B.C. Working On Hydrogen Strategy; Going ‘Green’ Globally Faces Some Hurdles

B.C. is currently working on a hydrogen strategy, which it expects to release in the coming weeks or months, heard the recent B.C. Natural Resources Forum.

“We expect certainly to release that hydrogen strategy fairly soon, hopefully in the next few weeks [or] months, for sure,” said Fazil Mihlar, deputy minister at the B.C. Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation. He noted 68 per cent of end-use energy in B.C. right now is fossil fuel-based. The province boasts “a very good cluster” of hydrogen firms, and the hydrogen strategy will include incentivization for that sector, he added.

For example, according to Mihlar, a 20-per-cent reduction in BC Hydro rates for hydrogen projects could make a big difference for these sorts of firms as they look to develop ‘blue’ or ‘green’ hydrogen that is not only less carbon intensive, but also can compete in the market. “You do need to make sure it is cost competitive.”

Part of the role for hydrogen within Canada’s clean energy future will be for “hard-to-decarbonize” sectors, Tahra Jutt, director of the clean economy program at the Pembina Institute, told a recent Institute for Science, Society and Policy (ISSP) virtual panel discussion on the national hydrogen strategy.

Hydrogen can also support the expansion of renewable energy generation, help with renewable electricity storage, and be used where electrification is not an option, she said, although some sort of national framework will be important for developing a hydrogen economy in Canada. “Hydrogen is only a potential climate solution if it’s produced in a way that minimizes the carbon emissions.”

During the above-mentioned B.C. natural resources virtual forum, John Adams, managing director of the Natural Gas Innovation Fund (NGIF), suggested that hydrogen is among the augmenting technologies helping the “transitional” natural gas sector. “For sure, we have some technologies in our portfolio, and we’re keeping an eye on it.”

‘Green’ hydrogen challenges

Hydrogen will be the “dominating technology” if the world is to decarbonize, noted Marius Kluge Foss, senior vice-president, global energy systems, Rystad Energy AS. By far, most hydrogen currently goes into the chemical industry and fertilizer production, he told a Rystad webinar on the energy transition. More than 90 per cent of hydrogen comes from natural gas or coal through chemical processes to separate the hydrogen molecules from CO2.

“The problem with that is you vent all of that CO2 into the atmosphere,” he said, adding ‘blue’ hydrogen captures those emissions and stores it underground, while ‘green’ hydrogen uses electrolysis in renewable energy production. Right now, blue hydrogen projects have much potential, as they rely on established processes that could capture CO2 quickly and more cost-effectively, he noted, but there are many ‘green’ initiatives popping up worldwide as well.

Kluge Foss added that green hydrogen will require much more electricity to reach its full potential.

Minh Khoi Le, senior analyst, renewable energy, Rystad, told the webinar that the green hydrogen supply chain also faces a challenge of bottlenecking in terms of access to alkaline or polymer electrolyte membrane electrolyzers.

“In 2020, we saw a ramp up of announcements by companies in terms of gigawatt size-scale hydrogen electrolyzer projects — the green hydrogen projects,” he said. “But if you take a step back, and you look at the industry in terms of suppliers of electrolyzers and so on, [then] the current capacity cannot meet this pipeline.”

Economies of scale should begin to even out the supply chain over the next few years as smaller-scale electrolyzer developments ramp up to meet the green hydrogen targets set by many countries worldwide, Khoi Le added.

“This is one of the crucial factors that would decrease the price of the electrolyzer into the future and make green hydrogen compete with sources from grey hydrogen and with CCS from blue hydrogen, and really enable this energy transition and energy system.”

All aboard the hydrogen train

Canadian Pacific Railway Limited is developing a hydrogen hybrid battery locomotive in its laboratory, which president and chief executive officer Keith Creel sees as a potential “game-changer” for the railway industry.

“A year from now, or maybe a year and a half at the most, we’ll have a pilot locomotive in Calgary that could be switching customers using hydrogen,” he told his company’s recent conference call to discuss the Q4 2020 financial and operational results.

It is not CP’s objective to get into the locomotive-producing business, but to prove what is possible for those who are in the locomotive-producing business.

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