The Shell Technology Centre Thornton employs around 280 people and has been used for the development of biofuels as well as more traditional fuels.
The company said none of the scientists concerned would lose their jobs, but would instead be “scattered” to other offices, including in London and Manchester.
The centre will shut completely in 2014, with Shell concentrating its research activities in Germany and other overseas locations.
“This relocation of employees within the UK follows the decision…to move the site’s laboratory activities, largely to Hamburg but also to other sites globally as part of a global review,” a spokesman for the company said.
The decision will be seen as a blow to Britain’s ambitions to remain a centre of industrial R&D activity, which was underlined by David Willetts in a recent speech in which he set out plans for Britain to become “the best place in the world to do science” and detailed proposals for a new breed of privately-funded research university.
Shell’s announcement comes a year after pharmaceutical giant Pfizer announced it was pulling out of its R&D base in Sandwich, Kent, which employed 2,400 people.