Pablo Cayunao: from carbon to green hydrogen

Published on Wednesday, 13 December 2023

“During a certain time, I significantly changed my career. I shifted from being a construction engineer to focusing more on technical support duties for running plants. This involved collaborating closely with my Technical Support (TS) department colleagues”

– says Pablo

However, everything changed at the start of 2020 when I received an offer that would alter my professional life drastically - to join the team working on developing green hydrogen in Chile.

Historia Pablo Cayunao - Grandes desafíos

Major challenges

Enel Green Power Chile, in collaboration with HIF and other companies, achieved a historic milestone in Chile by launching the "Haru Oni" pilot project in December 2022. It is the first plant in the country to produce green hydrogen on an industrial scale. The project is situated in Cabo Negro, north of Punta Arenas, in the Magallanes Region, which is an ideal location for wind energy production. The plant uses a 3.4 MW wind turbine to generate renewable energy, which is then used to power the electrolysis process. This process extracts hydrogen from water molecules, and since it doesn't produce carbon emissions, the hydrogen obtained is termed "green." The next step involves taking the hydrogen to a chemical plant and combining it with CO2 extracted from the atmosphere to produce synthetic "carbon-neutral" fuels.

"When I joined the new green hydrogen team in the company, the "Haru Oni" project was in its early stages. The company had no prior experience in this field, so there was much to learn. I was appointed to lead the technical aspect of the project on behalf of ENEL. My main focus was to acquire as much technical knowledge as possible and disseminate it within the company. This was to prepare for our future hydrogen projects, which will be on a much larger scale. I worked closely with the "Business Development" team responsible for developing everything the projects need before construction begins."

Pablo's career has been marked by his ability to adapt to changes. He moved from designing and constructing thermal power plants to developing a new plant that produces green hydrogen. Pablo is grateful for the skills he gained during his engineering training, which allowed him to apply similar structures and work methodologies to different situations and problems. This positive metamorphosis has been possible because of his flexibility and willingness to learn new things.

The company faces significant challenges in developing future green hydrogen projects in Chile. These projects will be much larger in scale and will require substantial amounts of renewable energy and water. The company also needs to consider strict design aspects for safety during the construction and operation of this technology. For instance, hydrogen is a light chemical element prone to leakage from ponds and pipelines. Therefore, the company needs to find solutions that involve materials and safety measures that are more rigorous than those used in traditional thermal generation projects.

Historia Pablo Cayunao - Un camino de transformación

A path of transformation

For Pablo's family, the transition to working with green hydrogen has been a positive experience, particularly compared to his previous work with thermoelectric generation.

“In the past, my friends often criticized me and pointed out that my use of Carboneras contributed to the planet's pollution. However, today, by using renewable energy sources, I am doing my part to offset some of the negative impacts caused by the development of fossil fuel technologies”

– adds Pablo

However, Pablo emphasizes that when thermal power plants were built, they were a necessity, and by then, coal was the most convenient, fast, and economical technology to generate the increasing amount of energy that Chile required. The construction, operation, and maintenance processes of thermal power plants were an excellent school for all the professionals involved, who can now build on those foundations to face the innovations and challenges brought about by the development of new technologies.

Pablo has expressed his excitement about the future projections. He believes that if everything goes as planned, the ongoing advancements in the green hydrogen industry will ensure decades of job opportunities. He is convinced that the projects related to this technology will be of a long-term nature and that when he retires, young professionals will continue to take up this challenge, benefiting from the knowledge and experience he can pass on to them.

"I find my work today to be incredibly fulfilling. I am proud to be a part of a project that has the potential to make a significant positive impact not only on the business but on the environment and future generations as well. Since we are working on something new, many unanswered questions require extensive studying and research, ultimately leading to the generation of knowledge that will benefit us all."

Pablo sometimes gets caught up in day-to-day tasks, urgent matters, and immediate objectives, causing him to forget the significance and impact of this project on Chile's history. In a moment of reflection, he admits that he needs to remind himself and his team more frequently that their work is shaping the future of energy and will affect the country's reality for the next 20 to 30 years.