French engineering giant Alstom has laid the cornerstone for a global hydropower technology center in southern Brazil to develop turbine models for the Latin American market.
The center, which will become operational in July 2013, is to be housed in Alstom's state-of-the-art hydropower manufacturing plant in Tabaute, located 80 miles from Sao Paulo.
The facility, with an initial investment of about $8 million, will have dozens of research and development experts focusing on technological solutions for projects around the world and on developing turbine models specially adapted to the Brazilian market and customers.
It will also have key partnerships with Brazilian academic institutions such as the State University of Sao Paulo and the Federal University of Itajuba.
"Brazil is for us a very big hydroelectric market and one in which we have been a leader for many years," Jerome Pecresse, president of Alstom's Renewable Power Sector, told AFP.
"The center we are building here in Tabaute will be a global research facility that will focus on Kaplan turbines, which are particularly adapted to the Brazilian market of the future," he added.
Brazil accounts for 45 percent of the future worldwide market for Kaplan turbines, which are capable of adapting to the flow of the river, generating power all year round both in periods of flood and during dry seasons.
The Kaplan turbine also helps preserve the environment because it can be used with smaller reservoirs and smaller flooded areas.
It is seen as an optimal solution for so-called run-of-river plants, seen as the future of the Brazilian market.
Run-of-river encompasses small-scale hydroelectric projects that require no dam, reservoir or flooding to generate electricity. The natural flow and elevation of a river are used to create power. Run-of-river projects have therefore said to have a much smaller environmental footprint compared to traditional reservoir storage hydro projects.
Pecresse described Alstom's Tabaute technology center as "both a sign of confidence in the hydroelectric market and a sign of confidence in Brazil."
"Our ambition is to maintain our current (hydropower) market share of 50 percent in Brazil, retain a world market share of between 25 and 30 percent and grow with the market, knowing that the market will require more and more products and more and more technical expertise," he added.
Initially, research and developments experts from France will work alongside their Brazilian counterparts. But gradually Brazilians will take over and run the facility to promote domestic know-how, said Marcos Costa, Alstom's vice president for renewable power and thermal power in Latin America.
Alstom, which has been operating in Brazil since 1956, has similar technology centers in Grenoble, France; Baroda, India; Birr, Switzerland and Sorel-Tracy, Canada.
In November, Alstom inaugurated a new wind turbine manufacturing plant in northeastern Brazilian city of Camacari, its first in Latin America.
Alstom employs 92,000 people in more than 100 countries and recorded sales of $27.6 billion in 2010/2011.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2012