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Research for the energy transition

We are preparing for a low-carbon future by investing in research and development.

by Eni Staff
03 February 2020
8 min read
byEni Staff
03 February 2020
8 min read

A challenge

Producing energy with the lowest carbon footprint is the challenge that every energy company is facing today and it’s a challenge that we are taking up at Eni. To meet it, we have chosen to invest in something that we do well: scientific and technological research.

Expenditure in 2018 and the four-year period 2018-2021

Over the next four years, we will put about 53% of our investment in scientific and technological research into carbon neutrality and circular economy, for a total of around 480 million euros. In 2018 alone, we invested around 74 million in these two strategic areas. Our solid commitment is sealed with our close partnerships with OGCI and Commonwealth Fusion Systems LLC (CFS).

Partnerships for research

Science needs relationships because they enrich the research process. This is why we continue to build our collaboration network with the most important national and international scientific bodies.

In March 2018, we signed new agreements with Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to enhance the industrial development of magnetic fusion: a safe, sustainable, practically inexhaustible source of energy, which produces no pollutants or long-term waste.

To increase access to high impact emerging technologies, we have also adopted an Open Innovation approach through Eni Next and with OGCI-Climate Investments. These collaborations will enable us to continue developing our network with universities, research centres, start-ups, hi-tech companies and bodies that are preparing for a low-carbon energy future. At the same time, we are continuing to invest in venture capital initiatives and the development and deployment of disruptive technologies, with a focus on Circular Economy, Decarbonization and Renewable energy.

Finally, in 2018 we signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the National Research Council (CNR) to carry out a study programme in four areas of high scientific and strategic interest: magnetic fusion, water, agriculture and the Arctic ecosystem. Research activities are carried out in 4 joint research centres in Southern Italy: Gela, Metaponto, Portici and Lecce, with an overall economic commitment of over 20 million euros over five years. 

Technology for decarbonization

The energy transition

Natural gas remains at the heart of our strategy to support the energy transition. With its low carbon impact, it can be used to replace more polluting sources during the period of time when the energy system is being converted to renewables.

We are developing gas pilot and demonstration plants that make use of the technology we have developed so far. For example, our system that transforms methane into methanol in small plants that can be located off-shore or floating, allowing small quantities of natural gas to be used which would otherwise destined for flaring.

In addition, in 2015, we established the Energy Transition Programme focused on developing low carbon technologies, in particular the methanol chain and the use of CO2. In particular, the programme focuses on the downstream technologies of natural gas production by developing three main lines of research and development:

●    conversion and enhancement of hydrogen sulphide (H2S)

●    enhancement of natural gas and conversion of methane into liquid to facilitate its transport and use

●    management and use of CO2 for the reduction of climate-changing emissions.

Renewable energies

In the field of renewable energy we are developing innovative technologies that can be easily integrated into our Upstream and Downstream activities, in particular new generation solar plant systems.

Some of our important results in this area include concentrated solar power (CSP), organic photovoltaic (OPV) and luminescent solar concentrators (LSC). With the deployment of CSP we will be able to produce steam to power industrial plants, the installation of OPV demonstration modules will allow us to test a new system to supply electricity to additional detector sensors to be placed in areas of industrial plants which previously didn't have any, while with the LCS Eni Ray Plus® technology we can already build smart windows (smart windows) that produce electricity and improve the natural brightness of rooms.

Still in the area of renewables, we are investing in the production of wave energy and we have developed the Inertial Sea Wave Converter (ISWEC) technology together with the Polytechnic of Turin (PoliTO) and spin-off Wave for Energy Srl, demonstrating the potential of our open innovation approach. Simple and advanced, ISWEC is a floating system that transforms the movement of sea waves into electricity, to power offshore plants or small coastal communities. A pilot plant is already active in Ravenna, connected to the PC80 platform and integrated with a unique smart grid hybrid system made up of photovoltaics and an energy storage system. Exceeding all expectations, this first application of the technology has already reached a power peak of over 51 kW. In addition, in collaboration with Ocean Power Technologies (OPT), in the Ravenna offshore we have also begun a pilot application of the PowerBuoy: a buoy which oscillates with the wave motion and drives a turbine connected to an electric generator.

 

Bio-refinery and carbon dioxide biofixation

Chemistry is the language of the universe and it is up to us to decide how to use it. The phase of mass production with its strong environmental and social impact has finished and today the chemical industry has reinvented itself with processes and products which meet the requirements of sustainability and the circular economy.

We consider this change to be strategic and have redefined our industrial cycles directing them towards products of biological origin. The most significant examples of our commitment in this area are:

●    the Waste to Fuel pilot plant at the Gela biorefinery

●    the pilot plant for CO2 biofixation in Ragusa

In Gela, Eni Rewind has established an example of Waste to Fuel technology which, through a process of thermal liquefaction, transforms the organic fraction of municipal solid waste (OFMSW) into bio oil, allowing the recovery and availability of 70% of the water contained in the initial biological matter for agriculture. The pilot plant operates in the areas of the biorefinery where biofuel is already produced from raw materials of biological origin with EcofiningTM technology. Looking ahead, we plan to set-up other examples of Waste to Fuel technology on an industrial scale in Italy and abroad. This project is a significant step towards the production of second generation bio-fuels for us, with lower environmental impact, through sustainable processes and technologies related to the reuse of resources.

In Ragusa, we have set-up a pilot plant for CO2 biofixation with microalgae. The process uses sunlight, concentrated and sent through optical fibres in cylindrical photobioreactors where microalgae is being grown in water enriched with CO2 separated out from the gas from the wells of the nearby Oil Plant. Subsequently, the algae component is dried and made into flour from which an oil is extracted which can be used to supply biorefineries or as an additive for products with high added value (nutraceuticals). Also here, the process water is recovered and purified. When it is used to feed the biorefinery, biomass from microalgae is classified as an "advanced" filler according to the EU RED II Directive, because it isn't in competition with crops for food purposes in any way.

Increased efficiency and reduction of GHG emissions

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