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From the well to the laboratory

Petrobras reaches the age of 50; 40 years ago, Cenpes was created, specializing in oil research

In the seventies, discussions still went on about the state monopoly on petroleum, but they were not as intense as in the 40’s and 50’s. There were also no doubts about the Brazil’s capacity for finding and producing its own “black gold”. From 1974 to 1977, vast oilfields were discovered at sea, in the Campos Basin, Rio de Janeiro. Garoupa, Pargos, Namorado, Badejo, Enchova, Bonito and Pampo foretold production records in the years that were to come. But there was one problem to be solved: how to exploit oil in deep waters? There was no lack of money and a will to solve the issue, merely technological in nature. The complex task was entrusted to the Leopoldo Américo Miguez de Mello Research and Development Center (Cenpes), an entity officially created by Petrobras in 1963. The center took a few years to develop the necessary technology, always being perfected over the following decades – and they did it with supreme skill, to the point of winning twice, in 1992 and 2001, the Distinguished Achievement award, from the Offshore Technology Conference (OTC), as an international recognition of world leadership in the technology for exploiting and producing oil in deep waters.

In 1987, for example, they launched the first remote control submarine vehicle entirely conceived and built in Brazil. Cenpes’ excellence was not constructed just in this period. It was born at the end of the 1940’s, when the then National Petroleum Council indicated the need for training engineers for a future Brazilian industry in this area. It was a desire that turned into reality in 1952, when the Personnel Improvement Center (Cenap). In that same year, the first course in oil refining was run in Brazil, under an agreement with the National Chemistry School at the University of Brazil (now the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, UFRJ).

The two initiatives happened before every Petrobras was created on October 3, 1953. Later incorporated by Petrobras, in 1954, Cenap invested in new training courses, like, amongst others, those in geology, drilling and production, maintenance of equipment and application of asphalt. In 1956, a working group studying oil concluded that technological research was an imperative for the industrial activity, which led to Cenap being restructured – it was defined that it purpose, besides training, was to “encourage the carrying out of studies and scientific research in oil technology”.

It was in 1963 that a report produced by Russian specialists at the request of Petrobras recommended the setting up of an institution incorporating scientific research and well structured laboratories. This was the green light for the creation of Cenpes, which absorbed Cenap, gained more resources in the following years and a building inside UFRJ’s university city. The center became one of the foremost in the world. Since 1992, it has been receiving 1% of Petrobras’ gross budget and has at its disposal 137 laboratories and 28 pilot-units, with 1,308 members of staff, of which 86 are doctors, 247 masters and 292 graduates, a situation without any equal in any Brazilian company. Not for nothing, Cenpes is responsible for a major part of Petrobras’ success, such as the 750 patents filed by Petrobras in Brazil and, amongst these, 180 abroad.