San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Talks with Obama to include hydrogen from Costa Rica and U.S. natural gas

 Costa Rican Environment Minister René Castro announced Wednesday that two key discussion points for the upcoming visit next week of U.S. President Barack Obama – along with other Central American leaders – include U.S.-backed local hydrogen production and a Central American agreement to import natural gas from the United States under CAFTA.

Costa Rican officials plan on showing Obama their progress on experiments using hydrogen fuel for local transportation. The research is moving forward at Ad Astra Rocket Company laboratories, a company created by local hero and Tico astronaut Franklin Chang.

Supported by the Environment Ministry (MINAE) and the National Oil Refinery, researchers have tested hydrogen in traditional combustion engines in tractors and buses to determine if it is applicable in national and international transport sectors.

“We think we can take the next step, which is to move the technology from the lab to field tests, and eventually commercialization, not only in Costa Rica, but also around the world,” Castro said.

The U.S. company Cummings is also supporting the research.

“We think the U.S. government might take interest in this and support us, because our efforts could lead to providing the world a clean [fuel] alternative for the future,” Castro added.

The technology also could bring more jobs and investment to Costa Rica, he said.

Towards a deal on natural gas

Another energy-related issue that officials hope to take up with Obama, who will visit Costa Rica May 3-4 as part of a summit of the Central American Integration System, is a regional agreement to import more low-cost natural gas from the U.S. under the Central America-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, or CAFTA.

The U.S. has large natural gas reserves, and the Obama administration hopes to wean that country off its dependence on petroleum in coming years.

“To obtain a mutually beneficial agreement, Central America will have to negotiate as a unit, as each country is small and the investment needed in infrastructure, ports, gas lines and everything else that’s required to adapt to new energy is very large,” Castro said.

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