Petrobras currently has 50 thematic networks with 80 institutions; US$ 1.3 billion per year is invested in these partnerships
The large oil discoveries in Brazil in recent years, particularly in the pre-salt layer, were instrumental in Petrobras further increasing its investments in oil exploration technology in partnership with universities, research centers and suppliers. Petrobras is a mixed capital company that operates in oil exploration and production. The company already has the most advanced technology in the world for deepwater exploration, but production from the Pre-salt layers, at depths in excess of five thousand meters below sea level and with water depths of more than two thousand meters, requires a revolution in the sector.
The company currently has 50 thematic networks with 80 institutions. US$ 1.3 billion per year is invested in these partnerships. Petrobras' Program for Technological Development of Deepwater Production Systems Deepwater (Procap, acronym in Portuguese) encompasses five areas: new production system concepts, well engineering, logistics, reserves and sustainability. Another important initiative in this area is the Galileo Network, a partnership between Petrobras and 14 Brazilian universities, which has received investments of R$ 117 million.
Petrobras financial resources for research and ¬development have also grown, especially in the last five years, when the company started to undertake a greater number of industrial projects. US$ 2.6 billion were invested in this sector of the company between the years 2008 and 2010. Of this total approximately 57% was allocated to exploration and production activities.
The Procap 'Future Vision' program seeks to give priority to local content in projects. The goal is to promote development of Brazilian technological expertise and engineering, on competitive terms. According to Petrobras, stimulating national technological knowledge and contributing to the technological development of the country will make it easier for the company to purchase products on the domestic market in the future, through the development of new products and efficient local support for maintenance as well as spare parts and equipment replacement.
The centerpiece of the program is the development of a new concept for innovative production systems. For example, primary processing equipment is being developed that is around ten times smaller than traditional equipment. This equipment, which is in the form of compact tubes, uses resources such as centrifugal force or electrostatic fields. The equipment can be installed on the seabed at great depths, facilitating operations and saving space on platforms.
The development of compact fluids separators is also under study (for oil, water and gas) using ceramic membranes, amines (a molecular compound derived from ammonia) and microwaves, among other alternatives. These technologies provide greater energy efficiency, lower costs, increased production capacity and platform storage, as well as a reduction in the use of chemicals.
Petrobras already operates some unmanned platforms via land-based control rooms, however the goal is to advance further. One possibility under study is the automation of operations that today are performed step by step, such as placing an oil well in test and "pig" passes (equipment for cleaning pipelines), among others. Reduced operating costs with logistics and a lower number of persons exposed to hazardous environments are among the anticipated benefits.
Remote operation and automation of various pieces of equipment will also be tested also in the next few years. Among these are industrial robots equipped with three-dimensional cameras, to assist in the platform maintenance.
The Galileo Network, created in 2006 by the Leopoldo Americo Miguez de Mello Research & Development Center (Cenpes) of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and commencing operation in 2009, aims to use computer simulation of physical phenomena related to major engineering projects in the oil and gas sector, using high performance computing resources with 3D visualization rooms for evaluating results. Galileo researchers undertake laboratory simulation of the extreme conditions that Petrobras will face when it begins to extract oil from the Pre-salt layer on a commercial scale.
The five principal laboratories in the network are: the University of São Paulo (USP), the Federal Universities of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) and Alagoas (UFAL), the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio (PUC-Rio) and the Aeronautics Technological Institute (ITA). Galileo will also involve a further nine institutions, participating as "sub-satellites" to the research network.
The Laboratory for Scientific Computing and Visualization (LCCV) at UFAL operates a system of computer networks that provide data related to drilling in salt layers. The LCCV has developed a program for Petrobras with simulations of situations that may arise in pre-salt field exploration. According to the coordinator of the entity, William Wagner Mattos Lira, one of the main challenges in this type of exploration is that these salt rocks may cause the closure of the well when drilled, due to a phenomenon called creep. The program developed by LCCV could allow Petrobras to take quick decisions to avoid exploration losses, based on the data available. "Taking a quick decision based on information from the simulations could avoid the loss of a drill bit, for example, which is highly expensive equipment", explains the coordinator.
Lira highlights the importance of undertaking advanced research outside the traditional South/South-East axis for training new researchers and allow them to develop their work in their places of origin.
Petrobras is able to call on the Leopoldo Américo Miguez de Mello Center for Research and Development (Cenpes) to undertake R&D. The Center has around 1,600 employees, all focused on innovation. Of this total, 800 are researchers and around 300 are engineers who work with basic engineering. Almost half the researchers hold a masters degree and around a quarter hold a Ph.D. The investment in professional training includes a corporate university as well as qualification programs at national and international institutions.
Laboratory for Scientific Computing and Visualization
Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ)
Federal University of Alagoas (Ufal)
Pontifical Catholic University of Rio (PUC-Rio)
Aeronautics Technological Institute (ITA)