Third edition of Sustainable Gas Research Innovation confirms that CCS, CCUS, BECCS, and other carbon sequestration, storage, or usage technologies are a worldwide trend

Pre-salt figures since the passage of law no. 3.365/2016, which opened these reserves to other operators, indicate a prosperous future: six auctions have already been held since last year, with a total of R$ 27.95 billion in signature bonus, according to Brazil’s National Petroleum Agency (ANP). The country received some R$ 300 billion in new investments. The good news also extends to research, since, by law, the operators of oil and gas fields in Brazil must invest in R&D.

Some of the results of investigations already underway, as fruit of those investments, were presented during the III Sustainable Gas Research Innovation, on September 25 and 26, at the University of São Paulo (USP), in São Paulo. The conference is organized, annually, by the FAPESP Shell Research Centre for Gas Innovation (RCGI) and by the Sustainable Gas Institute (SGI), connected with the Imperial College London. The event was included in the schedule of the Brazil-United Kingdom Year of Science and Innovation.

The research indicates that there are opportunities for Brazil in the areas of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and of Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage (CCUS). This is especially true within the pre-salt context, which has natural gas that is rich in CO2. Emerging technologies, such as Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS), are also promising and present opportunities for the country, which has a tradition and enormous potential for bioenergy. “The world has a big problem to solve: greenhouse gas emissions, climate change, and energy transition. And, during these two days, we will present ideas for contributing to the solution of the problem. We have experienced heavy growth since last year, when we launched our carbon abatement program, and we are producing much more in conjunction with the Imperial College,” said RCGI Scientific Director Júlio Meneghini in the opening of the event.

“We are attempting to address a wide variety of problems, and no solution will stand alone. I can envision that we will have situations when CCS is the solution, perhaps even for soil recovery; others in which you can use the CO2 in more efficient manners: that is, in greenhouses or convert it into chemicals. I imagine that we will have to play all of our cards, in different parts of the world, under different conditions,” stated David Torres, Vice President of Shell’s Integrated Gas and C02.

This year, the SGRI welcomed nine speakers from a several different institutions – including the National Petroleum Agency (ANP), Petrobras, Shell, Embrapii, and the Center for Energy and Environmental Resources (CEER) of the University of Texas; offered four rounds of parallel sessions in which 45 projects were presented; and had three poster sessions. Around 250 Brazilian and foreign researchers attended the event, as well as representatives of companies, Brazilian governmental organizations, the British Embassy, financiers, and students.

“I think we should give attention to the size of the energy sector. Even if we used CO2 in a broad range of manners, in terms of volume, CCUS would not be able to handle by itself. Therefore, CCUS plays an important role, but it is not the only solution. There are multiple solutions,” said Rob Littel, Shell’s General Manager of Carbon Abatement Technology. He presented the case of an electrical plant powered by biomass where carbon was captured to be used in farm greenhouses near Vienna, Austria. Several cases of CCS and CCUS were shown during the conference.

Adam Hawkes, Co-director of the SGI, gave attention to the way energy transition is being conducted, and the role of renewable energy sources and natural gas with in the business-as-usual (BAU) context. “Renewable fuel sources are experiencing tremendous growth, as is natural gas. It is challenging to produce technologies that are consistent with maintaining the Earth’s temperature by 1.5ºC – 2.0ºC. In my opinion, in the current scenario, BAU is unfairly seen as the villain. Because BAU is, in itself, energy transition. New technologies are being developed, new policies are established. The current scenario includes the growth of renewable sources and the ascension of electric cars.”

From Hawkes’ perspective, there is a trend in studying the possibilities of hydrogen as an energy source in Europe, which rekindles prospects for natural gas on the old continent (since the cheapest way to obtain hydrogen, at the present time, is via the steam reforming of methanol). He says that methane emissions are of concern to industry: “I believe that, in a few years, natural gas will be labeled, in Europe, according to its emissions potential.”

Besides Hawkes, the opening panel for the event consisted of Professor Júlio Meneghini; the Adjunct Secretary of Energy and Mining of the State of São Paulo, Ricardo Toledo; David Torres, from Shell; Emma Otta, who represented the Rector of USP, Vahan Agopyan; Cindy Parker, from the British Embassy; and Eduardo Krieger, Vice President of the Fund for Research Support of the State of São Paulo (FAPESP).

Natural gas and biomass – In the case of São Paulo, the current context is particularly suitable: the State is the second biggest producer of petroleum and natural gas in the Nation and also holds the greatest potential for the production of biogas and bioenergy in Brazil, due to its sugar and alcohol industry. The State’s Adjunct Secretary of Energy and Mining called attention to the importance of natural gas for ensuring a diversified and clean energy matrix.

“Natural gas is a way to develop renewable sources, because it is an alternative for the energy supply, besides water. We cannot have a growing share of renewable sources, if we do not have another energy source to support the system. Considering the high performance level of thermal-produced electricity, natural gas is the best option. Not to mention that we are facing immense challenges due to water stress,” Ricardo Toledo said.

According to Professor Virginia Parente, an economist and the coordinator of one of the RCGI’s projects, for natural gas to play a more important role institutional problems must be resolved. “We have large baseline orders from the thermoelectric plants, and that is pushing up energy prices. But that is happening because of the incorrect way we are contracting for that natural gas. Soon, the reserves will no longer be sufficient and we will need greater involvement of the thermoelectric plants. The institutional problems must be resolved, such as how the gas is contracted and having access to gas pipelines, for example. It is also necessary to keep in mind that energy investments have a longer useful life than that of any government. Therefore, the way we treat investors is a key factor.”

Audience participation – Those in attendance could take part in the panel discussion at the end of the second day of the conference, via a site. The attendees were called upon to respond to several questions, such as what are the challenges for implementing CCS initiatives or how can the energy transition be accelerated, for example.

The answers appeared on the big auditorium screens in real time. The final discussion panel was formed by Professors Júlio Meneghini, Virginia Parente, Adam Hawkes, and Suani Coelho, plus David Daniels, from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The event was presented and mediated by Professor Gustavo Assi, RCGI’s Director of Communication and Dissemination of Knowledge.