Hydrogen is looking to finally be gain traction in Canada as a source of energy. This is an important fuel source for the trucking and transportation industry.
There are two types of hydrogen that are available in Canada. We refer to these two variations as ‘Green’ and ‘Blue’ hydrogen.
New interest in hydrogen has come from the mobility, freight, shipping, power, and industrial processing sectors as they strive to move toward a decarbonized future. There is, however, a large preexisting demand linked to refining and ammonia production and as a feedstock for industrial chemical processes. The development of the hydrogen market reflects the potential for distributed production and the need for flexibility in our transport mix. For example, hydrogen fuel cell buses typically have a range of about 310 miles versus 124 miles for electric buses. With this range, hydrogen has both the potential to decarbonize rural transport and to offer a solution for uninterrupted services.
The green variant is the one that most folks have heard about for over 20 years already. It is created by breaking water down to its basic elements. Electrolysis, the use of power to separate water into its component elements, is the well-known method, but tends to be costly and only yields energy-grade hydrogen if the electricity is under four cents per kilowatt hour.
The idea of hydrogen as a green fuel source has been whispered about for decades, but the conversation is getting louder. And recent talk has involved real money.
From Australia announcing more than $270 million CDN to boost industry projects to the European Commission’s trillion-Euro ‘Green Deal,’ which touts hydrogen as a “priority area,” it seems there’s keen interest in investment – even as part of a post-pandemic recovery plan.
Hydrogen has been proven to be a zero-emissions source of energy, capable of fuelling cars, trucks, and power plants. It has powered spacecraft for 60 years. But the economics of it have always been in question.
“We are seeing a bit of an acceleration in the number of small pilot projects which are being announced,” said Kobad Bhavnagri, head of industrial decarbonization at research firm Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
“What we aren’t seeing is a sort of broad-based opportunity to invest in hydrogen projects and infrastructure. The policy mechanisms that would need to support that sort of investment aren’t in place.”
The money being pledged right now could be used to overcome some of the hurdles of creating hydrogen cleanly.
The blue variant is a byproduct of natural gas. Most industrial grade hydrogen is produced from steam reforming of natural gas, as well as a by-product of some manufacturing processes, like cement production.
The vast majority of bulk commercial hydrogen production is by steam reforming of natural gas. At high temperatures, steam (water vapor) reacts with methane to yield carbon monoxide and hydrogen.
As of last year, over 96% of worldwide demand for hydrogen – estimated at 76.5 million metric tons in 2019 – was supplied by a fossil fuel production method.
By source, hydrogen via natural gas accounts for 48 percent of global production, while oil-based production accounts for about 30 percent and coal accounts for 18 percent. In contrast, green hydrogen, produced through the electrolysis process using renewable energy, accounts for only 4 percent of global production.
Globally, production capacity of blue hydrogen is expected to grow significantly over the next decade, dramatically outpacing planned capacity for its more costly alternative, green hydrogen.
By 2028, blue hydrogen production should reach about 3.3 million metric tons per year, up from its current capacity 0.6 million mt/yr, according to data from Platts Analytics’ Hydrogen Market Monitor. A majority of that production is expected to come from Europe, followed by the US in a distant second place.
Over the same period, green hydrogen is only expected to grow to about 0.6 million mt/yr globally, up from roughly 0.2 million mt/yr currently. Capacity additions are expected to come mostly in Europe, more closely followed by the US market’s build-out.
“Blue versus green is and will continue to be a regional question” said Zane McDonald, lead hydrogen and alternative transport analyst with Platts Analytics.
“Japan, who has been an outspoken proponent of H2, will face added challenges in establishing a domestic blue hydrogen supply due to a lack of affordable geological storage for captured CO2,” he said.
According to McDonald, regions with ample low-cost natural gas and the potential for CO2 storage capacity in retired oil and gas wells and/or salt caverns – more readily available in both North America and Europe – could make both locations viable markets for launching a blue hydrogen market.
Is blue hydrogen the savior for Alberta natural gas reserves? By producing low cost hydrogen, the potential for Alberta to reap new revenues from their natural resources looks very promising.
CBC. (2020). There’s a lot of buzz about ‘green’ hydrogen, but actual projects are slow in coming. CBC News. Retrieved on June 14, 2020 from, https://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/what-on-earth-newsletter-green-hydrogen-power-1.5570022
Electric Power. (2020). Cost, logistics offer ‘blue hydrogen’ market advantages over ‘green’ alternative. S&P Global: Platts. Retrieved on June 14, 2020 from, https://www.spglobal.com/platts/en/market-insights/latest-news/electric-power/031920-cost-logistics-offer-blue-hydrogen-market-advantages-over-green-alternative
Lorinc, J. (2020). Is Canadian hydrogen fuel cell technology soon to be as popular at home as it is abroad? Electric Autonomy Canada, ArcAscent Inc. Retrieved on June 14, 2020 from, https://electricautonomy.ca/2020/06/11/electric-bus-fleet-receives-albertas-top-environmental-honour/
Molloy, P. & Baronett, L. (2019). The truth about hydrogen, the latest, trendiest low-carbon solution. Rocky Mountain Institute, GreenBiz Group Inc. Retrieved on June 14, 2020 from, https://www.greenbiz.com/article/truth-about-hydrogen-latest-trendiest-low-carbon-solution
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About the Author:
Michael Martin has more than 35 years of experience in systems design for applications that use broadband networks, optical fibre, wireless, and digital communications technologies.
He is a business and technology consultant. He offers his services on a contracting basis. Over the past 15 years with IBM, he has worked in the GBS Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities and the GTS Global Center of Excellence for Energy and Utilities. He is a founding partner and President of MICAN Communications and before that was President of Comlink Systems Limited and Ensat Broadcast Services, Inc., both divisions of Cygnal Technologies Corporation (CYN: TSX).
Martin currently serves on the Board of Directors for TeraGo Inc (TGO: TSX) and previously served on the Board of Directors for Avante Logixx Inc. (XX: TSX.V).
He has served as a Member, SCC ISO-IEC JTC 1/SC-41 – Internet of Things and related technologies, ISO – International Organization for Standardization, and as a member of the NIST SP 500-325 Fog Computing Conceptual Model, National Institute of Standards and Technology.
He served on the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) [now OntarioTech University] and on the Board of Advisers of five different Colleges in Ontario. For 16 years he served on the Board of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Toronto Section.
He holds three master’s degrees, in business (MBA), communication (MA), and education (MEd). As well, he has three undergraduate diplomas and five certifications in business, computer programming, internetworking, project management, media, photography, and communication technology. He has earned 15 badges in next generation MOOC continuous education in IoT, Cloud, AI and Cognitive systems, Blockchain, Agile, Big Data, Design Thinking, Security, and more.