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The new H2 Magallanes green hydrogen project could convert Chile into an energy exporter (screenshot courtesy of Total Eren via YouTube).

Clean Power

Chile Races China For Global Green Hydrogen Boss Crown

Green hydrogen is the portal through which Chile aims to transform self from fossil energy importer to renewable energy exporter.

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Whelp, that was fast. No sooner does the firm Sinopec announce a massive new green hydrogen project in China to the tune of 20,000 tons per year, when along comes Chile with plans for a new project dubbed H2 Magallanes, which could pump out more than 880,000 tons per year. It seems the green hydrogen trend has legs after all, and plenty of them.

Chile Has Big Plans For Green Hydrogen

For those of you new to the topic, green hydrogen is a relatively new field. It leverages the low (and falling) cost of renewable energy to pry hydrogen gas out of renewable resources, mainly water. Biomass is also in the mix,but most of the activity is centered on water-splitting systems, powered by wind or solar energy.

Green hydrogen can be used as a zero emission fuel. It can also have numerous applications in  agriculture, industry, food processing, and pharmaceuticals, among other areas that depend on hydrogen. That makes green hydrogen a major threat to fossil energy stakeholders, because almost all of the global hydrogen supply currently comes from coal and natural gas.

Chile’s sudden interest in new clean technology may seem sudden. It isn’t. The nation is better known for exporting fruit and fish, but copper is actually its top export, and copper is a key element in the electrification movement.

The copper connection helped sparked Chile’s interest in wind and solar energy several years ago, along with its history in bioenergy, hydropower, and geothermal resources. In 2015, the country launched a new clean power and energy efficiency plan that made a modest but noticeable impact on the nation’s wind and solar profile over the ensuing 5 years, as charted by the International Energy Agency.

Chile still has a long row to hoe before it can ditch fossil energy. H2 Magallanes could help shorten the timeline by providing a model for the rapid scaling up of renewable hydrogen.

If it all pans out, there could be a virtual bottomless pit of investor dollars heading for the green hydrogen hills of Chile. The financial muscle behind the H2 Magallanes project comes from the France-based independent power producer Total Eren. As the name suggests, Total Eren used to be Eren RE until 2017, when the leading fossil energy stakeholder Total S.A. entered the picture as an indirect stakeholder.

By April 2019, Total S.A. acquired a total stake of almost 30% in Total Eren, and then just last June Total S.A. changed its name to TotalEnergies, signifying the company’s new commitment to be a “a world-class player in the energy transition.”

800,000 Tonnes Of Green Hydrogen On The Way

TotalEnergies is apparently one of those fossil energy stakeholders that sees new bottom line opportunities in the green hydrogen field. It remains to be seen how serious they are, but TotalEnergies seems to have recognized that hydrogen buyers are demanding green hydrogen from renewable resources.

That’s a start, though TotalEnergies could leave some wiggle room for carbon capture through a new “clean” hydrogen fund it established last year in partnership with the firms Air Liquide and VINCI, among others.

Meanwhile, TotalEnergies and Total Eren have already launched several large scale green hydrogen projects in various countries, and H2 Magallanes is the biggest one yet.

Total Eren outlined its plans in a press release dated last December 2. It’s way too early to break out the bubbly, since the project is still in the planning stages. Still, they seem pretty optimistic that the vision will become reality.

The initial plans call for up to 10 gigawatts in onshore wind power near the borough of San Gregorio, in the Magallanes region of southern Chile. Another 15 could come on board for a total of 25 gigawatts by 2030, but even at 10 gigawatts of wind power the initial stage of the project is impressive. It will come with up to 8 gigawatts of electrolysis capacity, in addition to a desalination plant and a green ammonia plant, too (more on that in a sec).

If all goes according to plan, construction will begin in 2025 and green production will begin in 2027.

Chile Takes On The Green Hydrogen Hard Sell

As a matter of national policy, Chile is determined to count green hydrogen among its leading exports as soon as possible. In 2020 the company issued a new National Green Hydrogen Strategy. Our friends over at SP Global took note and had this to say:

“As a net importer of fuels, Chile has not been a significant player in global energy markets. But the sun-drenched, wind-rich South American country aims to become a titan in the burgeoning green hydrogen economy, setting a goal to become one of the world’s top three exporters by 2040.”

In its introduction, the new report concedes that there has been a lot of “hype around hydrogen.” However, the report comes down hard on the side of the green hydrogen economy, and it details why Chile is sitting in the catbird seat.

“What we lack in size, we more than make up for in potential. In the desert in the North, with the highest solar irradiance on the planet, and in the Patagonia in the South, with strong and consistent winds, we have the renewable energy potential to install 70 times the electricity generation capacity we have today,” they state. “This abundant renewable energy will enable us to become the cheapest producer of green hydrogen on Earth.”

Who Will Be The Earth’s Next Top Green H2 Producer?

It looks like the H2 Magallenes project will enable Chile to get a running start on its low cost green hydrogen goal.

They will have plenty of competition as the field heats up. Among the more interesting developments is an experimental project that parks electrolysis systems on offshore wind turbines.

As for the danger that “hydrogen hype” could end up increasing the use of conventional hydrogen overall, that is clearly going to be an issue over the short term.

However, hydrogen is the main ingredient in ammonia fertilizer, and that should help align the global agriculture industry on the side of green sourcing.

In addition, the global shipping industry is eyeballing green ammonia fuel as a decarbonization pathway. That circles back around to TotalEnergies’ acknowledgement that leading hydrogen buyers are seeking sustainable sources.

Here in the US, things have gotten off to a slow start. Last summer the Department of Energy sent a strong signal by making renewable hydrogen a focus of its new “Earthshot” series of clean tech initiatives, though it still allows for fossil sources to maintain a foothold.

Unlike Chile, the US has considerable domestic fossil energy resources along with politically powerful stakeholders such as US Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, which could explain why the Energy Department is hedging its hydrogen bets. Still, green hydrogen appears to have an edge, so it will be interesting to see what tack the Energy Department takes when the next round of hydrogen R&D funding comes up.

Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.

Image (screenshot): H2 Magallanes green hydrogen project courtesy of Total Eren via YouTube.

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Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Spoutible.


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