For over a year, the Brazilian Northeast, with port infrastructure and strategic location for access to European and North American markets, has been taking ambitious steps towards the low carbon era. Taking advantage of this differential, added to the energy potential of the region, is one of the most effective strategies for Brazil to conquer a new market: the production of green hydrogen (H2V).
Globally classified as the future of clean energy, the product is obtained from renewable bases offered by hydroelectric, solar, and wind power plants, and by sugarcane biomass processing units. Besides being exportable to other countries, especially those of the European Union (EU), Brazil's H2V can also be used domestically to power fuel cell vehicles, based on ethanol.
According to a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), H2V is receiving strong support from governments and companies in more than 30 countries. Brazil, thanks to the Northeastern leadership, figures in this promising articulation. Three important partnerships between state governments and large energy companies, aiming at the construction of industrial complexes for H2V production, illustrate this positive moment.
Initially, in Pernambuco, agreements are in place for the expansion of this industry between the government, through the Suape Port Industrial Complex, and energy companies. The Federation of Industries of the State of Pernambuco (FIEPE) and the National Service for Industrial Learning (SENAI-PE) are also developing with the Suape Complex a network of work and studies that consolidate an innovation cluster. The initiative also involves other SENAI representations in the country, with the leadership of FIEPE's president, Ricardo Essinger, and SENAI Pernambuco's director, Camila Barreto, among other FIEPE system members.
At the Camaçari Industrial Complex, in Bahia, the Brazilian chemical company Unigel is building an industrial plant with an initial capacity to produce 10,000 tons of H2V per year. In a second phase of the project, the plant aims to quadruple this volume by 2025, becoming one of the largest global producers of H2V.
Finally, Ceará has also promoted measures to consolidate the Northeast as an agent of the future in the H2V market. In the Pecém Port Complex, it intends to build the largest H2V hub in Brazil in partnership with large global companies such as White Martins, Eneva, Engie, and EDP. The project has technical support from the Federal University of Ceará (UFC) and the Federation of Industries of the State of Ceará (FIEC).
The multinationals involved aim to reduce environmental impacts in their supply chains and, consequently, to decarbonize the economy in the EU. In the European industrial segment, much of the H2V is produced from intermittent energy sources, such as solar and wind, and production volumes are still low. Worldwide, according to the IEA survey, the adoption of H2V could avoid the emission of 830 million tons of carbon annually by replacing the so-called gray hydrogen, derived from fossil sources such as natural gas and coal.
Therefore, there is a golden opportunity for Brazil to export H2V to the European continent, whose energy matrix does not dispose of so much energy diversity as in the case of the Brazilian Northeast. Add to this the fact that Brazil, from H2V, can also increase its production of bio-fertilizers, an alternative that replaces the application of chemical fertilizers and pesticides and provides two important gains: it reduces external dependence in the acquisition of chemical inputs for agriculture, a problem aggravated by the war between Russia and Ukraine; and it makes Brazilian agribusiness even more sustainable thanks to the increase of organic matter in the soil, the preservation of local biodiversity, carbon sequestration, and efficient management of water resources.
Besides generating chemicals and electricity for different types of industries, H2V is also seen as the "salvation of the crop" in the mitigation of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the transportation segment. In the automotive segment, two projects contemplate the use of the source in a system that operates with a fuel cell. This process extracts H2V directly from ethanol to generate electricity and drive electric vehicles.
The oldest initiative has been developed by Nissan since the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. The brand conducted successful tests with two prototypes of the e-NV200 van, which drove around Brazil using the ethanol-fueled fuel cell. Another technological project aimed at producing H2V on board cars took place at the Laboratory for Optimization, Design and Advanced Control (LOPCA) of the School of Chemical Engineering of the State University of Campinas (FEQ Unicamp). The institution's researchers have developed a microreactor that makes it possible to obtain H2V from ethanol. With support from Inova Unicamp, the technology has already been patented and is ready to be used by major brands.
Despite the challenges to make this technology commercially viable, the option for ethanol as a primary source of H2V is available in more than 42 thousand service stations throughout the country. It is a way to overcome the lack of a hydrogen or pure electricity recharging network, something difficult to implement in a country of continental dimensions such as Brazil.
Looking to the future, the conclusion of the main global companies is clear, and they see in the Brazilian Northeast an asset for obtaining H2V on a large scale. Rich in sun and ethanol, the region can play a preponderant role in the construction of this productive hub in Brazil. Thus, in addition to increasing our exports in the area of sustainability, we will continue to contribute significantly to the much desired clean and renewable bioeconomy.
*President of NovaBio - Association of Sugar, Ethanol and Bioenergy Producers -, of Sindaçucar-PE - Union of the Sugar and Alcohol Industry in the State of Pernambuco and vice-president of FIEPE - Federation of Industries of the State of Pernambuco.
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