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Deep investment

Petrobras Award reveals new systems and new professions for the petrochemical industry

This year Petrobras will reach self-sufficiency in the production of oil. The goal, an old goal of the company, is the fruit, among other things, of investment in research and development (R&D) into new technologies, which will permit the company to perfect petroleum drilling and exploration techniques. During this year, the company will invest R$ 1 billion in R&D and will continue to maintain direct contact with universities and research institutes throughout Brazil. As a recognition of the importance of the academic world for the strengthening of the petrochemical industry, in 2005 Petrobras instituted the Petrobras Technology Award, directed towards undergraduate students, master’s and doctorate degree students. As well as bringing about the emergence of new methods and technological processes of interest to the company, the contest also provided incentive to the emergence of professionals specialized not only in the petrochemical area but also in the production of energy in various segments such as natural gas, bio-diesel and hydrogen.

Divided into nine categories, the first edition of the Petrobras Award had  the participation of 335 inscribed students, coming from 18 different Brazilian states. “The objective was to provide national coverage and intense participation, but the quality of the work beat our best expectations” underlines Carlos Tadeu da Costa Fraga, the executive manager of Petrobras’s Research Center (Cenpes). The authors of the winning works will receive R$ 20,000 in the doctorate category, R$ 15,000 in the master’s category and R$ 10,000 in the undergraduate category, as well as a study grant from the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) in the modalities of master’s, doctorate and post-doctorate.

The world leader in deep water and ultra-deep water exploration, Petrobras removes around 70% of its production from these wells, situated at depths beyond 400 meters from the surface of the water to the sea floor. The winning project in the category Production Technology contemplates exactly this area of exploration. The work, by author Jorge de Almeida Rodrigues Júnior, from the Chemistry Institute of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), has as its objective the development of new drilling fluids for wells located at profound depths. These fluids are responsible for, among other functions, the oiling of the rocks, which facilitates drilling. At the same time, they must present elevated levels of viscosity at the moments of pause during drilling, impeding the deposition of gravel generated during the process that can cause an obstruction in the drill pipe. Consequently, because of the different types of geological formation and of the conditions of temperature and pressure that occur during the process, the drilling is carried out in phases and the fluid needs to be changed at every step of the work.

The product formulated by the UFRJ researcher, under the supervision of professors Regina Sandra Veiga Nascimento and Elizabeth Roditi Lachter, has shown itself, in laboratories, to be adequate for drilling during all phases of the well with the advantage of being less aggressive to the environment and cheaper than the fluids commercially in use. “The fluid will be patented and the field tests will form the next stage of the project” says Rodrigues Júnior. For the development of the research, the team had financial support of the Research Support Foundation of the State of Rio de Janeiro (Faperj) and from the National Petroleum Agency (ANP).

The winning work in the category Technology Products was carried out by the chemical engineer Manoel Orlando Alvarez Méndez at the laboratories of the State University of Campinas (Unicamp) and at the Methodist University of Piracicaba (Unimep). “Our project concerns an industrial problem, which is the generation of a coke, a residue with a high level of carbon and a low level of ash resulting from the refining of petroleum. Our intention was to make use of it as a raw material for the manufacture of the so-called carbon activated materials (CAM), which have wide industrial applications” says Méndez.

Low pressure
The MCA materials present elevated surface area, large quantities of pores in their structure and are used in various processes of adsorption (retention of molecules of a substance on the surface of a solid), such as the purification of gases and water. As well as this, these materials can also be used in the storage of natural gas. “We filled a storage tank with activated petroleum coke and filled in the free space with natural gas, which will be absorbed by the coke. In this manner we increased the gas’s density and we could work with a pressure less than the usual pressure. With the lower pressure, it is possible to build lighter tanks, with thinner walls. This is the advantage in the use of coke in these storage processes” says the researcher, underlining that, with the placement of the coke, the storage capacity of the gas will fall by half. The research is still in the laboratory phase. “We know that a few research groups exist abroad working along this line of study (the transformation of coke into a MCA), but up until now nobody has managed to advance to an economical scale.”

