Green hydrogen: how Brazil can become a production hub for the ‘fuel of the future’ | Agro Station

Considered the “fuel of the future”, green hydrogen is still taking its first steps in Brazil, but different initiatives can put the country on the world route for producing the substance, seen as one of the main alternatives for reducing the use of non-renewable sources with carbon. , the main villain of the greenhouse effect and global warming.

The topic will be debated at Fenasucro, considered the largest bioenergy fair on the planet, to be held at the Zanini Events Center, in Sertãozinho (SP), from August 16 to 19.

“The term ‘green’ means that hydrogen is produced by renewable, zero-emission or low-carbon sources”, explains Renato Vitalino Gonçalves, professor at the Institute of Physics at the University of São Paulo (USP), in São Carlos, and coordinator of projects at the Research Center for Innovation in Greenhouse Gases (RGCI).

Throughout this report, the production of green hydrogen will be discussed in the following topics:

Hydrogen (H2) is the most abundant element in the universe and could be the key to ‘decarbonizing’ the planet — Photo: ISTOCK by BBC

the hydrogen It is the most abundant chemical element on the planet and it only exists in combination with others, such as water, along with oxygen, in addition to combining with carbon to form hydrocarbons such as gas, coal and oil. Therefore, in order for it to be used as a fuel, it needs to be separated from other molecules.

the green hydrogen is obtained from the breakdown of molecules that contain H2 in the compositionbut differs from the so-called gray hydrogen, already widely used in the petrochemical industry and in the production of ammonia-based fertilizers, which uses fossil sources, mainly natural gas.

In the sustainable modality, the product has renewable raw materials such as ethanol, biogas and vinasse – one of the residues of the sugarcane mills.

The biggest benefit, however, would be the possibility of extraction from water, according to Juliano Bonacin, professor at the Institute of Chemistry at the State University of Campinas (Unicamp). In this sense, the sugar-energy sector could take advantage of the residual water from its activities, such as that used to wash sugarcane.

“We have realized that the environmental issue is not a fad. Came to stay. Everyone needs to rethink the processes, look for more sustainable alternatives, which will generate certifications and impacts on the companies’ billing in the future”, she says.

The expansion of green hydrogen would allow new directions in industry and in everyday life, such as the production of sustainable steel, the so-called green steel, the replacement of part of the cooking gas and the fueling of cars, trucks and other vehicles.

Bonacin says that, despite a still futuristic scenario, research is already underway to make the product viable even in domestic environments, with the use of small electrolysers, obtained through 3D printing.

In this case, water would be converted during the day, from solar panels, into hydrogen – which, through fuel cells, could be used as a source of energy at night.

Unigel, in Bahia, has one of the first initiatives in the country in the production of green hydrogen — Photo: Disclosure

2. The first initiatives in Brazil

It is estimated that 2% to 5% of the hydrogen produced in the world is green, but in Brazil this technology is very new. What exist, for now, are pilot plants, generally carried out on an experimental basis in public-private partnerships.

Most are in the Northeast because of the existence of wind and solar energy parks, in which electrolysers are connected.

In September 2021, the Government of Ceará announced an investment of R$ 42 million by the company EDP do Brasil, in a green hydrogen plant that should start operating in December this year.

Another venture is by Unigel, which manufactures chemical products used in various industrial segments and fertilizers. In Camaçari (BA), the company is building a green hydrogen plant and another for converting it into a derivative, green ammonia – which is widely used by various types of industry, including Unigel itself.

The expectation is to complete the works by the end of 2023 and begin large-scale operations in early 2024.

The first phase foresees an investment of US$ 120 million (R$ 620 million), for a production of ten thousand tons of hydrogen, which will be converted into 60 thousand tons of ammonia. But the company is already looking for partners with a view to quadrupling that volume by 2025.

According to executive director Luiz Felipe Fustaino, the main bet is on the domestic market. “If the domestic market, for some reason, takes time to take hold, which we do not believe will happen, we will bet on export channels.”

For Fustaino, climate change is an emergency and needs attention. That’s why zero carbon raw materials are a necessity.

“It is a transition that the world is making. And we are betting on Brazil, which can become a global hub for hydrogen and green ammonia. The country has the potential to be a leader.”

Sugarcane plantation in the region of Ribeirão Preto — Photo: Reproduction/EPTV

3.Green hydrogen incorporated into the sugar-energy sector

With extensive sugarcane plantations and sugarcane plants, regions such as Ribeirão Preto (SP) also have the potential to become major hubs for the production of green hydrogen (H2) in the coming years, according to experts.

“Our region has the technology that the planet is looking for. There’s no way you can talk about a sugarcane plant or who plants sugarcane without talking about Sertãozinho, without talking about the region of Ribeirão Preto”, says Paulo Montabone, director of Fenasucro, which annually brings together bioenergetic technologies in São Paulo.

According to him, green hydrogen, in addition to being a sustainable solution, presents itself as an alternative for employment and income for the plants.

“Each time the sugarcane is squeezed, it brings a new solution. Back there, it was the pinga device. Then came sugar, ethanol, cogeneration of electric energy, in addition to other by-products, such as second-generation ethanol, biogas, ethanol diesel and green hydrogen.”

For Renato Vitalino, from USP, the Ribeirão Preto region can be a protagonist in the distribution of green hydrogen to other parts of the country and also abroad, especially countries in Europe.

“In the Ribeirão region, there are industrial centers, including sugar and alcohol production plants. The implementation of large-scale technologies for the use of ethanol in the production of green H2 would make the region a major production center.”

Conventional electrolysers are used to convert renewable energy into hydrogen — Photo: Getty Images/Via BBC

4.When should production gain consistency in the country?

Specialists believe that, in about ten years, Brazil will have a prominent position in this market. For Juliano Bonacin, from Unicamp, however, in a period between two and four years, the country will already be able to generate a significant production of green hydrogen.

In the region of Campinas (SP), for example, companies that already work with hydrogen are starting to change procedures for the sustainable version of the fuel. One of the challenges is cost reduction, as it is four times more expensive to obtain than conventional hydrogen.

“According to the International Energy Agency, in the next 30 years, we have to reach a goal: to equalize prices. And therein lies the great technological challenge and large investments, which must exceed trillions of dollars worldwide”, he says.

An interesting path for production in Brazil, according to Tamar Roitman, executive manager of the Brazilian Biogas Association (Abiogás), is using biomethane, from biogas, a mixture of gases resulting from the decomposition of organic materials, such as garbage, animal feces, straw and vegetable remains, such as bagasse.

This would make it possible to take advantage of the potential of the sugar-energy plants, which have plants in several regions of the country, for the production of biogas from materials such as vinasse and sewage treatment.

“As the biggest form of hydrogen production today is natural gas, when you replace this gas with the renewable one, which is biomethane, you could produce this hydrogen in a completely renewable way using the same technological route, since the processes and infrastructure are the same. So that’s a very real possibility and it’s pretty established.”

Read more news about agribusiness in the region

VIDEOS: All about Ribeirão Preto, Franca and region

About Yadunandan Singh

Born in 1992, Yadunandan approaches the world of video games thanks to two sacred monsters like Diablo and above all Sonic, strictly in the Sega Saturn version. Ranging between consoles and PCs, he is particularly fond of platform titles and RPGs, not disdaining all other genres and moving in the constant search for the perfect balance between narration and interactivity.

Check Also

The ‘new Concorde’ will have 5 million gallons of sustainable fuel a year for testing

The supersonic Overture, a project that aims to be the “new Concorde” – Image: Boom …