Insights from an engineer working in development cooperation: ‘Having a technical background is always useful.’
In his role as a business scout, Ansgar Pinkowski is heavily involved in promoting green hydrogen in Brazil. In our interview, he talks about the path from theory to implementation.
You’ll find the name Ansgar Pinkowski pretty close to the top of the list if you do a search for ‘green hydrogen’ and ‘Brazil’. As a business scout for development he advises companies on the various support, funding and partnership schemes set up by German and European development cooperation. His current job at the German Chamber of Commerce and Industry Abroad (AHK) in the Brazilian capital Rio de Janeiro was arranged by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH on behalf of the German Development Ministry (BMZ). As Mr Pinkowski explained in our interview, having a background in mechanical engineering has proven very useful.
Mr Pinkowski, many people dream of working in a place like Rio de Janeiro. How did you end up there?
It’s a long story. I did an internship here in 1993 and fell in love with Brazil straight away. After the internship, I stayed here five years before going back to Germany in 2000. In 2011 my employer at the time sent me back to Rio, and in 2019 – with the help of the Centre for International Migration and Development (CIM) – I moved to the city’s German Chamber of Commerce and Industry Abroad.
As a business scout, your role is to support cooperation between Germany and Brazil in the hydrogen sector. What does that involve on a day-to-day basis? What are you working on at the moment?
When we first got involved in green hydrogen here at the AHK, it was mostly about providing background information. In a way, the pandemic helped us with that. I can’t tell you how many webinars I’ve held over the last two years, but it must be at least 50. Here in Brazil, there is a lot of interest now in green hydrogen – and generally a pretty good level of knowledge, too. At the moment, we are exploring business opportunities in the sector and looking at which companies might be able to collaborate.
Together with our colleagues at the AHK in São Paulo, we're trying to push the whole issue of green hydrogen among start-ups. Brazil has been active in the green hydrogen sector for several years and has an active research scene. This makes the country particularly exciting for companies that want to drive innovation. There are plenty of young businesses here that have already built up a lot of expertise in this field.
My job also involves bringing companies together and helping them to set up initial projects that will play an important role in developing and ramping up the green hydrogen market in Brazil – in the north-eastern part of the country, for example, which is less prosperous economically.
You are a qualified mechanical engineer specialising in the energy sector. Have you found that background useful in your work?
The green hydrogen sector is in its infancy and is still dominated by technical questions about feasibility. At the same time, you can’t avoid a certain amount of technical discussion when it comes to implementing government policy. That's crucial, too, if you want your projects to succeed. Thanks to my background as an engineer, I’ve been able to help out in those areas.
Do you think engineers are particularly well placed to help drive sustainable development?
In my view, yes. In terms of sustainability, there is still plenty of scope for developing many new technical solutions in the green hydrogen and other sectors. Right now, for example, researchers are looking into ways of producing green hydrogen from plastic waste, biomass, algae and other materials. Having a technical background is always useful when you’re discussing sustainability issues with companies and outlining possible solutions.