Siemens Energy, sports car maker Porsche and several international companies have given the green light for the construction of a pilot project in southern Chile to use green hydrogen produced from wind power for making synthetic fuel.

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Italian utility Enel together with Chilean power company AME and oil firm ENAP in October had already unveiled plans for the plant in Cabo Negro in the Magellan Strait on the southernmost tip of South America, which will be the world’s first to produce climate-neutral e-fuels on an industrial scale. But the project then was still pending on last permits from local authorities.

“Electro-mobility is a top priority at Porsche. E-fuels for cars are a worthwhile complement to that – if they’re produced in parts of the world where a surplus of sustainable energy is available,” Porsche chief executive Oliver Blume said today.

“They are an additional element on the road to decarbonisation. Their advantages lie in their ease of application: e-fuels can be used in combustion engines and plug-in hybrids, and can make use of the existing network of filling stations.”

German government support

Germany’s economics ministry is supporting the Chilean project called ‘Haru Oni’ with €8.23m ($9.94m) as part of its national hydrogen strategy that seeks to also source green fuels from abroad given Germany’s limited space for domestic hydrogen production from renewables.

“German companies are taking a leading position in hydrogen technologies globally. The ‘Haru Oni’ project is a good example for that,” German economics and energy minister Peter Altmaier said.

“With the project we show that green hydrogen and its follow-up products can be produced sustainably with the most modern technologies ‘Made in Germany’, for example in Chile.”

Siemens Energy is the co-developer and systems integrator of the Chilean project, its Siemens Gamesa unit will provide the wind turbines for it, while Siemens Energy proton exchange membrane electrolysers will convert the wind power into green hydrogen.

Methanol from hydrogen

In a second step, CO2 will be filtered out of the air and combined with the green hydrogen to form synthetic methanol (renewable methanol), which can be converted into gasoline using an MTG (methanol to gasoline) technology to be licensed and supported by oil major Exxon Mobil.

The production method means the project will need to employ direct-air capture, a very expensive way of getting CO2 on a per-tonne basis.

The consortium expects to produce 130,000 litres of e-fuels as early as 2022. In two further phases, capacity is then to be increased to about 55m litres of e-fuels a year by 2024, and around 550m litres by 2026.

“Establishing a sustainable energy economy is going to require some rethinking. Renewable energy will no longer be produced only where it’s needed, but where natural resources like wind and sun are available on a massive scale,” Siemens Energy chief executive Christian Bruch said.

“So new supply chains are going to arise all over the world to carry renewable energy from one region to another. That’s especially important for Germany, which – bottom-line – has to import energy if it’s going to meet its nationwide demand.”

“Hydrogen will come to play an increasingly important role in storing and transporting energy. Which is why the German government’s support for the project is an important signal.”

Porsche will be the primary customer for the green fuel produced at the Chilean pilot plant.

The sports car maker - which invests roughly €20m initially - as a first phase plans to use the e-fuels from Chile in beacon projects. Those include using the e-fuel in vehicles for Porsche motorsports, at the Porsche Experience Centers and going forward also in serial production sports cars.

Strait of Magellan winds

Enel through its Enel Green Power Chile (EGP Chile) unit will contribute to the project by generating wind power for the electrolyser that will produce green hydrogen.

"Together with our partners, we are pioneering the development of green hydrogen in Chile,” said Salvatore Bernabei, head of Enel Group’s Global Power Generation.

"Leveraging on the availability of wind resources in Patagonia and in the Magallanes region in particular, we are building a state-of-the-art green hydrogen project that will help us acquire further insights into this technology."

The Strait of Magellan with its passage between southern Atlantic to the Pacific is known for strong and unpredictable winds.

Enel is the largest power company in Chile, with a generation capacity of 7.2GW, 4.7GW of which are renewable.