In the category Gas Technology, the winning project came from the Ceramic Materials Laboratory of the Engineering School of the Federal University of  Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS). Written by the students Márcio Dias Lima, Mônica Jung de Andrade and Renato Bonadiman, the study deals with the synthesis of carbon nanotubes that are a new class of materials that measure between 1 and 50 nanometers – 1 nanometer is equal to 1 millimeter divided 1 million times – in diameter and up to millimeter in length. They are formed by a layer of carbon atoms rolled up into a cylinder. “Studies show that this material can reach a very high resistance to rupture under traction, around one hundred times superior to that of high resistance steels” says Bonadiman. The innovation from the Rio Grande do Sul  was the use of Vehicle Natural Gas (VNG) in the carbon nanotube synthesis process via the method of Catalytic Chemical Vapor Deposition (CCVD), a technique used for the production of nanotubes on a large scale.

“Normally the source of carbon used in the synthesis of nanotubes, by way of the CCVD technique, is methane gas. We proposed the use of VNG as the source of carbon as it is a very cheap gas when compared to pure methane. The exchange of the raw material could reduce production costs” says Bonadiman. “This is a study of continuous development and we’re still evolving in the synthesis methods, and also in the allocation of nanotubes.” Currently many applications for this material are being studied, such as in composites for the aeronautical and automobile industries, electronic devices, computer screens and hydrogen storage systems.

Supervised by professor Liacir dos Santos Lucena, the physicist Deilson Tavares , from the Interdisciplinary Center for Advanced Studies concerning Complex Systems in Petroleum and Gas of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte, took away the first prize in the category Exploration Technology. The work presented various methods for improving the resolution of subsoil images in the exploration of petroleum. This type of image, known as seismic, is materialized starting from the reflections of sound waves produced by a determined sonar source. For on land soundings explosives are used, and at sea air cannons are used.

“Sensors distributed on the surface capture the reflection of the sound waves and, starting from this data, subsoil images are put together” says Tavares. These images are fundamental for the discovery of new petroleum bearing rock structures. Techniques that involve the processing of seismic images are the most economic way for obtaining visualization on a large scale of the subsoil. “The method that we developed was baptized as WTDecon, and makes possible the elaboration of an image that is much better defined with less error in the positioning of the structures, as well as the visualization of details that are imperceptible when other methods are used” says Tavares, who has already had his work published in the scientific magazine Integrated Computer-Aided Engineering. Given the success of the innovation, Petrobras is incorporating this new method into its technological arsenal used in the exploration of petroleum.

In the category Energy the winning entry came from Wagner Pinheiro, from the Military Engineering Institute with the project entitled Construction of reduced space sublimation equipment for the manufacture of fine film solar cells at low cost. Eduardo Abreu, from the State University of Rio de Janeiro, won in the category Petroleum Recovery with his project Development of new strategies for the advanced recovery of hydrocarbons in petroleum reserves. In the category Petroleum Refining and Petrochemistry, the winners were Edson Silveira, Marcos Gelesky, Carla Scheeren and Glédison da Fonseca, all from the UFRGS. The name of their project was Nanoparticles of transition metals in ionic liquids: synthesis, description and application in hydrocarbon reactions.

In the category Operational Security and Environmental Preservation the winner was Fabio Coimbra de Macedo Soares, from UFRJ, with the project entitled, Atmospheric dispersion of natural gas fro the rupture of a pressurize and valved submarine pipeline. The winners in the category Petroleum and Derivatives Transportation were Marco Antonio Rosa, Joanes Dias, Julio César Grion, Leandro Lima and Nelson Soares Júnior, from the Catholic Pontifical University of Rio de Janeiro, with the project entitled, Performance analysis of a repair in a corroded pipeline using glued metallic multilayers.