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Acu port well placed for Brazil's pre-salt gas drive

Complex in Rio de Janeiro state run by Prumo Logistica is expanding rapidly as natural gas increases in importance in the country's energy mix

Brazil’s Acu port complex 240 kilometres north of Rio de Janeiro is a hive of activity as some 5000 workers busy themselves with the construction of an oil, gas and energy hub that could help unlock the potential of the country's gas-rich pre-salt fields.

Prumo Logistica — controlled by US institutional investor EIG Global Energy Partners — recently tapped a $750 million loan facility in order to finish off the first of two gas-fired combined-cycle thermoelectric power stations and prepare for the commissioning of a floating storage and regasification unit, soon to be on its way from Singapore.

Gas Natural Acu (GNA), a joint venture between Prumo, BP and Siemens, is due to start commissioning work on a first power train in March 2020, and 1.3 gigawatts of capacity will become available to the Brazilian grid in January 2021.

The GNA partners are also working on a second phase of the project, known as GNA 2, with capacity for 1.7GW, due to start dispatching electricity in 2023.

Regasification will be carried out through the BW Magna FSRU, a modified liquefied natural gas transport vessel with processing capacity for 21 million cubic metres per day of gas.

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The vessel is expected to set sail from the Sembawang Shipyard in December and work under a 23-year contract.

Prumo’s vision for natural gas goes further, promising processing and monetisation solutions for offshore operators wondering what do about abundant associated gas from Brazil’s Santos basin.

The company has already made big strides with its parallel business segments, offering trans-shipment facilities for large crude cargoes through the facilities of the Acu Petroleo joint venture and providing offshore logistics services, especially in the subsea sector, through Dome, another joint venture company.

Acu “superport’ was the brainchild of Eike Batista, whose EBX group of companies became a symbol of Brazil’s boom-to-bust syndrome in the first half of this decade.

The group may have collapsed, but Batista’s visionary approach to integrated logistics was arguably his greatest strength.

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EIG moved decisively to take over LLX, the logistics and port arm of the EBX stable, in 2013, joining Dubai’s Mubadala Development Company and Brazil’s Itau Unibanco as fellow stakeholders.

Prumo paid $562 million for the half-built port and registered as a private company.

The port started business as an export terminal for iron ore serving Anglo American, but the facilities and services on offer soon began attracting offshore leaders, such as vessels supplier Edison Chouest and subsea contractors TechnipFMC, National Oilwell Varco and Intermoor.

The Acu business division currently attracting most attention is the one focused on Brazil’s underdeveloped natural gas sector, where Prumo has taken a daring lead.

The strategy began with the acquisition of 37 flexible power purchasing agreements (PPAs) from Sao Paulo-based Bolognesi Energia.

The PPAs were first acquired in 2014 and linked to a plan to build a thermal electric plant and FSRU terminal elsewhere.

Relocation

Prumo’s GNA subsidiary took over what became a distressed project, winning regulatory approval to relocate to Acu and moving swiftly with the first thermal electric plant, construction of which only began in May 2018.

GNA partner Siemens brought in Brazilian firm Andrade Gutierrez for the turnkey construction project, now 70% complete.

Prumo won another batch of 25-year PPAs for a total 1.5GW of supply capacity, 60% of which is interruptible supply. Construction of GNA 2, a thermoelectric plant with capacity for 1.7GW, will begin as soon as the first plant is finished, with first dispatch due in 2023.

Upon completion, GNA 1 and GNA 2 will have 3GW of installed capacity, making it the largest gas-to-power complex of its kind in Latin America, costing an estimated $2 billion.

However, sceptics wonder about the long-term role for LNG in a country where hydro-electric power dominates and demand for gas is subject to seasonal variations in rainfall.

Prumo’s strategy starts with an initial role as a peaking facility for the national power grid but calculates that overall demand for gas-fired energy will increase as the scope for new hydroelectric growth dwindles.

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This vision is built on the premise that LNG imports will gradually be displaced by cheap, domestically produced natural gas, and that the Acu complex offers the best new point of entry from Brazil’s pre-salt fields, such as the Equinor-operated Pao de Azucar giant on Campos basin Block BM-C-33. In the medium term, Prumo is working to ensure that the thermoelectric complex will offer as much firm demand as possible, serving as an anchor market for the first flows of pre-salt gas, then consolidating this business with gas-consuming industrial development in the port complex.

Unique combination

"(Acu port has) a unique position as the only private gas hub in Brazil that combines LNG, domestic gas, liquids export, 6.4GW of power licences and industrial gas-consuming projects in a single location,” says Carlos Tadeu Fraga, chief executive of Prumo.

Plans to facilitate this include the development of gas processing facilities, onshore pipelines connecting Acu to Brazil's gas pipeline grid 45 kilometres from the port, plus offshore pipeline projects, a liquids export terminal and even a liquefaction plant.

“We expect decisions on the construction of offshore pipelines from the pre-salt fields by 2022 or 2023,” Tadeu says.

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