Online workshop marks five years of the Centre’s activities headquartered at the University of São Paulo and financed by FAPESP and Shell

The development of gaskets that seal joints to the point of reducing a good share of the worldwide emissions of methane (CH4), which is one of the main greenhouse gases, from leaking out of turbines and pneumatic machinery; the construction of the second generation of a supersonic separator of methane gas and of carbon dioxide (CO2); and a technology that provides for the use of caverns built in the pre-salt layer for separating CO2 from methane and storing the carbon dioxide were some of the research results highlighted on the first day of the workshop of the FAPESP Shell Research Centre for Gas Innovation (RCGI). During the event a report was given on the results of the Research Centre’s five years of activity at its headquarters in the Polytechnic School of the University of São Paulo (Poli-USP).

The Centre performs advanced studies on the use of sustainable natural gas, biogas, and hydrogen, as well as the management, transportation, storage, and use of CO2, where over 370 researchers are actively involved with 46 projects spread throughout five large research programs, with heavy international collaboration. “The RCGI is not merely a research center, but rather a center for research, innovation, and the dissemination of knowledge,” stated Professor Julio Meneghini, the RCGI’s Scientific Director, and he added that in the coming weeks the Centre will announce new programs to begin in 2021. According to him, the working model of the RCGI, with private investments (especially from Shell) complementing public funding (from the São Paulo Research Foundation–FAPESP and USP), is one of the reasons for the success and consolidation of the Centre.

“One of our main tasks for this second phase of the RCGI is to find new forms of financing; we plan to work on disseminating knowledge at an even higher level, going beyond what we achieved during these first years,” Meneghini said. “A center that seeks to integrate different people and groups is much more than the sum of its individual parts. When you have a center like this one, there are enormous gains.” He says that among the challenges that the RCGI will continue to face is that of avoiding excessive control and governance, so as not to inhibit creativity and the possibility of innovation. “Having an open-minded or open-innovation approach in all of our projects is extremely important.”

The workshop, “RCGI in Review – 5 years of gas innovation”, took place across a two-day period. In the first part of the event, on September 30, besides Meneghini, the Directors of three of the Centre’s five research programs presented their results: Emílio Carlos Nelli Silva, of the Engineering program; Reinaldo Giudici, of the Physical-Chemistry program; and Edmilson Santos, of the Energy and Economic Policies Program; as well as Guenther Carlos Krieger Filho, deputy director of the Engineering Program.

Silva and Krieger Filho stressed the importance of constructing an infrastructure of laboratories and instruments for performing research and for international collaborative efforts, for instance, with the Imperial College de Londres and with Cambridge University, in the United Kingdom. “To bear fruit, the collaboration must be along a two-way street,” Emílio Silva said. “They bring us knowledge, but we also need to find a way to help. If one side thinks that the other will not be useful, it won’t work very well.” The 11 projects of the program about which the results were presented include questions regarding the storage and leakage of gas, the use of natural gas for transportation, and the technology for measuring atmospheric pollutants.

As for the ten projects of the Physical Chemistry program, Professor Reinaldo Giudici presented the advances obtained with the development of catalysts, fuel cells, and research on the use of solar energy, including a hybrid system that uses solar energy and natural gas, and even a study that developed a biodegradable biopolymer – polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB) – from methane by using bacteria. The researcher noted that seventy-eight articles were published in scientific magazines as a result of the studies related to this program alone.

Professor Edmilson Moutinho dos Santos, Coordinator of the RCGI’s Energy and Economic Policies program and an instructor in USP’s Institute of Energy and Environment (IEE), emphasized the interdisciplinary nature of the program’s projects,

They work with partners within the university, such as the School of Arts, Sciences and Humanities (EACH) and the departments of Economics and Geography. The projects of the program deal with the legal and regulatory questions regarding natural gas, urban issues, economic and logistical dimensions, and others. He stated that international collaboration was very important to the program. “Before the arrival of natural gas from Bolivia, in the late 1990s, the role of natural gas was largely unknown to Brazilians,” He said. The objective of one of the projects was to improve the channel for disseminating knowledge regarding legal and regulatory issues. To that end, among other things, a legal dictionary on natural gas and seven books on the subject were produced.

The online workshop, held in a virtual environment, due to the coronavirus pandemic, was coordinated by Gustavo Assi, the RCGI’s Director of Innovation and Knowledge Dissemination.