Many people might be surprised to learn that Alberta is Canada’s largest commercial producer of hydrogen, a gas that’s in the spotlight today as a source of clean, reliable and affordable energy. When combusted, hydrogen produces just water and heat – with zero greenhouse gas emissions. That’s why hydrogen’s proponents want to see it become a more common source of energy.
Up to now, hydrogen has been primarily used in Canada in industrial applications. But advances in hydrogen technologies mean the gas is now ready to take centre stage as a clean energy fuel in its own right. Experts say it has enormous potential to help Canada reduce carbon emissions and achieve the country’s climate goals of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Developing a hydrogen economy
Both Alberta and Canada have ambitious plans to develop hydrogen economies and in April 2022, the Government of Alberta announced the creation of a $50 million Hydrogen Centre of Excellence to provide innovation support across the entire hydrogen spectrum – from production and transmission to end use. The Centre’s broad mandate includes investing in expanded hydrogen testing facilities and services at InnoTech Alberta and C-FER Technologies to grow the next generation of hydrogen technologies -- and build a thriving hydrogen economy in the province.
That’s good news for the oil sands industry, which produces and consumes large amount of hydrogen at facility sites. Industry has been exploring innovation in hydrogen technologies for some time as part of an ongoing drive to reduce industrial emissions. For example, industry has trialled hydrogen as an offset for diesel fuel in mining operations. In Alberta, just over half of all hydrogen production is currently used in heavy oil upgrading and about a third is used in the chemical industry. These applications represent a mature market.
Opening up new markets
“Hydrogen has been in use industrially for decades,” explains David Van Den Assem, Senior Manager Clean Technology – Clean Resources, at Alberta Innovates, which operates the Hydrogen Centre of Excellence and integrates it into Alberta’s existing innovation support systems. “Now we have the technology and policy support to safely produce, operate, and manage hydrogen on a commercial scale for additional uses. The different pieces are fitting together like a puzzle, it’s the ideal time to move hydrogen forward.”
Where new markets are emerging is in using hydrogen as a replacement fuel in consumer applications, such as vehicles or freight transportation, or to heat homes. We want to support hydrogen use in the sectors of the economy that are now fueled by gasoline, diesel, and natural gas.”
Virtual granting agency
The Hydrogen Centre of Excellence is a combination of bricks and mortar testing facilities at InnoTech Alberta and C-FER Technologies and a virtual granting agency that operates out of Alberta Innovates. Existing testing facilities at C-FER Technologies Inc. and InnoTech Alberta will be upgraded or enhanced to accommodate hydrogen testing. “In order to effectively build hydrogen into our energy systems, we need to support the early stages of technology growth and testing of new technologies,” Van Den Assem says. “Capital investment in facilities is a necessary component of this program.”
The Centre will bring together a diverse array of stakeholders from industry, government, and innovation organizations, including some Pathways Alliance members, around a common goal of integrating hydrogen into the energy system. Carbon capture will be an integral part of this initiative as the production of hydrogen generates carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. That’s where the Alberta Carbon Conversion Technology Centre (ACCTC) comes in.
This specially designed facility allows innovators around the world to test and advance hydrogen production and carbon capture and conversion technologies. The facility is key to accelerating the development of greenhouse gas reduction technologies, de-risking them for industry, and making them commercially viable. The ACCTC is owned and operated by InnoTech Alberta Inc. and supported by Pathways Alliance member companies.
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