Brains made in Brazil
An increase in demand from the oil and gas industry, principally because of the pre-salt reserves, is driving scientific innovation in Brazil and is helping to create a generation of young researchers who, instead of moving abroad, work for the benefit of technological advancement in the country.
When 25 year-old naval engineer Rodolfo Trentin Gonçalves tells his friends that he is dedicated to research at the University of São Paulo (USP), he always hears the same question: “But don’t you work?”. His colleague Joel Sena Sales Júnior, 32, also faced a similar situation with his family, upon revealing that his professional choice would be to stay in the laboratories of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). “They thought that the job of researcher was unstable; more or less like an artist”, he recalls.
Civil engineer Fábio Martins Gonçalves Ferreira, 31, from the Federal University of Alagoas (UFAL), had better luck. Married and father of a young child, he never had to face any doubts from family or friends over his career choice. “To be involved with long-term research gives us stability”, he states. André Alves de Souza, from the research center of international oil and gas giant Schlumberger, in Rio de Janeiro, came from the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar), in the interior of São Paulo state. He believes that, when he was hired, “everything changed for the better. I can do everything I have always wanted to do – in research terms – in a large company”.
What Rodolfo, Joel, Fábio and André all share in common is that they are all young and operate, in Brazil, in scientific researches over an extended period, which involve the most advanced technologies in their area. “Brazil is now starting to create this culture. Therefore, it is still a surprise for people to know that we have so many scientists”, explains Joel, who is studying his doctorate in hydro-dynamics at the Alberto Luiz Coimbra Institute of Post-graduation and Engineering Research (Coppe/UFRJ).
The biggest impulse to researchers having more good work options in Brazil was the increased demand of the oil and gas industry for innovative technologies, especially with regards to the challenge of exploring pre-salt reserves. Petrobras alone will invest US$ 212.3 billion in Brazil until 2014, and a large part of that investment will be applied to high-complexity equipment. To attend this demand, its suppliers are also installing research centers in Brazil, close to universities and to Petrobras, intensifying the exchange of knowledge and provoking the emergence of one of the world’s most advanced poles of research in the energy sector.
The center of this process is the Technological Park of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), located at Ilha do Fundão, close to the Petrobras Research Center (Cenpes). Six companies from the oil and gas industry are setting up shop there. The pioneer was Schlumberger, which, in 2010, inaugurated the Center for Research in Geo-engineering, for which it has already contracted 50 Brazilian researchers. Also in the process of installing themselves at the Park are Halliburton, Baker Hughes, FMC Technologies, Tenaris Confab and Usiminas. Furthermore, in March, the BG Group announced that it will also invest close to US$ 1.5 billion in its Global Technological Center in Rio de Janeiro by 2021, and General Electric (GE) has already installed a center on land next to the Technological Park.
According to the calculations of the Rio de Janeiro State Government, these companies together have already invested almost US$ 303 million in the Park alone. “When we made the decision to construct a research center, we took into consideration the proximity of our clients, the challenges of the local industry, access to academic means and scientific knowledge and also the qualification of available professionals. Brazil comprises all these aspects”, explains Attilio Pisoni, general manager
of the Schlumberger Center.
Yet it is not just in companies where the intense development of new technologies is occurring. Research in the energy sector is also being stimulated in Brazilian universities, mainly through the model of thematic networks created by Petrobras in 2006. Each network brings together laboratories from diverse universities and research institutions, which act in an integrated form under the coordination of Petrobras, on themes defined by the company. Currently, there are 50 networks, in which more than 100 institutions of research and development share knowledge, experiences and infrastructure. Between 2008 and 2010, Petrobras invested US$ 2.6 billion in research, of which 56% was undertaken in collaboration with universities, foreign and Brazilian companies and other laboratories.
Among the laboratories which take part in these thematic networks is the Scientific Computation and Visualization Laboratory, from UFAL, where Fábio works. He and his colleagues agree that the possibility of dedicating themselves to scientific investigation has given them new perspectives in life. According to Carlos Tadeu da Costa Fraga, executive manager of Cenpes, at least 13,000 professionals have already worked in Brazilian institutions of science and technology in the research and development projects undertaken in partnership with Petrobras.
Perhaps the greatest reward from the creation of this environment, which is so propitious to scientific research, has really been a reversal of the brain drain abroad. Previously, Brazilian scientists left the country to work abroad; now, multinationals come to Brazil to work with the country’s specialists. André, who was an intern at the Schlumberger Research Center in Boston (USA) before settling in Rio de Janeiro, explains: “The pre-salt discovery is really increasing the possibilities for us to undertake these researches, including within companies. It is a unique period for Brazil.”
Facing the challenges of the coming years
Besides stimulating the scientific production applied in universities and other companies, Petrobras is also enlarging its own research center. Cenpes, which completes 48 years in 2011, doubled in area with the inauguration of the expansion, in october, 2010, now occupying 300,000 square meters. With investments of approximately US$ 700 million in the enlargement, Cenpes became one of the largest R&D centers in the Southern Hemisphere. on site, close to 1,600 technicians, engineers and researchers work on researches focused on the development of technologies which have been fundamental so that Petrobras can continue to reach its business targets.
Executive manager of Cenpes, Carlos Tadeu da Costa Fraga, recalls that, since 2008, Petrobras has invested, on average, around US$ 800 million per year in their own scientific investigations and in diverse kinds of partnerships with universities and suppliers. For Tadeu, Petrobras has increased its capacity for innovation and, at the same time, contributed so that the technological development of their suppliers and Brazil itself accompanies this qualitative leap.
By: Carlos Tautz