Chile: Exploring Space and Antarctica

Germany is observing outer space and exploring Antarctica in cooperation with Chilean partners. Large research infrastructures, such as telescopes and satellites, provide us with answers in astrophysical, environmental and climate research.

The Atacama Compact Array
Chile and Germany are exploring space hand in hand. © ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)

Sustainable Resource Management

The Chilean government plans to continue investing in the mining sector over the next few years. The aim is to optimize the extraction and use of natural resources and minimize the environmental impact of these processes. It will need enhanced technological expertise and skilled workers among others to achieve this aim. Germany, in turn, is interested in securing access to Chile’s natural resources. This was the reason for Germany and Chile to strike up a resource partnership. The two countries are planning to further expand joint research in this field.

The ‘CLIENT II − International partnerships for sustainable innovations’ programme funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is currently providing funding for two research projects in Chile. The first project focuses on secondary mining. Researchers at the Technical University Mining Academy of Freiberg (TU Bergakademie Freiberg) are exploring methods for extracting important natural resources from Chilean mine tailings. They are also developing methods for environmentally friendly storage of waste materials. In addition to resource efficiency, their research focuses on water and natural hazards.

The second CLIENT project involves the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems, which is developing a process for the effective recovery of mineral resources from geothermal brines. The majority of the energy required for the process is carbon neutral thanks to the use of geothermal heat. Treatment of the brines also produces freshwater, a resource which is very scarce in particular in northern Chile.

German Research Institutions are active in Chile

The Chilean government is supporting the establishment of foreign research centres of excellence in Chile. The competent authority is the economic development agency CORFO. Fraunhofer was awarded a grant during CORFO’s first call for proposals and launched the Fraunhofer Chile Center for Systems Biotechnology in 2010. The Fraunhofer Chile Research (FCR) Foundation had been founded for this purpose as the first Fraunhofer subsidiary in Latin America. In 2015 CORFO also provided funding for the establishment of the Center for Solar Energy Technologies (CSET) under the umbrella of the FCR. The CSET is a collaboration between the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (ISE) of Freiburg and the Pontifical Catholic University of Valparaíso. The aim is to broadly establish solar technology in Chile. In cooperation with other research institutions and businesses, researchers are setting up pilot plants, training scientific and technical staff and conducting joint research projects. The fields of research covered are harvesting solar energy, solar thermal processes, and the use of solar heat for wastewater treatment. The activities of the CSET thus also support the government’s energy policies.

Identifying Natural Disasters in Time

The German Aerospace Center (DLR) is cooperating in a collaborative project called RIESGOS to set up an early warning system for natural disasters in the Andean region. Innovative research methods are applied to analyse complex, multi-risk situations and the associated cascading effects in select regions in Chile, Ecuador and Peru. This will allow for swift action in case of earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, landslides, wildfires and flooding. The system records and rapidly analyses measurement data from ground and marine stations and satellites. The project also enhances cooperation between military and civilian institutions for the protection of the Chilean people. The key partner on the Chilean side is the National Research Center for Integrated Natural Disasters Management (CIGIDEN), a centre of excellence which involves four Chilean universities. The BMBF-funded project was launched in response to the tsunami that devastated Chile's coast in 2010.

The German Remote Sensing Data Center of the DLR and the Federal Agency for Cartography and Geodesy (BKG) have been operating the German Antarctic Receiving Station (GARS) since 1991. The data received from Earth observation satellites and radio stars is transmitted to Germany where it is analysed, providing valuable insights for climate research and the natural disaster early warning system.

For many years, the BMBF along with European and non-European partners have provided funding for the operation of the astronomical observatories of the European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere (ESO) in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile. The observatories have produced significant research results with regard to the development and origins of the universe, our understanding of galaxies and massive black holes, and the formation of stars and planets.