The Hydrogen Boom

With most countries now committed to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, the world is awash in talk about the potential for hydrogen to replace fossil fuels as a net-zero energy carrier.

And for good reason. “Hydrogen is one of the few net-zero energy carriers, along with electricity,” says Mark Lea-Wilson, the Hydrogen Hub Lead at The Transition Accelerator in Alberta’s capital city, Edmonton. “They don’t produce emissions at the end use. You turn your lightbulb on and it’s not spitting out carbon dioxide. When you use hydrogen, the only output is water vapour.”

Jurisdictions around the world are gearing up to build the industry and the spin-off technologies that will depend on it. Alberta is uniquely situated to take advantage of this new energy. “We have the scale, the experience, the work-force and a large resource of inexpensive natural gas,” says Amit Kumar, a professor in the faculty of engineering at the University of Alberta, in Edmonton. Kumar also contributed to the province’s hydrogen roadmap, which lays out a path to a hydrogen economy and establishes a policy framework and actions to achieve Alberta’s ambitions in the emerging hydrogen economy. “We also have the geology where you can sequester carbon. The majority of places won’t have all these pieces.”

A number of major hydrogen projects are now under development in Alberta. U.S.-based Air Products
is building a $1.6 billion hydrogen production and liquefaction facility north of Edmonton that will produce blue hydrogen. Suncor and ATCO are working on a 300,000-tonne-per-year hydrogen production
facility in the same area and Japan’s ITOCHU Corporation, in partnership with Petronas Energy Canada, has announced plans to build a natural gas-based ammonia facility with carbon capture, utilisation and storage to export ammonia to Asian markets.

The federal and provincial governments are onboard with substantial hydrogen strategies that will help coordinate the burgeoning economy.

“There are lots of building blocks and ingredients for investors. Alberta really is a go-to destination” — Mark Lea-Wilso, Hydrogen Hub Lead, The Transition Accelerator, Edmonton

In addition, the City of Edmonton and four nearby towns and regions are partners in the Edmonton Region Hydrogen HUB, an alliance of government, Indigenous, academic and economic development leaders meant to kickstart the Edmonton region’s hydrogen economy and ensure long-term economic competitiveness.

Edmonton and nearby Strathcona County have also purchased hydrogen-powered buses and are building out the infrastructure to fuel them, so transit riders can look forward to a future commute powered by clean energy.

Alberta currently produces about two-thirds of the hydrogen made in Canada, with major production hubs in the Edmonton region, around Medicine Hat in the south of the province and around Fort McMurray in the north.

Globally, hydrogen demand is driven by the refining and industrial sectors, but its potential extends to heavy transportation (buses, trains, long-haul trucking), power generation and heating. In parallel to the growth in hydrogen demand, the end-uses for the CO₂ captured from blue hydrogen production are developing. Potential uses for CO₂ include yield boosting (e.g., greenhouses, fertilizer), heat transfer fluid, welding, building materials, chemicals and fuels.

With all this activity and all these advantages, Alberta will no doubt be at the forefront of the work developing the technologies, markets and delivery systems that will allow the world to fully take advantage of hydrogen as an energy source. “There are lots of building blocks and ingredients for investors,” says Lea-Wilson. “Alberta really is a go-to destination.”