As the world ramps up the transition from fossil fuels, Canada’s expertise and infrastructure can spearhead the production of clean hydrogen
The world is seeking clean sources of hydrogen to provide sustainable fuel in applications from transport to heating. And with the capacity to produce low-cost hydrogen and its world-leading hydrogen research clusters across the country, Canada is the ideal place to invest in this sustainable energy.
“Canada has a number of advantages that make us well placed to benefit from the growing demand for clean hydrogen, both domestically and globally,” says Jonathan Wilkinson, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources.
The combination of Canada’s natural resources, technological expertise and talented workforce allow hydrogen to be produced in huge volumes and at a low cost virtually anywhere in the country, using a range of low- and zero-carbon processes. And from there, it can reach potential hydrogen markets throughout the world. As the hydrogen economy finally takes off, Canada can provide the perfect platform.
The country’s hydrogen potential extends from one end of its vast geography to the other. In Eastern Canada, just a few days’ transportation time from Europe, Quebec is developing hydrogen production via electrolysis. In the west, hydrogen can be produced from natural gas and the resulting greenhouse gases safely stored through Canada’s leadership in carbon capture and storage technologies.
“Whether generating hydrogen from above-ground resources (wind, solar, hydro) or below-ground resources (hydrocarbons, geothermal), Canada ranks among the world’s lowest-cost hydrogen producers,” says Mark Kirby, President and Chief Executive of the Canadian Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association.
The country’s investment in renewable electricity generation – most importantly hydropower – is so crucial to hydrogen production. It provides the country with a low-cost source of zero-carbon electricity that can be tapped. Canada is the sixth-largest producer of electricity in the world but has one of the lowest carbon intensity grids, with more than two-thirds generated from renewable sources.
“We have one of the lowest-emitting electricity grids with significant capacity for increased renewable electricity generation potential such as solar and wind, which can be leveraged to produce clean hydrogen,” Wilkinson explains.
Canada’s current power supply network can also help promote clean hydrogen in other ways. Off-peak nuclear-generated electricity can also be used to electrolyse water to produce hydrogen. And producing the gas provides a way to ‘store’ excess electricity produced from its renewable sources.
The country’s decades-long experience of carbon capture and storage offers other opportunities to make low-carbon hydrogen. In fact, Canada is the world’s fourth largest producer of natural gas.
“Canada’s existing energy sector, including skilled labour and existing infrastructure, can be leveraged to help bring this hydrogen to export facilities on the east and west coast, from which it can be brought to markets in Asia and Europe,” Wilkinson says.
Using natural gas to generate hydrogen produces unavoidable carbon pollution. Unavoidable, perhaps, but not inevitable. Investment in carbon capture and storage systems can redirect much of these greenhouse gas emissions back underground, and significantly slash the carbon footprint of the resulting hydrogen.
Canada is a world leader in developing carbon capture systems and also has an abundance of suitable geology for permanent storage, notably in the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin.
In Alberta, an existing project called QUEST sees the CO2 released when industrial hydrogen is made from natural gas, captured, compressed and then pumped some 2,000 metres underground into a natural saltwater reservoir.
Large-scale use of hydrogen in a low-carbon economy will also require affordable and convenient ways of transporting the gas – from where it is produced to where it will be used. Many experts believe that converting hydrogen to and from ammonia is the best way to do this. As a major global producer of ammonia, Canada is well placed to develop and exploit this technology.
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