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Latin America's path to catching-up on green hydrogen and fuel cells

Grant number: 21/06216-1
Support Opportunities:Scholarships in Brazil - Post-Doctoral
Effective date (Start): September 01, 2021
Effective date (End): March 31, 2023
Field of knowledge:Interdisciplinary Subjects
Principal Investigator:André Tosi Furtado
Grantee:Vanessa de Lima Avanci
Host Institution: Instituto de Geociências (IG). Universidade Estadual de Campinas (UNICAMP). Campinas , SP, Brazil
Associated research grant:19/04300-5 - System innovation: organizational strategy, research & innovation policy governance, AP.SPEC


Hydrogen is considered the energy carrier of the future because of its large capacity for generating a great variety of energy services without provoking environmental harms in its transformation. The production of hydrogen occurs through the reforming or electrolysis that can be carried out through other energy sources. When these sources are renewable such as biomass, solar photovoltaics, wind, hydroelectricity, then green hydrogen is obtained, that is, clean energy. Producing hydrogen from renewable sources is seen as a global alternative for decarbonizing energy production and economic activities (Iida and Sakata, 2019; IEA, 2019). Latin American countries have the potential to achieve a comparative advantage in green hydrogen production projects based on the local availability of renewable sources for energy production, for example, wind and solar in Brazil and Chile (IEA, 2019). The development of green hydrogen production in Latin American countries depends on technologies that lower the costs of energy generation and to create scale in projects besides the export market. In part, that requires a business chain in the country, with help of public policies that encourage domestic consumption. In the catching-up literature, the emergence of new sectors (industries) is explained through the gradual upgrade of the technological capabilities of firms (Lee and Lim, 2001; Morrison et al., 2008). Two theoretical perspectives explain this process of technological upgrading and industrial structure. In the first one catching-up refers to the gradual development of competencies through gradual learning supported by government initiatives and integrating local firms into global value networks and production networks (Gereffi, 1999; Morrison et al., 2008; Yeung and Coe, 2015). The other theoretical perspective, the related diversification, explains that industrial development is a process that takes place from endogenous pre-conditions. The diversification of a region tends to occur in industries with related technological capabilities in an incremental process (Hidalgo et al., 2007; Martin and Sunley, 2006; Neffke et al., 2014). However, both theoretical perspectives do not explain how the development of new sectors takes place in contexts of late adoption, in which the previous capabilities of latecomer firms are not related to the new installed industry, as has been specifically observed with cleantech industries in China, Brazil and India (Binz and Anadon, 2018). The case of solar panels in China arose from a process different from those established in the catching-up literature, as it resulted from accessing a system of knowledge and industry-specific resources developed elsewhere and adding it to the local competences of manufacturing industries through a process of unrelated diversification (Binz and Anadon, 2018). This differs from the catching-up process of other cleantech industries, for example, the wind industry. The strategy of the latecomer firms in the solar panels industry consisted of developing industry-specific capabilities elsewhere (through networks) and "anchoring" them locally through generic absorption capacity (local educational, scientific and industrial structure) (Binz and Anadon, 2018). These theoretical perspectives complement a framework that will be used in our study of the case of the hydrogen industry and its development integrated with renewable energies in latecomer countries from Latin America. We aim to identify the particularities of this catching-up process in each country, based on the role of public policies, the energy matrix and local technological capabilities. In addition, we will analyze the international cooperation relationships in environment-related technologies to understand the external role in the local technological capabilities development. (AU)

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