In a workshop held at Poli-USP, Júlio Meneghini stated that the intelligent use of natural gas will make Brazil’s energy matrix cleaner and will avoid competition with renewable sources

The Academic Coordinator of the FAPESP-SHELL Research Centre for Gas Innovation – RCGI, Júlio Meneghini, was one of the speakers at the Natural Gas & Future Energy System Workshop held at the Polytechnical School of the University of São Paulo (Poli-USP), last November 11. The event, which brought together academicians, government personnel, and industry representatives, was presented against a backdrop of the growing importance of natural gas in Brazil’s and São Paulo’s energy matrix. It focused on the technologies that are being investigated and developed for its rational and sustainable use.

“Natural gas is an absolutely essential subject for the State of São Paulo,” affirmed São Paulo’s State Secretary of Energy and Mining, João Carlos de Souza Meirelles, during the opening exercises of the workshop. Besides the Secretary and RCGI’s Director, the opening panel of the workshop consisted of the President of Mitsui & Co. Brazil, Shinji Tsuchiya; the General Manager of Petrobras in Santos, Osvaldo Kawakami; the Director of the Polytechnical School, José Roberto Castilho Piqueira; and Professor Fernando Menezes (Poli-USP), representing the President of USP, Marco Antonio Zago.

Meneghini, who presented the RCGI to the participants, pointed out the challenge brought on by climate change and the role of natural gas within this context, not only as a transitional fuel, but also as the raw material from which other products can be obtained. “We are dedicated to dealing well with this big challenge of reconciling energy production with a minimum of CO2 emissions. Our focus is not on using natural gas to substitute renewable energy sources, but rather to substitute coal, which is a serious problem in terms of CO2 emissions. If we are able to use natural gas intelligently, we will be able to make Brazil’s energy matrix cleaner than it already is, without competing with ethanol,” Meneghini stressed, pointing out that natural gas represents about 14% of Brazil’s energy matrix. “From 2003 to 2012, ethanol grew around 10% and natural gas nearly 16% in relation to our matrix. Charcoal and firewood decreased.”

The engineer defended a broader approach to the use and destination of natural gas. “We have to think in an integrated manner, not only of natural gas as an energy source, but also of the products it can generate. Like, for example, materials for the chemical and petrochemical industries; or raw materials to be transformed into polymers, whether by biological or chemical means.”

Meneghini mentioned several of the 29 RCGI projects and highlighted the partnership with FAPESP and Shell, which give financial support to the Center. “At first, we thought of focusing our research only on natural gas, but we expanded our vision and began to strategically consider biogas and, of course, hydrogen. Today, hydrogen is basically produced from natural gas. The State of California and the countries of Germany and Japan are leading this process, worldwide. Reforming methane to produce hydrogen, by locally capturing CO2, it is possible to generate a renewable fuel from a fossil fuel, but with a carbon zero footprint.”

He also pointed out the importance of biogas for a State like São Paulo, which is a huge sugarcane producer. One of the sub products of the distillation of ethanol is vinasse, which is produced in large quantities. It is estimated that 8 to 12 liters of vinasse are obtained for every liter of distilled ethanol. “By producing biogas from vinasse, it would be possible to substitute diesel that is used by the sugarcane industry during a good share of the year. There would be an enormous decrease in CO2 emissions into the atmosphere. Obviously, there are big challenges to face: it is necessary to purify the biogas, which involves the cutting edge technology that São Paulo’s industry could offer. We are investigating supersonic separators at RCGI, which is a technology that, once it is developed, can be applied to this task.”

Meneghini stated that in the coming months he expects to align other institutions among RCGI’s partners. “The partnership with Shell is quite promising and is progressing very well. Shell wants to help us transform the State of São Paulo into a hub for producing knowledge about petroleum and natural gas, as well as about energy, in general, and is thinking about an additive after the end of the first year of the project, which would be excellent for both parties. But it would be interesting to also be able to count on such institutions as Mitsui, which is a large natural gas distributor in Brazil, as well as Mitsubishi Oil and Gas, Petrobras, and other research institutions, both in and outside of the State.”