Costa Rica: World’s First Carbon-Neutral Country

The partnership’s fuel cell bus emits only water vapor. April 12, 2018 (Screengrab from video courtesy U.S. Hybrid) Posted for media use

By Sunny Lewis

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica, May 15, 2018 ( News) – The inauguration ceremony for President Carlos Alvarado  Quesada, celebrated Tuesday, May 8, was carbon neutral for the first time in Costa Rican history, a harbinger of larger plans for the future of this forward-looking Central American nation. Measures were taken to reduce waste, limit the carbon footprint, and offset the unavoidable emissions generated by the event.

Central America’s first hydrogen fuel cell electric urban bus, Nyuti, rolled through the streets of Costa Rica’s capital on inauguration morning transporting President-elect Alvarado and his new cabinet to the ceremony held at Democracy Square in downtown San Jose.

The symbolic 3.30 km route, highlighted the new government’s commitment to set Costa Rica on a course to full decarbonization of its transportation sector by the country’s bicentennial in 2021.

While the nation’s electric grid is already 98 percent carbon-free, the transportation sector still relies on imported carbon-based fuels.

Nyuti, meaning star in the language of the Chorotega people of northwestern Costa Rica, is part of a hydrogen ecosystem demonstration partnership, led by Texas-based Ad Astra Rocket Company, to validate and measure hydrogen as a carbon-free fuel, generated from renewable water and Costa Rica’s clean and abundant domestic electricity sources such as solar and wind.

The public-private partnership with Costa Rica’s Development Bank System, includes Air Liquide, a world leader in gases, technologies, and services for industry and health; US Hybrid Corporation, specializing in hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicles, Cummins Inc., a U.S. global power leader in diesel and alternative fuel engines, and Relaxury S.A., a subsidiary of Costa Rica’s Purdy Motor S.A, which operates the bus for the partnership.

All team members have contributed their own resources to the project.

“Costa Rica has made excellent progress in de-carbonizing its electric grid, or about 30 percent of its energy needs. The other 70 percent, which lies primarily in the transportation sector, remains to be done and hydrogen could help us bridge that gap and become the first country to achieve total independence from carbon-based fuels,” said Franklin Chang Díaz, chairman and CEO of Ad Astra Rocket Company.

“The new government’s clean energy and de-carbonization commitment gives us hope that, through teamwork and focus on a common vision we could achieve a national objective in a short time,” said Chang.

“This extraordinary achievement, obtained by a young team of Costa Rican engineers and technicians, demonstrates the great potential of our youth to lead in advanced technology projects of high social, economic and environmental impact,” he said.

The new Costa Rican President, Carlos Alvarado, center, talks transportation in front of the Nyuti fuel cell-powered bus. April 28, 2018 (Photo courtesy U.S. Hybrid) Posted for media use.

Under Alvarado’s predecessor, President Luis Guillermo Solis Rivera, the Costa Rican government has been developing plans to offset all of the country’s heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions. Now President Alvarado will shoulder that challenge.

“Carbon neutrality is big homework for our generation, and Costa Rica must be among the first countries that achieves it, if not the first,” said President Alvarado. “We have the titanic and beautiful task of abolishing the use of fossil fuels in our economy to make way for the use of clean and renewable energies.”

He then signed an executive decree promoting the use of hydrogen as fuel.

Carlos Alvarado Quesada, a member of the center-left Citizens’ Action Party (PAC), Alvarado was previously Minister of Labor and Social Security during the Presidency of Solís Rivera. 2015, (Photo courtesy Wikimedia)

“We are instructing institutions that are involved in the environment and energy sectors so that, within the frame of their competency (MINAE, ICE and Recope), they develop a plan of action with the purpose of promoting the investigation, production and commercialization of hydrogen as fuel,” reads the decree.

“We must drive a decided and coordinated action of all sectors in society to begin and accelerate in an irreversible way this process, not just pushing electric transportation and production, hydrogen and other technologies, but also by modernizing our institutions,” said President Alvarado.

The greatest challenge to Costa Rica’s goal of reducing CO2 emissions is the transportation sector. More than half its greenhouse gas emissions are produced by a transport fleet of over 1.3 million vehicles.

The country is lagging in the modernization of public transport and transportation that operates with alternative energies such as electricity.

Even though the goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2021 is considered unrealistic, establishing this goal has pushed the country in the right direction by taking steps towards the use of clean energy and the reduction of emissions. However, there is still a long road ahead.

Former Environment and Energy Minister Roberto Dobles, who served in the government of President Solis, said Costa Rica aims to reach this goal using budgeting, laws, and incentives, including measures to promote biofuels, hybrid vehicles, and clean energy.

A key part of the national strategy will be a “C-Neutral” label to certify that tourism and certain industrial practices mitigate all of the carbon dioxide they emit.

Under the new certification system, tourists and businesses will be charged a voluntary “tax” to offset their carbon emissions, with one ton of carbon valued at $10, according to “La Nación” newspaper.

The money will be used to fund conservation, reforestation, and research in protected areas.

To augment the development of C-Neutral, the country is cultivating a carbon certificate market that aims not only to increase carbon capture and storage in the nation’s forests, but also help maintain their scenic beauty.

In 2002, Costa Rica’s carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels totaled 5.8 million metric tons, ranking 108th in the world according to the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center. Delegates at a recent United Nations meeting in Nairobi, Kenya noted that they were watching Costa Rica’s initiative and hope to replicate it elsewhere.

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