This is a disruptive innovation, worldwide, which makes it possible to monetize natural gas originating from pre-salt reservoirs, and to prevent more CO2 emissions from going into the atmosphere


The FAPESP Shell Research Centre for Gas Innovation (RCGI) was one of the winners of the National Petroleum, Natural Gas, and Biofuels Agency’s ANP Technological Innovation Prize 2019, with a research project that will make it possible for Brazil to monetize the natural gas taken from pre-salt reservoirs, without one of its main contaminants: carbon dioxide (CO2). The RCGI’s project won in Category II of the “Exploration and Production of Petroleum and Natural Gas” area. In all, 147 research projects competed in five categories.

The RCGI project provides for opening caverns in the salt layer, where the natural gas would be confined, separating, at a later time, the methane and CO2. That would occur via a gravitational separation technology, which was developed and filed for a patent by the RCGI. “The cavern is kept under high pressure until the CO2 goes into a supercritical state and decants. The methane, which remains in a gaseous state during the process, would then be removed, alleviating the pressure in the cavern and making the CO2 return to a gaseous state. That cycle would be repeated until the cavern is filled only with CO2, when it would then be sealed,” explains the RCGI’s Scientific Director, Júlio Meneghini, Professor in the Polytechnic School of the University of São Paulo (Poli-USP).

Although caverns already exist for this purpose, this is the first time a technology has been developed for ultra-deep waters. “Besides separating enormous quantities of methane from CO2, at a relatively low cost, we will be able to store carbon and sell credits to the rest of the world,” Meneghini emphasizes, adding that this is a disruptive innovation on a worldwide scale.

He points out that the prize is recognition of the importance of a research center like the RCGI, which is essentially multi-disciplinary. “Ideas like this are conceived only by multidisciplinary teams formed by mechanical, chemical, and naval engineers, as well as economists and lawyers, among other professionals.”

Pilot project – The team is now looking into building a pilot project in a cavern to study, in loco, the conditions for separating the two gases. According to the Project Coordinator, Gustavo Assí, also a Professor at Poli-USP, the goal is to conclude the pilot plan of the cavern over the next 24 months. “The construction and operation of a pilot cavern is a huge scientific and technological field experiment. It is able to provide detailed information on the physical processes that take place in the large storage and separation caverns,” he adds.

Besides Assí, the team consists of Professors Kazuo Nishimoto, Julio Meneghini, Claudio Sampaio, Marcelo Martins, and André Bergsten – all of whom are from Poli-USP – and of researchers Leandro Grandin, Carlos Bittencourt, Alvaro Maia da Costa, Pedro Maia da Costa, Edgard Malta, Felipe Ruggeri, and Guilherme Rosetti, as well as others, including post-doctoral students and associate researchers. Along with Shell and USP, the partner companies in the project are Modecom, Technomar, Agronautica, and Granper.