With 16 research projects, the Carbon Abatement programme investigates innovative techniques for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, including CCS initiatives
The new programme of the FAPESP Shell Research Centre for Gas Innovation (RCGI) has great potential for bringing about the transfer of technology for the productive sector and for generating spin-offs. There are 16 research projects that focus on finding solutions to lessen greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, especially carbon dioxide (CO2). Some of them break paradigms, in terms of innovation, such as one that intends to store CO2 in salt caves.
“For example, one of the projects investigates opening salt caves in the ocean floor. It unites the objectives and research done in other projects, like the one that proposes setting up laboratories for analyzing CO2 in its supercritical state, that is, its chemical behavior and its properties under high pressure and temperature,” explains programme coordinator Kazuo Nishimoto, Professor at the Polytechnic School of the University of São Paulo (Poli-USP), where the headquarters of the RCGI are located.
According to him, there are also projects that seek to separate CO2 from methane (CH4). Methane is the main component of natural gas; however, pre-salt natural gas has a high CO2 content, which presents a challenge to its being used, since carbon dioxide is a GHG. In order to separate from methane, innovative polymeric membranes are being developed, for example, as well as a supersonic gas separator. “If all of those researches generate products that could be used effectively in the petroleum fields, we will have good cases of the transfer of technology from the university to the market,” he states.
Besides the CO2 Abatement Programme, the RCGI has three more: Engineering; Physical-Chemical; and Energy and Economic Policies. In all, there are 45 research projects. Nishimoto points out the project led by Prof. Hirdan Katarina de Medeiros Costa, which studies the regulatory and environmental aspects of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) activities.
“CCS norms already exist in the world; the European Parliament, for example, has its own. The international community is concerned about these issues. In our case, this is a great chance to develop technologies with Brazilian standards that could be unprecedented: carbon capture with storage under the ocean. We can even import CO2 from other countries, store in these caves, and monetize it.”
R&D and companies – Nishimoto emphasizes that the opportunities opened by the program are derived from the fact that Petrobras itself needs to have a place for a sizeable volume of CO2 from the pre-salt fields. Not only Petrobras, by other operators, as well, as is the case of Shell, which is one of the financial backers of the RCGI. “At Libra, particularly, the percentage of CO2 in the natural gas is exceedingly high, on the order of 30% to 40%. But at the Lula field, which has been producing for a longer period of time – having begun in 2010 – also has a content of 15%. Since high CO2 content gas is being reinjected, all of that carbon dioxide is returning to the reservoirs. In short: all of the CO2 that is being separated is being reinjected, along with part of the CH4. That being said, everything that will be produced from natural gas, in the future, will probably have an even greater concentration of CO2,” he warns.
He reminds that the research and development (R&D) fund, coming from the production of petroleum and natural gas in Brazil, provides for the contractual obligation of the concessionaires to invest in R&D. “This is a window of opportunity for the development of innovative technologies, with which Brazil can become a leader. No other country, according to him, invests as much money in the development of CCS technologies as Brazil does. “And we have this funding. We need to take maximum advantage of it. Norway did this and is now the biggest generator of technologies for the exploration of petroleum and natural gas in the world.”
In his opinion, it is essential to have closer relations between universities and the private sector. “The companies are a part of society. And one of the functions of universities is to transfer its knowledge to the society that support researches. If we do not develop this role of taking knowledge to the companies through our graduates, all of these technologies will be developed abroad and we will have to purchase them at a higher cost, later, from others. We will be mere users, or assemblers, as happens in main brazilian industries. We need to transform Brazilian industry into a more intelligent industry with the knowledge generated here in our own country,” he concluded.