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Hydrogen projects have been popular in recent weeks in British Columbia, which wants to position itself as a Canadian leader in clean hydrogen. The province's ambitions in the field are old and its enthusiasm has experienced ups and downs for more than two decades. Will this new excitement turn into tangible advancement, or will it be window dressing once again?
The development of hydrogen in British Columbia dates back to the early 2000s. At the time, the province saw incredible potential for the energy sector and its economy.
Despite big announcements, including the creation of a hydrogen highway between California and British Columbia, none major project has not seen the light of day.
The province has, however, become a hub for the greatest hydrogen researchers, explains François Girard, an expert in the sector.
Over time, the province has notably developed its expertise in hydrogen stations to recharge vehicles. Hydrogen is also used in certain industrial procedures.
François Girard is also an advisor to the hydrogen technologies programs at the National Research Council of Canada.
The problem for the provincial government, which now wants to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, is that the hydrogen used in heavy industries is produced from natural gas, without capturing the CO2. This is then called gray hydrogen.
L' Gray hydrogen produces 10 kg of carbon per kilogram of hydrogen. The Canadian strategy considers that clean hydrogen produces 3 kg of carbon or less.
A quote from François Girard, hydrogen expert
This is therefore not part of the strategy of the Minister of Energy, Mines and Innovation, Josie Osborne, whose party tabled the country's first hydrogen roadmap in 2021.
The following year, British Columbia tightened its strategy and created a provincial hydrogen office to stimulate and supervise projects related to this energy source.
The minister confides that British Columbia is exploring blue hydrogen, produced from natural gas from which CO2 is captured, like in Alberta.
Over 98% of our electricity is clean and renewable in British Columbia. So naturally it is above all this energy source that we want to use to produce clean hydrogen.
A quote from Josie Osborne, Minister of Energy, Mines and of Innovation
On November 7, the province signed an agreement with Newfoundland and Labrador to share their expertise in material.
According to Dr. Christina Hoicka, professor of civil engineering at the University of Victoria, British Columbia will especially want to learn about the use of NL. government land and wind turbines to produce clean hydrogen.
The developer of a wind farm and hydrogen plant in Newfoundland and Labrador wants to be connected to the electricity grid public electricity and buy a large amount of energy each year.
The two provinces also have another thing in common, she says: They have coastal areas which allow them to more easily export their hydrogen to European and Asian markets, without competition.
More recently, the province also unveiled a new pilot project with heavy trucks that run on clean hydrogen.
The excitement in the air is therefore different, according to François Girard and Dr. Christina Hoicka. It’s a very exciting moment, and the excitement is different from recent cycles, shares Mr. Girard.
Climate change is taking over. Governments, SMEs and multinationals are at the table, he adds. Not to mention the intellectual capital developed over the decades.
If all the conditions are met, the avenues for producing clean hydrogen on a large scale are still uncertain.
Minister Josie Osborne recognizes that the big challenge will be to produce clean hydrogen on a significant scale. BC Hydro would need to significantly increase its hydroelectricity production capacity since hydrogen production takes a lot of energy.
Wednesday, its colleague, the Minister of the Environment, George Heyman assured that BC Hydro was ready to respond to the pilot projects and would increase its production to respond to future projects.
On the other hand, a note that Josie Osborne slipped from Wednesday to Thursday, and that the official opposition party, BC United, obtained and then disclosed in the media questions BC Hydro's ability.
In the memo, the minister receives advice to request a billion-dollar payment from a company that wants to produce hydrogen, in order to finance BC Hydro.
If the company refuses, the memo advises the minister to demand that the company reduce the scale of the Coyote Hydrogen project and that the company build wind turbines itself to power it.
The Site C dam, the third to be built on the Peace River, is expected to be able to generate 1,100 megawatts of electricity, enough energy to power 450,000 homes. Construction is expected to be completed in 2024.
In addition to proximity to a source of clean water which is not infinite, the challenge of hydroelectricity, according to François Girard, will therefore be to meet the growing demand of the population and hydrogen projects.
He highlights the issue of social acceptability of projects like Site C, which could slow down BC Hydro's efforts. The advantage is that we can produce green hydrogen in several ways, he continues.
And if relying completely on hydroelectricity becomes a strategic error, we will have to hope that British Columbia will have diversified its production of green energy to fuel its clean hydrogen ambitions, such as wind and solar, which are in the sights of the National Energy Office.
- Amélia MachHour (View profile)Amélia MachHourFollow