Work has begun in Punta Arenas, in Patagonia, Chile, on the Enel Group’s first industrial-scale green hydrogen production plant. This opens a whole new chapter in the transition to decarbonization.
In Patagonia, Chile, work has begun in Punta Arenas on the Enel Group’s first industrial-scale green hydrogen production plant. This opens a whole new chapter in the transition to decarbonization.
At the southernmost tip of Patagonia in Chile, nestled in a natural landscape that hints at its proximity to the Antarctic, sits Punta Arenas, the world’s southernmost city.
The city’s inhospitable climate is characterized by constant high winds, so much so that ropes have been strung in the streets along buildings to help pedestrians stay upright as they walk.
It is here, deep in the southern hemisphere, that a project of global importance for both the Enel Group and the energy transition was launched. On September 10, 2021, Enel Green Power’s strategic social partner HIF began work on the Group’s first pilot plant for the industrial scale production of green hydrogen, which is obtained from water by electrolysis using energy generated by renewable sources and without producing polluting waste products. This is the only truly sustainable kind of hydrogen.
From wind to gasoline
The plant will be located a few kilometers from the city and the airport. “Construction will take until the first quarter of 2022, followed by the commissioning phase, which will get it up and running by mid-2022”, explains Daniele Consoli, EGP’s Innovation Project Manager.
Electricity will be generated by a 3.4 MW wind turbine, a natural choice given the area’s winds, which are among the best in the world for producing wind power. “It’s a site with huge wind resources: in a single year, the turbine can work for over 5,000 hours out of 8,760 – a very high figure indeed,” adds Consoli. The turbine will feed a 1.22 MW electrolyzer supplied by Siemens, which is also involved in the project with EGP and other partners.
“The resulting hydrogen will be used to produce green methanol, which in turn will be turned into gasoline,” says Rodrigo Lobos Roldán, Green Hydrogen Business Developer at EGP. “The end result will be a fuel that is of the same quality as traditional ones,” – but also perfectly sustainable. It will be bought by Porsche for its cars.
“This first milestone highlights the Enel Group’s commitment to testing new models and technologies, promoting the development of innovative solutions capable of lowering the cost of green hydrogen in preparation for new projects. We want to do this with our partners and our technology suppliers using an open, collaborative model, as we have for renewables in the past.”
Salvatore Bernabei, CEO of EGP
Our green hydrogen strategy
In Enel’s strategy, green hydrogen is a crucial tool for sustainability. The decarbonizion of the energy system is based at one end of the energy supply chain on renewable sources and at the other on the electrification of end consumption, i.e. the transition to using electricity in areas like transportation, heating, and cooking. In some sectors, this process is less immediate: for instance, aviation, heavy maritime transportation, and certain industrial sectors such as steelworks, refineries, fertilizer and ceramics factories. In these cases, hydrogen is an excellent alternative and it has already been widely adopted. The only thing is, as Pasquale Salza, Head of Long Duration Storage and Hybrid Systems at EGP Innovation, explains, “currently, more than 90% of hydrogen is obtained from methane, which also produces carbon dioxide”, which has a negative environmental impact. “Enel’s vision, on the other hand, is that the only sustainable hydrogen is green hydrogen,” confirms Salza: this is the only way for it to become a clean energy vector. In that sense, it is the perfect complement to electrification.
Furthermore, green hydrogen production plants coupled with stations powered by renewables are better able to integrate into the electricity system: by being able to change the power absorbed very easily, they guarantee the electricity grid the flexibility it requires. Like storage systems, hydrogen is thus becoming a tool for facilitating the spread of renewable sources: a double advantage for the energy transition and therefore a development direction that is of great interest to the Enel Group in general and EGP in particular.
A new chapter for EGP
For these reasons, the launch of the Punta Arenas project is of pivotal importance: green hydrogen production is becoming a concrete reality. This opens a new chapter in EGP’s history: our commitment to accelerating a green hydrogen-centered strategy on a global scale.
The experiences and skills that will be developed and acquired in the course of this project will provide a reference point for future EGP green hydrogen plants on all levels: from a technological and engineering perspective by bringing the main challenges into focus, to an organization perspective, managing costs and personnel training expenses, up to commercial assessments.
We are already planning several other plants in various countries, particularly in Italy and Spain because of their favorable regulatory framework, but also in the US and in Chile again.
Our laboratory: Chile
For its part, the Punta Arenas plant will benefit at least in part from our past experience. EGP has been working on the green hydrogen supply chain for quite some time and actually built a plant in northern Chile combined with the Cerro Pabellón geothermal station in 2017. It is now used to provide uninterrupted power to the water treatment plant and also contributes to meeting the energy needs of the base camp, where it is used instead of diesel fuel. It is a small-scale facility and not industrial like Punta Arenas, but it is a solid foundation from which to move forward.
So Chile is a huge open-air laboratory for the Enel Group, thanks in part to its exceptional natural resources. If Patagonia in the south is perfect for wind power, then the Atacama desert in the north is ideal for solar power (it is probably the sunniest region in the world). In addition, Chile has waterways that are well suited to hydroelectric power generation and also has significant geothermal potential: in other words, it has all the main renewable sources in abundance.
“Enel believes that Chile, which has the right conditions to give real impetus to renewable energy, is one of the ideal places to develop new green hydrogen projects with our industrial clients, so that we can support them as they move towards decarbonizing their business and also the sustainable development of the country as a whole”.
Salvatore Bernabei, CEO EGP
By working to enhance this immense natural heritage, we have built a large number of cutting-edge plants, including our first large-scale industrial solar farm (Diego de Almagro) and Latin America’s first geothermal station (Cerro Pabellón). These important milestones for the Enel Group have also provided the country with great opportunities for growth. As another example of our pursuit of technological innovation, we also installed the first bi-facial photovoltaic panel in Chile and carried out the first experiments in marine energy, while the La Silla solar farm supplies electricity to the huge astronomical observatory of the same name, which is one of the largest in the world.
From the desert to the sea, from the sun to the stars, EGP and Chile are moving forward together on the road to innovation and sustainability. The compelling new chapter of green hydrogen has been added to the plot of the great story we are writing together.