During the early May summit in San Jose with U.S. President Barack Obama
and the presidents of Central America and the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica
focused much of its efforts on bilateral energy initiatives.
From the U.S., Costa Rica and other countries on the isthmus want to import liquefied natural gas at discounted rates. Meanwhile, Ticos are working on developing cleaner technology based on hydrogen converted to fuel for both domestic consumption and export.
But what would those programs entail, and what is the likelihood they will come to fruition?
Ad Astra and hydrogen
"Obama was impressed that [hydrogen technology] is being developed in a country as small as Costa Rica, and the proposal to the U.S. is that we cooperate with exchanges of university researchers, investors and young engineers," Costa Rican Environment Minister Rene Castro said following the summit.
The Ad Astra Rocket Company, located in the provincial capital of Liberia, Guanacaste, and founded by Costa Rican astronaut and scientist Franklin Chang, has three large research projects focused on extracting hydrogen from water and using it to store and produce renewable energy.
"Our interest is utilizing hydrogen as a possible alternative fuel," Ad Astra engineer and project administrator Juan Del Valle told The Tico Times.
Hydrogen is an interesting option for Costa Rica for two reasons: It is environmentally friendly because it is a clean fuel. When hydrogen is used to produce energy, its byproduct is pure water. And water -- the technology's input -- is an abundant resource in this Central American country.
Costa Rica currently produce more than 90 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, mostly hydroelectric projects. Eventually, using hydrogen as an alternative fuel could help release Costa Rica entirely from its remaining dependence on hydrocarbon imports, particularly if that technology targets the transportation sector. And that could help further the administration's goal of becoming carbon-neutral by 2021.
Ad Astra hopes to develop technology that uses wind-turbine technology to extract hydrogen from water through electrolysis, or the decomposition of water into oxygen and hydrogen via electric current. Ad Astra is designing and building small-scale and low-cost wind turbines for that purpose.
"It's convenient for Costa Rica, because with electricity and water, we can produce hydrogen. In Costa Rica, we have water and electricity, and actually we are leaders in the production of electricity from renewable sources like wind," Del Valle said.
The second project entails building an experimental station where, once hydrogen is produced, it is pressurized and stored in high-pressure tanks.
Ad Astra's third project, supported by U.S. company Cummins, Inc. and Costa Rica-based EARTH University, is building a new type of electric generator that uses biogas and hydrogen instead of fossil fuels.
"Cummings is a specialist in electricity plants, and EARTH University has experience in anaerobic digesters that use organic waste to produce biogas," Del Valle said.
Ad Astra hopes to enrich biogas with hydrogen to improve the efficiency of a generator, he added.
Research into the generator project began in August 2011, and scientists will
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