon Microgravity is the product of a 10-year research effort by the Cambridge University Nanoscience Centre in collaboration with oil and gas company BP.

Cambridge Zero Carbon has said that the venture “raises serious questions about Cambridge University as a public institution dedicated to the public good”. They added, “what does its commitment to sustainability mean when it is funding catastrophic climate breakdown, both through its investments and directly?”

Cambridge’s relationship with BP and Royal Dutch Shell has come under scrutiny in recent months. Last month, Varsity reported that an employee at Greenwich House, the University administrative building which houses the University’s finance and research operations office, expressed concern that student occupiers of the building might find and disseminate “sensitive documents” regarding companies “such as Shell”. 

In April, BP CEO Bob Dudley urged the University against divesting from fossil fuels, saying, what BP later claimed was in jest, that “we donate and do lots of research at Cambridge so I hope they come to their senses on this”.

The University’s research funding is distinct, however, from divestment of its endowment from shareholdings in fossil fuel companies.


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In a University Council decision on 8th June, Cambridge rejected calls for it to commit to full divestment, instead adopting a policy of ‘considered divestment’ where it would work toward a low-carbon future by lending “its voice and authority in engagement with industry”.

SMG has said that it has developed an extremely accurate three axis accelerometer, which it “primarily” intends to use to “improve surveillance, appraisal and production of oil and gas”. It said that doing so could help “achieve real efficiencies and cost savings”.

The company is now “embarking on an ambitious field trial program in collaboration with BP and other partners”, according to Professor Ashwin Seshia, a lecturer in the Faculty of Engineering and SMG’s Chief Scientific Officer.

As well as BP and Cambridge Enterprise, the IP Group and Parkwalk, both of which specialise in commercialising academic research, contributed to the $7m figure.

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