Towards the development of natural gas
FAPESP and the BG Group open a research center in São Paulo
Researchers at the Polytechnic School of the University of São Paulo (Poli-USP) are investigating new gas-storage methods in order to develop more efficient and compact tanks for natural gas vehicles. Their objective is to perfect a seldom used technology known as adsorbed natural gas, or ANG, in which the density of gas molecules increases as they attach themselves to solid, porous substances like activated carbon. “The method allows us to place smaller tanks in vehicle baggage compartments and to build vessels in other, non-cylindrical shapes,” explains Emílio Carlos Nelli Silva, author of the study together with his student, doctoral candidate Ricardo Cesare Román Amigo. “Preliminary results also show that specific distributions of porosity reduce the filling and release time on ANG tanks,” adds Silva.
The study is one of 28 projects underway at the Gas Innovation Research Center, founded in São Paulo on December 1, 2015. With headquarters at USP, the center was created through a partnership between FAPESP and BG Brasil, a subsidiary of Britain’s BG Group. Over the next five years, the Foundation and BG Brasil will invest R$28 million and R30 million, respectively. USP, for its part, will offer the researchers institutional and administrative support. A total of 170 researchers from Poli and other institutions—such as Energy and Environment (IEE) and Energy and Nuclear Researches (Ipen)—will participate, along with researchers from international institutions such as the Imperial College and the University of Leeds in the UK and universities in the United States, France and Germany.
As BG Group Technology Director Adam Hiller explained at the center’s inaugural ceremony, “The partnership has the potential for practical industrial applications, like pre-salt and other very specific challenges, including the need to increase efficiency and develop new ideas in hybrid methane propulsion for maritime fleets.” To FAPESP President José Goldemberg, the Center is an example of Brazil’s role in the “global energy revolution.” According to Goldberg, “the world is undergoing a revolution that could culminate in the widespread development of renewable energy sources, but we’re not there yet.” Goldberg goes on to say that in this scenario of transition, natural gas will stand out as the cleanest of the fossil fuels. “Alongside BG Brasil, FAPESP is financing an initiative on a scale that meets the challenges and potential of São Paulo’s clean energy output. The Foundation believes in the role scientific knowledge will play in this revolution,” Goldberg concludes.
According to Julio Meneghini, Poli-USP professor and the center’s general coordinator, the researchers will face a great variety of challenges, from finding better ways to extract and transport natural gas from the Santos pre-salt basin, to increasing the efficiency of combustion processes and promoting biogas production. “In the case of biogas, it can be obtained from compost or waste from agriculture and ethanol production,” says Meneghini. “This gas,” he continues, “can be used to generate energy, and even replace diesel fuel someday.” For purposes of organization, the projects now underway were divided into three programs: Engineering, Physics/Chemistry, and Energy Policy and Economics.
The engineering program, coordinated by Emílio Carlos, investigates problems that arise from burning natural gas as fuel as well as the optimization and use of its new transport technologies. The Physics/Chemistry program, for example, is focusing on the challenge of converting natural gas to other products. “It’s a way of seeing natural gas as input processes of the chemical industry,” explains Poli-USP professor and program coordinator Reinaldo Giudici. According to this line of research, some projects set out to convert methane to synthetic gas—a combination of carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen—that serves as a solvent and raw material for both methanol production and obtaining other chemical products in the petrochemical industry. Another project focuses on the development of fuel cells, in which hydrogen is used to generate electricity with no greenhouse gas emission, and still another looks at a hybrid method of power generation using natural gas and solar energy.
As far as the Energy Policy and Economics program coordinated by Edmilson Moutinho Santos of the USP Institute of Energy and Environment (IEE), the goal is to promote the infrastructure and policies that encourage natural gas consumption. “Promoting these programs is of fundamental importance,” says Meneghini. “We will have to develop technologies and methods and, at the same time, integrate natural gas into the energy networks of an emerging Brazil,” he concludes.
Brazil Research Center for Gas Innovation (nº 2014/50279-4); Grant Mechanism Center for Engineering Research; Principal Investigator Julio Romano Meneghini (Poli-USP); Investment R$28 million (FAPESP) and R$30 million (BG Group)