Green Hydrogen: Contribution to global decarbonization from solar energy in Northern Chile

In this article Marco Vaccarezza from the Fraunhofer Chile institute illustrates the enormous potential for green hydrogen production in Chile.

Green Hydrogen: Contribution to global decarbonization from solar energy in Northern Chile

The highest levels of solar radiation on the planet, the clearest skies and the atmosphere with the lowest moisture content have been registered in the Atacama Desert, located in the region of Antofagasta in northern Chile. Human life in these desert conditions has always been difficult. However, in recent years this condition has become a historic opportunity. In the last 10 years, one of the world's largest hubs of solar energy production has been developed in the area.

As of October 2022, 23.2% of the installed capacity in the Chilean electricity system corresponds to solar energy, representing 7,700 MW, which have come into service in the last 10 years. The installation of new solar plants continues to expand. This great hub of solar energy coexists with one of the largest mining districts worldwide. Copper mining is the main economic activity in Chile, it represents 34% of electricity and 20% of diesel national consumption. To meet the carbon neutrality commitments assumed by Chile, it is key to promote an energy transition process in mining. The most relevant technological challenges to reduce emissions in mining are found in the fossil fuel area. The technologies that allow the decarbonization of transportation systems used in large-scale mining are not yet available on a massive scale.

Here appears an alternative of high interest, based on the sector coupling potential represented by Green Hydrogen. From solar energy, it is possible to implement large scale electrolysis centers, supplying production hubs for derivatives such as methanol, ammonia and synthetic fuels, for example DME (Dimethyl Ether). Combining Green Hydrogen and CO2 captured from the air (DAC – Direct Air Capture) or from industrial processes, it is possible to synthesize e-fuels, which can then be used in conventional combustion engines and/or in boilers to generate process heat. This makes it possible to gradually introduce Green Hydrogen in mining, using existing infrastructure and reducing emissions in the short and medium term.

The installation of a Green Hydrogen and e-fuels production hub in northern Chile, constitutes a project with high potential to generate industrial scaling, enable and anticipate demand for Green Hydrogen and generate a new economic activity in the country, of far-reaching international projections. It could significantly contribute to the decarbonization of Chilean industries. It could share economies of scale with the production of green ammonia, product with already existing great off-taker potential. Through the recently signed Collaboration Agreement between the Government of Chile and the city and port of Hamburg, this hub can be projected internationally, and use said port as a route for receiving exports of H2 and derivatives, extending the decarbonization potential from solar energy from Chile to Europe. This agreement also represents an opportunity for German companies, which could offer and test technologies in Antofagasta, and at the same time supply their processes with Chilean Green Hydrogen and derivatives. The establishment of new hubs to produce clean fuels worldwide will reduce the risk in its future supply, diversifying their sources of production, and will generate economic development and a better quality of life in the areas that receive them.

Marco Vaccarezza:

Electrical Engineer and Master in Management and Business Administration from the University of Chile, MBA from ESADE, Barcelona, ​​Spain. 32 years of experience in Telecommunications and Energy. He currently works as Business Development Manager in Solar Energy Systems, at Fraunhofer Chile – Center for Solar Energy Technologies. From this position, he has led and coordinated studies and projects for the application of solar energy in various sectors and industrial uses, including extension towards applications based on electromobility and green hydrogen technologies.