Chile and Colombia join forces on the “Hydrogen Race” in Latin America

17th December 2020

 

Featured Image: The Minister of Energy of Colombia, Diego Mesa, met in Santiago de Chile with his counterpart, Juan Carlos Jobet, in order to unify efforts for the incorporation of hydrogen as a clean energy source in Latin America (Source: MinEnergía)

Diego Mesa, the Colombian Minister of Energy, met with his counterpart, Juan Carlos Jobet, in Santiago de Chile with the goal of unifying efforts towards the incorporation of hydrogen as a clean energy source in Latin America. Both countries wish to continue the path of energy transition and consolidate a competitive hydrogen export market to other continents. Indeed, there are great opportunities for Colombia and Chile to position themselves as large-scale producers of this fuel. Chile has even set itself the goal of becoming the cheapest producer of green hydrogen on the planet and featuring among the top three exporters of the fuel two decades from now. The key - and advantage - of this fuel is its highly flexible storage capacity, in addition to its versatility of uses, ranging from transportation to industry and mining [1].

Hydrogen as an energy source

Hydrogen was used in the first internal combustion engine, but it was not considered a “green” fuel up until recently. It actually earned the title of “grey hydrogen” because ≈ 95% of the hydrogen currently produced derives from oil, natural gas and coal. However, if hydrogen is produced by electrolysis and if the power is generated by renewable sources, it becomes a green fuel. Presently, hydrogen is mainly used as an input in industrial processes, but a transition can be gradually observed. There is great potential, but many challenges have to be overcome, namely the infrastructure to supply compressed hydrogen and the price barrier (currently green hydrogen is three to four times more expensive than “grey” hydrogen).

Figure 2 – Hydrogen energy storage (Source: Mining Magazine)

Chile’s and Colombia’s Panorama

There have been considerable advancements in solar and wind energy in Chile but are far from reaching their maximum potential. This is particularly evident considering that the Atacama Desert has the highest solar radiation in the world and that in the extreme south of the country there is considerable and constant wind generation. At the beginning of November, the Chilean government presented a “National Green Hydrogen Strategy”. The main goal is to reach 5 GW of electrolysis capacity by 2025, produce the world’s cheapest hydrogen on the next decade and make the country one of the top three exporters of the fuel by 2040. As the Energy Minister of Chile, Juan Carlos Jobet, explained:  "Green hydrogen is a strategic opportunity for Chile. Our country is the ideal place to produce and export green hydrogen and its derivatives, including ammonia, methanol and synthetic fuels”. According to Chilean government predictions, the hydrogen industry could generate US$200 billion in investment over the next 20 years and 100.000 jobs. For the executive president of Generadoras de Chile, Claudio Seebach, this project “demonstrates the real will to collaborate to scale this technology in Chile and the world” and points out that “there is a very great interest, both on the part of the Government, which leads the National Green Hydrogen Strategy, as well as some companies to develop this energy in the country.” [1].

Colombia is currently working on the construction of a roadmap for the development of energy generation from hydrogen and on the determination of the country’s potential for the use of this resource [2].  It is clear that both countries have the potential to contribute towards a fruitful cooperation and develop pilot project opportunities and market opportunities for by-products.

Figure 3 - Mining industry to accelerate the deployment of hydrogen solutions in a bid to reduce carbon emissions (Source: Stock).

What does it mean for the mining industry?

The production of green hydrogen will allow Chile to transform the production process of copper, its main export, into a cleaner alternative. As Pablo Terrazas, executive vice-president of Corfo – a government agency in charge of supporting the hydrogen plan – explained: "The mining industry needs to transform itself in a more environmentally demanding context. In the near future we will be able to achieve a low-emission copper".

"Mining in Chile accounts for nearly 70% of the country's contaminating emissions, so using renewable energy sources such as photovoltaic and wind power and replacing diesel with green hydrogen will save some 7 million tonnes of CO2 per year," says Víctor Pérez, executive director of ASDIT [2].

Challenges remain, but it is clear that innovation and cooperation between different countries will be key in the process of transitioning into “green” mining.

[1] Chile Minería: https://bit.ly/2KabgLl

[2] MinEnergía: https://bit.ly/34lodsK

Read More:

A Renewable Hydrogen Way Forward for the Mining Industry?: https://bit.ly/3r23Om3

 

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Posted in The Latin Quarter

Maria Dias View posts by Maria Dias

Lisbon-based geologist. Graduated from the University of Lisbon, with a M.Sc. degree in Economic Geology. Her M.Sc. thesis was heavily focused on geochemistry and mineral chemistry in magmatic-hydrothermal systems. The project was made in collaboration with EDM (Empresa de Desenvolvimento Mineiro - Portugal), where she worked as an intern for two years. She has a keen interest in geochemistry and petrology applied to ore-forming systems.