Brazil's state-controlled oil multinational Petrobras is one of the companies that most invest in research and development in the world. This according to the report "Brazil: the natural knowledge economy", by British organization Demos, developed by researcher Kirsten Bound.
The study was analyzed by Institute for Studies in Aid of Industrial Development (Iedi) in publication Carta Iedi (Iedi Letter), of July 25.
According to the document, the Brazilian oil giant reserves between 1% and 2% of its profits for R&D activities. This represents around US$ 1 billion. The Petrobras Leopoldo Américo Migues de Mello Research and Development Center (Cenpes) is developing 500 R&D projects and employs 2,000 researchers.
According to the Iedi, the study informs that Petrobras is the Brazilian company with the highest number of triadic patents, i.e., those simultaneously registered in three countries – United States, Europe and Japan.
Even though Petrobras focuses its research on gas and petroleum, mastering the most advanced offshore prospecting techniques, recently the company's interests have become broader and now include: biofuels and other types of renewable energy, such as hydrogen, solar and wind energy.
But Petrobras is not the only company to withdraw its raw material from nature and invest in R&D. On the contrary, there is a set of internationally successful Brazilian companies whose businesses and assets are based on natural resources, and those companies answer to the bulk of private investment in R&D. Among them are Vale and Gerdau.
Besides Vale and Gerdau, the study by the British organization also highlights investment in research by Natura, the leading Brazilian cosmetics company, which uses natural assets of the Amazon region in its products.
The study shows that Natura spends from 2.5% to 3.0% of its revenues on R&D and employs 240 researchers. In addition to the main laboratory, the company has a laboratory in the Amazon, turned to research on oils and soaps derived from plants. A new research center is being established in Campinas, in the interior of the state of São Paulo, as part of the company's diversification project in the area of functional foods.
According to the Iedi Letter, Natura adopts a model of economic, social and environmental sustainability and the principle of open innovation as a goal for 50% of its externally conducted research work.
The Iedi Letter informs that the study by the British organization also highlights Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer. With 20% of its employees working with R&D, the company surprised the international community when it launched, in 2004, the first commercial aircraft to fly exclusively on biofuel.
Baptized as Ipanema, the alcohol-fueled agricultural aircraft was regarded by Scientific American as the year's most important invention. Alcohol-fueled aircraft engines are much cleaner and less pollutant than those that use aviation kerosene.
"The report underscores, however, that companies such as Petrobras, Natura, Embraer and Vale are more of an exception than they are the rule in Brazil. The intensity of R&D by Brazilian private sector companies as a whole is still low. Only one third of enterprises have over ten people working on research. The bulk of innovation is turned to processes, not products. Generally speaking, it is all about adapting existing technologies, rather than developing genuinely new technologies," informs the Iedi Letter.
The report by the British organization also states that, although important multinational companies operate in Brazil, the share of research that they conduct in Brazil is inexpressive, lower even than the volume of research done in India and in China.
"In the assessment of senior officers at the multinationals present in Brazil, the country supposedly does not have enough talent to justify investment in offshore R&D," says the Iedi.
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