Hydrogen for the ‘low hanging fruits’ of South America: Decarbonising hard-to-abate sectors in Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, and Chile

Hydrogen produced with minimal or no carbon emissions is often expected to become an important tool for meeting climate objectives and decarbonising national economies that currently mostly rely on fossil fuels. Despite initial expectations, it seems unlikely that clean hydrogen will be used by all industries that require decarbonization. However, many researchers, policymakers, and energy practitioners anticipate that some hard-to-abate sectors, such as producers of oil and gas/petrochemicals, nitrogen fertilizers, steel, and electricity, and heavy-duty and long-distance land transport, will be among the first to adopt this substance, paving the way for others. Hence, they are often referred to as the ‘low hanging fruits’ since their transition to hydrogen is anticipated to be more feasible and often less complex compared with other industries. While considerable attention has been given to the role of clean hydrogen in the decarbonization efforts across Europe, Japan, South Korea, and the United States, the potential role of this substance in South America – a continent largely associated with significant potential for the cost-competitive production of decarbonised hydrogen – has not received substantial attention. Furthermore, besides favourable geographical and geological conditions that could enable the countries of the region to develop the manufacturing of clean hydrogen and its derivatives for export, South American nations also face challenges posed by hard-to-abate sectors that could potentially use hydrogen to decarbonise their operations. Therefore, this paper focuses on Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, and Chile – the four largest economies of the continent with ambitious plans to develop national hydrogen sectors – and analyzes the opportunities and challenges posed by clean, domestically sourced hydrogen for the decarbonization of their ‘low hanging fruits’. It then compares and contrasts the key findings and finally concludes by applying the main points to similar industries worldwide.

By: Ieda Gomes , Aliaksei Patonia , Agustín Gogorza , Luciano Caratori , Nathalia Gama , Luis Diazgranados , Nuria Hartmann , Hans Kulenkampff , Hernan Carlino