An increase in the supply of natural gas from presalt oil fields has turned this fuel into the latest fad; scientists now study new uses and innovative Technologies for its use
“Natural gas is of strategic importance for the state of São Paulo and also a fundamental source of energy for the future”. This statement was made by the State Subsecretary for Oil and Gas, Ubirajara Sampaio de Campos, who was present at the 1st Workshop of the Research Centre for Gas Innovation (RCGI), at the Polytechnic School of Engineering at the University of São Paulo (POLI-USP) on 27 and 28 July. This event was a gathering of co-ordinators and researchers of the 28 research projects of the RCGI, a centre of excellence that has the support of the Foundation for Research Support of the State of São Paulo (Fapesp) and also of the BG-Shell Group, with the main aim of researching new innovations in natural gas, hydrogen, and ways to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2). This Centre has sponsorship in two modes within Fapesp, namely: CEPID (Centre for Research, Innovation and Diffusion) and PITE (Research in Partnership with Technological Innovation).
During the meeting, the scientists responsible for the projects showcased the preliminary results of their research projects, in the first six months, for a public comprising teachers, researchers and also representatives from BG-Shell and the São Paulo State Government. “São Paulo is the largest consumer of natural gas in Brazil and also has the most developed distribution network in the country. At present, gas accounts for some 20% of our energy matrix and also the possibility of having an increase in supply in the near future makes sure that we start preparing for a more efficient use of this type of fuel, especially when produced offshore. We feel that the RCGI has a very important role to play within this process”, the subsecretary for Oil and Gas added.
Brazil has the second largest reserve of natural gas in Latin America (500 billion cubic metres of proven reserves), second only to Venezuela. Over the last six years, the increase in the participation of natural gas in the Brazilian energy matrix came to 30%. However, today, much of the natural gas produced in the country is reinjected into the subsoil, including that coming from presalt, calculated at 6.3 billion cubic metres in 2014. That same year, 5.1% of total Brazilian production was burnt or lost, and 18.0% was reinjected. Compared with 2013, the volume burnt or lost grew by 24.3% while reinjection soared by 47.8%.
In the opinion of professor Júlio Meneghini, the academic director of the RCGI, the growing importance of gas in the Brazilian energy matrix and also the abundance of supply (especially after the start of exploitation of the presalt fields) make this the ideal moment for the research and development of innovation in the exploitation, storage, transport, and final uses of natural gas, and a multidisciplinary team makes all the difference in this approach.
“Events like this clearly show the multidisciplinary approach taken up by the team, which is essential for the sharing of new forms of knowledge and also for the nurturing of innovation. Working on our 28 projects, we have engineers (mechanical, naval, production, chemical, civil, and electrical, among others) and also lawyers, economists, geographers, biologists, experts in energy, physicists and chemists. This is a de facto multidisciplinary team which is now poring over several different aspects of exploration, use and also taking advantage of natural gas in our country.”
Opening the meeting, Mr Meneghini stated that it is necessary to organise the structure of thought to produce knowledge, but that this alone is not enough. “For the generation of new products, we need to go well beyond the organisation of knowledge: there is a need to use insight and create a favourable environment so that we may have insights.” Alexandre Breda, José Alfredo Ferrari Jr. and Pauline Boeira of the BG-Shell Group have listed just some of the factors that could ensure the success of the RCGI. “Alignment with the company’s business strategy, the construction of robust business cases and also the appraisal of the prize x risk binomial for those involved are absolutely essential. The definition of the data and results regarding the value that shall be delivered in the short term is also a success factor, as also the establishment of strategic partnerships and a greater closeness to similar companies”, they also stated.
The afternoon of the 27th and the whole day on the 28th were dedicated to the presentations of the representatives of each project. Among the issues researched by the RCGI we have the production of polymers of high added value through bacteria based on methane present in the gas, the topological optimisation of several devices to avoid the leakage of methane, the improvement in the combustion processes involving natural gas, development of new technologies for the separation of methane and carbon dioxide, innovation in the processes for the production of synthesis gas, the development of a fuel cell that runs on natural gas, the mapping of the potential for gas use in houses in the city of São Paulo, the study of new industrial applications for natural gas, the use of biomethane and biogas to increase the supply of natural gas in the State of São Paulo, the development of more efficient catalysts for the production of methanol from natural gas, the creation of a Brazilian and Paulista judicial repository of natural gas, among others. In addition, a reference laboratory for the advanced diagnosis of combustion is being set up in Latin America.
“At this first workshop, as the projects are still quite recent, we only have initial results. However, as time goes by, we hope to present more advanced results at the next forthcoming workshops”, said Mr Meneghini. Also according to Mr Meneghini, other workshops are to be held every six months, always in the months of July and December.