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ARGENTINA | 19-10-2019 09:03

Patagonia – a reservoir of fossils, oil and wind worth their weight in gold

Alongside Vaca Muerta, one of the biggest deposits of unconventional oil and gas in the world, Argentina also houses its “Vaca Muerta of wind” down south, according to experts.

Patagonia, the land of gigantic fossils and oil, also has winds whose force and constancy are unique in the world – a magnet for eolic energy and the motor of research into the storage of this intermittent generation source.

Alongside Vaca Muerta, one of the biggest deposits of unconventional oil and gas in the world, Argentina also houses its “Vaca Muerta of wind” down south, according to experts.

“In recent years Argentina has experienced a frantic boom in renewable energy,” the engineer Maximiliano Morrone, director of the Renewable Energy Department at the Energy Secretariat, told AFP.

In the arid Patagonian steppes at a latitude of around 42 degrees south of the Equator, the wind blows at an annual average of 12 metres per second.

Argentina “is considered an eolic granary in terms of its winds and the parks coming on-stream with a unique yield at world level,” says Morrone as he tallies 56 undertakings, most of them private companies.

Argentina ranks fifth in the Americas in eolic production although its total renewable energy, including solar and biofuels, represent 11 percent of its energy grid with its accelerated growth promising to reach 15 percent next year and 20 percent in 2025, according to the objectives outlined by the promotion law approved in 2015.

Nevertheless, sustaining the growth presents challenges. The grids transporting electrical energy are currently working at 98 percent of their capacity and the projects for their expansion face an unfavourable cyclical context with the economy in recession and the uncertainty surrounding the October 27 presidential elections.

To bolster these investments, Argentina has promoted 20-year contracts with a system of guarantees backed by the World Bank, adjudicating some 2,400 megawatts.

Science is seeking to resolve the intermittence of these energy sources. Argentine research is world-class, chemical engineer Fabiana Gennari assures AFP.

Gennari heads a team of the Conicet scientific research council, which seeks to develop “cells” or batteries capable of storing renewable energy in the form of hydrogen, a project for which she won a UNESCO prize in 2016.

“We developed hydrogen storage which is safe on the basis of a solid material which acts as a sponge, incorporating the hydrogen to release it later,” explained Gennari from her Bariloche laboratory.

The oscillations in wind or solar energy are thus overcome to maintain constant the electric tension delivered by the system.

Hydrogen storage is already a reality in the auto industry – Germany, Japan, the United States and South Korea all proAFP duce hydrogen-fuelled vehicles.

The hydrogen can be produced via fossil fuels such as gas but in that case it emits carbon so that its use makes no economic or environmental sense.

Gennari’s team has experimented with generation via agricultural waste but that is a process also requiring a solution for carbon dioxide emission.

One possibility which has been explored is its conversion into gas for reuse at industrial level.

For the last decade and thanks to the excellent Patagonian winds, a unique hydrogen production plant based on eolic energy has been functioning in Comodoro Rivadavia under the private-enterprise Hychico.

There it uses renewable energy to separate the molecules of oxygen and hydrogen from water via electric catalysts.

The first is marketed at high pressure to industry and the second is injected via a hydrogenoduct to exhausted natural gas fields.

The plant, just 20 kilometres outside Comodoro Rivadavia, obtains oxygen and hydrogen of high purity.

“This is the most important private development of hydrogen via wind energy,” affirmed Morrone, pointing to the data obtained in relation to the possibility of storage in gas wells having “aroused the attention of the international scientific community.”

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