Ad Astra Rocket, the company of former NASA astronaut Franklin Chang Díaz, signed an agreement Monday with EARTH University to research and develop hydrogen-powered transportation in Costa Rica’s northern province of Guanacaste.
The agreement puts back on track a stalled project of Chang’s designed to help wean Costa Rica’s vehicle fleet off fossil fuels. Carbon-dioxide emissions from cars are responsible for more than half of the clean-energy-touting country’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Representatives of Ad Astra and EARTH University signed the agreement at the Ad Astra Rocket offices in the canton of Liberia, during a ceremony attended by President Luis Guillermo Solís, who also signed as a special witness.
Costa Rica’s public-private development bank (SBD) has pledged $432,000 in financial support for the venture. The project’s first step is to determine the feasibility of a hydrogen-powered transportation system for Liberia.
The city’s first hydrogen-powered bus is scheduled to start operating within 15 months. The bus will transport workers between Daniel Oduber International Airport and downtown Liberia.
Results of the project will be used to evaluate Costa Rica’s potential progress toward its goal of achieving carbon neutrality in the next few decades.
During the ceremony, President Solís said that Costa Rica “has no choice but to join global efforts to reverse the trends of climate change and support any initiative seeking solutions.”
Chang said he is very pleased that the government is showing interest in moving forward with the development of new clean energy sources.
“The space shuttle was not built by NASA, it was built by private sector efforts that now are part of Boeing,” Chang said. “The union between the government and the private sector promotes development.
Economy Minister Welmer Ramos, who also chairs the SBD board, said the agreement will bring high-value jobs to Guanacaste as well as business opportunities for local entrepreneurs.
Restarting a stalled project
The agreement will allow Ad Astra Rocket to resume a hydrogen fuel development project that, until a year ago, it was running jointly with the government. In March 2015, Chang announced that the project was on standby because of an apparent lack of interest from the Costa Rican Oil Refinery (RECOPE).
Chang said at the time that RECOPE’s new board of directors — named by the Solís administration — dropped the project without any valid explanation. RECOPE had already invested some $2 million over two years.
Besides the hydrogen fuel project, Chang’s Ad Astra is also currently developing the VASIMR plasma engine, one of the technologies being considered by NASA to propel the first manned mission to Mars.