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Petroleum engineering

Free of sand

LNLS and firm from Campinas develop filter to extract oil from the bottom of the sea

ADESTExtracting oil from the bottom of the sea is not an easy task. Drilling the seabed involves challenges such as rocks, pressure and seawater. The equipment has to be designed for this environment and obtaining sand-free oil is a constant concern in the field of oil exploration. However, sandy material can be retained by a piece of equipment called Tela Premium. This has a filter that is only made by three firms in the world; one of these is American, the second, Japanese and the third, German. “Petrobras alone spends roughly US$80 million a year on such equipment”, estimates Samuel Tocalino, a partner of Adest, a company incubated at Ciatec, the Campinas High Technology Development Center in São Paulo State. In October, this firm entered into a technology transfer agreement with the LNLS Synchrotron Light Laboratory also located in Campinas, to produce the Tela Premium equipment in Brazil.

The equipment consists of a tube as much as 12 meters long and 16.5 cm in diameter, which is inserted into the oil well. The tube is attached to the lower part of the production column connected to the oil platform. Depending on the extension and the geometry, several Tela Premium devices are coupled together and this coupling can be up to several kilometers long. The petroleum enters the system by means of side openings running down the length of the outer part of the tube and goes through a filter comprised of a metallic mesh that covers the internal part of the tube and retains the sand to let the petroleum flow through (photograph above). “This filtering system involves cutting-edge technology for production, mainly where welding is concerned”, says petroleum engineer Paulo Dore Fernandes, senior consultant for oil well engineering at the Petrobras Cenpes R&D Center.

“We developed a material through a process called Diffusion Welding, which is conducted in a vacuum, where atoms of one material migrate to another and vice-versa; this process is conducted under very high temperatures”, explains Osmar Bagnato, coordinator of the Materials Group at LNLS. The group has the expertise to produce components for use in particle accelerators in the light lines of the LNLS, such as sensors, coolers and other electric, electronic and structural equipment. The Synchrotron is an electron accelerator comprised of a cyclic vacuum tube with a circumference of 93 meters. Because of the influence of magnets placed around the ring, the electrons emit electromagnetic waves ranging from X-rays to ultraviolet rays. The waves are used at work stations for the analysis of organic and inorganic structures at the atomic level.

Strategic plan
“The welding process joins the metal meshes to form the filter. We conduct corrosion and mechanical resistance tests, as well as microstructural analysis in the lab, to qualify samples and prototypes”, says Bagnato. The studies conducted at the LNLS were jointly proposed by Bagnato and Tocalino. “I used to work for a firm that provided services and sold oil exploration equipment. I was acquainted with the needs of Petrobras and of other oil companies in Brazil to have something like Tela Premium”, Tocalino explains. Since 2003, the federal government, through the Finep Studies and Projects Finance Agency, with the support of CTPetro, the Sector Fund for Oil and Natural Gas and of Promimp, the National Oil and Natural Gas Industry Mobilization Program, has been preparing bids to encourage firms to manufacture equipment with technological advantages and at competitive prices for the oil industry, in order to replace imports. “I started to think about making these filters and began to look for someone who was specialized in diffusion welding technology. At Unicamp, I was referred to professor Osmar of the LNLS”.

The Synchrotron lab submitted a project funding request to Finep with resources from CTPetro, a fund created with proceeds from oil exploration. The project, which was begun in 2007, raised R$800 thousand from Finep and R$200 thousand from the company. By the end of 2009, Adest and LNLS started running a pilot plant to finalize the product. “The first trials will probably be conducted in Sergipe, between February and March 2010, at a land-based well, where risks and costs are lower. If they are successful, the next step will be to conduct trials at sea”, says Dore. After approval, the Brazilian company will be qualified to manufacture the Tela Premium screen and to sell it to Petrobras.

The filter welding technology is protected by a non-disclosure agreement between Adest and ABTLuS, the Brazilian Association of Synchotron Light Technology, which operates LNLS for the Ministry of Science and Technology. The parties also entered into a five-year technology transfer agreement, during which the lab will be entitled to royalties of 3% over the net proceeds from the sale of products and services. This is Synchrotron’s first technology transfer agreement to generate royalties that are to be re-invested in research projects.

Tocalino says that besides Petrobras, which is the obvious customer for the equipment, the international oil companies involved in deep sea drilling in Brazilian waters are also interested. “Due to contractual requirements, they must have a minimum nationalization ratio that is specified in each bidding event of ANP, the National Petroleum Agency”. Statoil, a Norwegian firm, has manifested some interest in using this equipment in Brazil and abroad and is to fund a technical qualification project for this material under LNLS coordination. The process that uses diffusion welding will have other applications besides the production of Tela Premium equipment. The filter can also be used in water and sewage treatment, in sewers, in the processing of polymers and in fuel production. Still in partnership with LNLS, Adest submitted a project funding request to Pipe, FAPESP’s Program of Innovative Research in Small Companies, established in 2008. The said project involves diffusion welding technology in the development of metal mesh adaptable to more aggressively corrosive environments.

The Project
Development of filtering elements for aggressive chemical environments found in oil production (nº 07/59109-0); Modality Pipe – Innovative Research Program in Small Companies; Coordinator Samuel de Almeida Prado Tocalino – Adest; Investment R$ 254,023.29 and US$ 84,567.73 (FAPESP)