Latin America takes steps on the “fuel of the future”

Chile, for example, has nearly 30 initiatives ranging from the application of hydrogen in public and freight transport to the production of “green” methanol or ammonia for the explosives industry.

Among the most notable projects under development are: the H2 Magallanes in southern Chile, promoted by the Parisian company Total Eren, which will include a port facility for export; the Haru Oni ​​​​pilot project supported by the Chilean company HIF, the Italian Enel Green Power and the German multinational Siemens Energy, which will focus on the production of fuels based on renewable energies in the Magallanes region; and the HyEx project led by the French energy company Engie and the Chilean Enaex, in the province of Antofagasta.

Colombia has more than a dozen projects under study, and the fields of application range from the construction of a green hydrogen hub to supply the steel industry, to the production of fuel from surplus energy renewable, for mobility and industrial use. For example, a green hydrogen initiative is already underway at Ecopetrol’s oil refinery in Cartagena, powered by solar panels. Natural gas supplier Promigas also has an active project in the country.

Uruguay, on the other hand, is working on the H2U pilot, an official strategy that can be applied both in heavy transport and in the production of ammonia and green manures. In the private sector, the German company Enertrag, in cooperation with the Uruguayan SEG Ingeniería, is promoting the Tambor Green Hydrogen Hub, a plant for the production of green hydrogen and derivatives such as methanol, in the department of Tacuarembó.

In Argentina, a clean hydrogen production plant already exists in Comodoro Rivadavia, in the Patagonian province of Chubut, run by the national company Hychico. The authorities also announced the landing of the Pampas project in the province of Río Negro, a multi-million dollar initiative focused on the production of green hydrogen on an industrial scale led by the Australian company Fortescue Future Industries.

Projections for green hydrogen

Amid the excitement of entering a potential billion-dollar market and the difficulties of launching new technologies, the race to become the regional leader in green hydrogen has already begun, and Latin America is preparing his next steps for the future.

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Some questions have been raised about the sustainability of green hydrogen, particularly regarding the water consumption required for its production, in a region that has regularly experienced periods of intense drought, from Chile to Argentina and Brazil. Obtaining one ton of green hydrogen can require up to 9 tons of water, which could be a stumbling block in some of the driest climates in the region. But in Uruguay, for example, these volumes are not considered problematic compared to the use of water in other productive sectors.

For Monica Gasca, executive director of Hidrógeno Colombia, the Colombian hydrogen association, the biggest challenge for the industry will be to encourage local demand for green hydrogen, as well as to set up new financial instruments to take advantage of the projects. Gasca was also cautious about the development of green hydrogen, saying the fuel “is not the answer to everything”.

“It’s not a Swiss army knife or a silver bullet,” Gasca said. “Hydrogen has certain niches that need to be exploited, but first we need to solve the energy efficiency and electrification issues.”

Other challenges will be creating public policies that encourage technological advances and ensuring that initiatives are implemented in a way that does not bring conflict or disruption to urban and indigenous communities, the experts consulted agreed. .

Green hydrogen is neither a Swiss army knife nor a silver bullet

Ivan Zimmermann, an electrical engineer who served as chief of staff at Chile’s energy ministry until September, said it will be essential to “generate synergy” between public and private action, which will allow development long-term sustainability of the industry.

“If this is not addressed as state policy, it will generate socio-environmental conflicts in territories that could impede the healthy maturation of technology,” Zimmerman explained.

H2 Villalonga’s Argentina also highlighted the complexities and opportunities arising from the current geopolitical context, including the effects of Russia’s war in Ukraine. As European countries struggle to disentangle themselves from one of their main energy suppliers, energy security is “becoming a value in itself” and opening the door to new market opportunities for Latin America, a he declared.

This is why the development of the industry will have to be thought “strategically”, said Uruguayan adviser Medina, as sector regulations are perfected, competitive energy prices for green hydrogen are achieved and large-scale logistics problems are solved.

Additionally, with many countries moving in the same direction, Uruguayan Minister Paganini said, competition among emerging markets and “uncertainty” about the viability of green hydrogen initiatives will be further challenges facing the sector. will face in Latin America.