FAPESP and Shell to fund New Energies Research Center

07 de junho de 2017

By Elton Alisson  |  Agência FAPESP – On May 16, 2107, FAPESP and Shell hosted a workshop at FAPESP’s auditorium in São Paulo, Brazil, to present research topics of interest in their joint call for proposals for a New Energies Research Center.

The center will be funded by both organizations and will prioritize research capable of unlocking business opportunities by exploring technological challenges relating to the development of new, low-cost, abundant and clean energy carriers, as well as new and sustainable economic routes to convert methane into chemical products.

To achieve these objectives, the center will comprise four research divisions: dense energy carriers; advanced energy storage; methane to product conversion; and computational materials science.

Each research division may be hosted by a different university or research institution. Alternatively, a host institution may accommodate up to four research divisions.

One of the host institutions will be appointed by FAPESP and Shell to act as the hub institution. In addition to operating its research division, the hub institution will host the Research Center Executive Committee and manage the activities of the four research divisions.

The center may receive funding from FAPESP for up to ten years under the aegis of its Engineering Research Center Program. For the first five years of activities, funding of $16.7 million USD is to be shared by FAPESP and Shell. The host institutions of the projects selected in the call for proposals will provide matching financial support in the form of salary supplementation for researchers and other staff, infrastructure, and facilities.

“FAPESP has countless programs in all areas, and some are closer than others to the knowledge frontier. The Engineering Research Center Program is one of the programs that aims to explore new frontiers of science, such as new energies. This is the case of the new center, which will be established in partnership with Shell,” said FAPESP President José Goldemberg on opening the workshop.

According to Scientific Director Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, few countries in the world have programs of this kind, in which a research funding agency partners with private enterprise and they issue a joint call for proposals with common objectives and award long-term funding for the selected projects.

FAPESP supports five Engineering Research Centers in partnership with Peugeot-Citroën, Shell/BG Brazil, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Natura in biofuels, natural gas, green chemistry, molecules for pharmaceuticals, and human well-being, respectively. FAPESP also recently signed a partnership agreement with Statoil to set up a research center in the field of oil and gas reservoirs.

“FAPESP’s Engineering Research Center Program permits the integration of researchers in companies with researchers affiliated with universities and research institutions in São Paulo State so that they can develop genuine research collaborations,” Brito Cruz said.

“The collaboration with Shell represents a special opportunity for researchers in São Paulo State to carry out research in collaboration with researchers from the company, which has intense in-house R&D activities.”

Energy transition

Shell Brazil Country Chair André Lopes Araújo highlighted the opportunity represented by the partnership with FAPESP to intensify interactions between his company and the scientific community in São Paulo State and to extend its research efforts in new energies.

The Anglo-Dutch company, which maintains collaborations with universities and research institutions in the United States, United Kingdom, Netherlands, India and China, decided a few years ago to increase its investment in this area in order to address the challenge of the energy transition, according to Araújo.

“Projections indicate that in 2050, the world population will have reached 9 billion,” he said. “We face the challenge of producing more energy to meet demand and at the same time reducing emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2. We believe the solutions to the challenge of the energy transition will come from investment in technology and innovation.”

Shell unveiled a renewable energy division in 2016 and has announced a series of investments in first- and second-generation biofuels, hydrogen, solar power and wind power in various parts of the world.

“Although these alternative energy sources have significant commercial potential, they are not yet ready to sustain the future of the energy system,” said Ajay Mehta, Shell’s General Manager for Long-Range Research (LRR).

Some of the areas that could contribute to the emergence of new energy sources, according to Mehta, include electrochemistry, materials science, structured catalysts and interfacial phenomena, transport phenomena, computational science, materials chemistry, and biosciences.

“We will place emphasis on areas in which we want to build capabilities, in which there is room for unlimited innovation, and which have an impact on several applications,” Mehta said. 

In the field of dense energy carriers, the idea is for the center to support research relating to the development of cost-effective methods of synthesizing molecules such as hydrogen, methanol, hydrocarbons and ammonia from water, carbon dioxide and nitrogen.

The advanced energy storage division will fund research on batteries with intercalation-based and conversion-based electrodes, electrolytes of various types, and other storage devices, including flow batteries and supercapacitors. 

The methane-to-products division will stimulate the search for new pathways to convert methane to high-value chemicals, such as methanol, acetylene and ethylene.

Finally, the computational materials science division aims to advance renewable and carbon-neutral energy research by leveraging both existing computational tools and new methods and techniques.

Proposals must be submitted to the New Energies Research Center by June 9, 2017. The results will be announced on September 1.

FAPESP CEO Carlos Américo Pacheco and Jane Zheng, Shell’s General Manager for R&D in Brazil, also attended the event.

Other participants in the presentations and scientific discussions during the workshop included Luiz Nunes de Oliveira, who coordinates FAPESP’s Special Programs & Research Collaborations, and Joep Huijsmans, Leonardo Spanu and Flavia Cassiola, respectively senior technology advisor, senior researcher and Brazilian researcher with Shell International Exploration & Production.

The call for proposals is available at: fapesp.br/10896.