French train manufacturer Alstom is interested in entering the race to build the Valparaíso-Santiago route, announced a month ago by President Gabriel Boric. Alstom Latin America CEO Michel Boccaccio said they have an ambitious plan in Chile, which also includes the possibility of expanding their presence in Empresa de los Ferrocarriles del Estado (EFE) initiatives and pushing green hydrogen projects.
"We are very attentive to the announced projects. We are interested in (the Valparaíso-Santiago train) providing everything, trains, technology and construction. In Chile we have all our business lines present, so we want to evaluate the proposal and participate," said Boccaccio.
Before moving forward, Alstom is waiting for the government to provide more details about the process, since so far it has been announced that the value of the construction is US$ 1,320 million and the bidding date for 2025, but the details of the proposal are missing.
In the meantime, Michel Boccaccio came to the country to meet with the other regional general managers to plan the rest of the objectives by market. In the Chilean case, these include participating in the EFE technological signaling tender, continuing with the manufacture of the Metro Line 7 trains that will be ready in 2025, and advancing in the construction of a train powered by green hydrogen from the Mejillones terminal to Amsa's Zaldívar mine, some 2,000 meters above sea level.
Green hydrogen train
Alstom has had green hydrogen-powered train operations since 2018, but they are available only for passengers in Germany. The plan is to push a model for heavy cargo, with resistance to high altitudes and adverse climates. To develop the project, the manufacturer chose Chile through a route that starts in the port of Mejillones.
"We are working very hard to modify existing diesel-powered locomotives from CO2 emissions to water vapor. This will allow us to advance in our goal of being zero emissions by 2050. There are many lines in the world that are not electrified, including Europe, and the best thing to do is to switch from diesel to green solutions such as these immediately," he said.
The project is ambitious, confessed the general director of Alstom Latin America, since it is one of the first conversions to be made worldwide. So far, feasibility studies are under development to locate the fuses to power the machinery, which will be mixed with the use of green hydrogen. Although the exact value of the initiative has not yet been calculated, he acknowledged that it was an investment of millions of dollars.
"This is a very important project; we have similar initiatives in Europe. However, this action is an example that shows how we want to test this kind of technology in all parts of the world. We must remember that transportation represents a quarter of CO2 emissions, so this initiative gives us the advantage of being able to accelerate the transformation and what better than Chile, a country where we have decades of presence, high personnel and trained people", said the executive.
In the local market they have 500 employees, to which they will add 200 for the deployment of Line 7 of the Santiago Metro.
The challenges of the green hydrogen freight train are not minor, as there are several ingredients to be analyzed: capacity, autonomy and resistance to complex climates. The green hydrogen must be contained in a space at low temperatures, which in Boccaccio's eyes is a real "technological challenge", because the route crosses the desert that can reach 45º.
The feasibility study lasts six months and to build a prototype will take at least two years, a solution is expected by 2025.
"We have a good time span to develop this locomotive. In two years, when we have the prototype, this technology will be exported to other countries because it is world class. In addition, it will allow us to demonstrate that it is viable and plan in other markets. This is one of Alstom's strengths compared to other competitors, because it is one of the most challenging. Our strategy will be to offer it to several customers to try it out," said the executive.
One of the long-term advantages of developing the green hydrogen train is that it is predicted that the value per kilo will be US$ 1.5, an element that will allow to reduce the expenses for diesel that is increasingly higher. Added to this is the carbon tax being developed in Europe, which makes fossil fuel operations more expensive. "We have to have a high view, we can no longer have carbon emissions, all this goes beyond that. If we want to reach the objectives of the Paris agreement, we cannot continue with diesel," he concluded.