Total's Lacq Research Center, or PERL, is an exploration and production R&D center that shifted its research priorities in the mid-2010s. It now focuses less on technical performance under extreme conditions and more on innovations that cut the costs and shrink the environmental footprint of Total's activities.
Three Key Focus Areas
The Lacq Research Center, often referred to by the French acronym PERL, is a topflight Total R&D facility. Located in southwestern France, it has built its reputation on state-of-the-art expertise in three areas:
- The physical chemistry of interfaces, which helps research scientists better understand the interactions among matter's solid, liquid and gas states. The goal is to optimize oil and gas transportation installations and enhanced oil recovery operations, especially by using carbon dioxide.
- Gas separation and treatment, to improve processes for treating natural gas, lower costs and and optimize fields that are complex to produce. This expertise is also very useful in carbon capture, a Total priority.
- The environment, which includes water and soil treatment/cleanup and ecotoxicology in general. Plus, research to enhance processes to exploit algae, an efficient carbon trap and hydrocarbon plant feedstock.
PERL's pilot rivers site in Lacq
"PERL's expertise has spawned a number of partnerships, including the creation of a shared laboratory with École Supérieure de Physique et de Chimie Industrielles de la Ville de Paris (ESPCI ParisTech), dedicated to basic research on the physical chemistry of complex interfaces," says Catherine Leroi, PERL's executive director. "Our many researchers and the scale of our infrastructure dedicated to our many research projects produce 19 patent filings between 2014 and 2018. (See infographic).
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The Resources to Succeed
The center is home to facilities where work ranges from basic research with a very low technology readiness level (TRL) in laboratories to large-scale trials on a six-hectare pilot platform. Certain pilot trials are carried out in partnership with companies from all over the world, which come to test their new technologies or health/safety/environmental models there. "Our method for safety-related topics is based on maximizing open innovation and sharing," says Catherine Leroi. "We start with a need and direct Total's knowledge to coming up with a solution, buoyed by the skills and expertise of universities and businesses around the globe."
PERL has an array of high-performance research labs unmatched in the industry. Examples include:
- Pilot rivers: 16 artificial streams to study the impact of industrial discharges on water, gauge them using biological indicators and assess the risks.
- An integrated EOR test platform that recreates a full set of surface facilities for oil and gas production.
- A sour gas pilot used to develop and test processes to treat gas with a high sulfur or CO2 content.
- The Lacq Pilot Platform (PPL) for large-scale R&D demonstrations in an industrial environment at a SEVESO III-classified site.
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R&D Drivers: The Environment and Lower Costs
It takes five to ten years to complete an R&D project, depending on what's being studied. But as our R&D shifts, solutions have to be brought to market in a shorter period of time. "We're being asked to be more and more efficient and to deliver fast. That really motivates us," says PERL's executive director. "Energy and operational efficiency, reducing our operations' impact and carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) are the new research fields being explored by PERL." There is also an obligation to lower costs to make those technologies sustainable. "Our profession has changed in the last few years. Before, R&D's role was to push the technological envelope: deepwater, very high pressure reservoirs, extreme temperatures and more. Those technologies are too expensive to use and we know that some oil and gas will remain in the ground. Our many contributions and awards in the Best Innovators competition show this. Our challenge is different, but the stakes are just as high," says PERL's executive director in conclusion.
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 A scale from 1, basic research, to 9, market launch and commercialization.
 An E.U. Directive applicable to all facilities that keep hazardous substances on site. It requires companies that handle them to report to government authorities.