Alberta has doled out $10.8-million to fund a series of hydrogen projects in the province, using money gathered from its carbon tax on companies that emit large amounts of greenhouse gas.
A pilot project blending hydrogen into the natural-gas network for homes and businesses just outside Edmonton and new technologies to produce hydrogen from the province’s plentiful natural-gas feedstocks shared in some of the $58.4-million awarded to companies this week through Emissions Reduction Alberta (ERA).
Twenty projects in the natural-gas realm received cash from the public agency’s latest round of funding, three of which focus on how to decarbonize hydrogen or infuse it into the province’s future energy mix.
Hydrogen isn’t a new fuel, but it is picking up “unprecedented momentum” around the globe, according to the International Energy Agency. It’s light, storable, energy-dense and produces no direct emissions of pollutants or greenhouse gases – a boon for countries pursuing net-zero emission goals.
Emissions Reduction Alberta chief executive Steve MacDonald said hydrogen is one of the top fuel choices to help reduce emissions, and his agency’s focus on the gas is not by accident.
“We’re trying to be strategic” by focusing not just on the supply and demand side, he told The Globe and Mail, but how to lower production costs and ensure hydrogen fits into Alberta’s energy space when it comes to codes and regulations.
The Canadian government and various provinces are in the midst of developing hydrogen strategies. Alberta is due to unveil its strategy later this summer.
Graeme Feltham, a vice-president of ATCO Gas and Pipelines Ltd., says those plans will play a crucial role in Canada’s march toward its goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.
ATCO received $2.8-million for a pilot project to blend hydrogen into the natural gas network at Fort Saskatchewan, just northeast of Edmonton. The plan will deliver gas comprising 5-per-cent hydrogen to around 5,000 homes and businesses in the community, with the aim of “showing people what’s possible.”
“To be net-zero, you have to look at everything – what you’re doing with energy and how you’re going to do it differently in the future,” he said in an interview, adding hydrogen is “absolutely is going to be a part of the solution.”
ATCO also received ERA funding for a renewable natural-gas pilot project using cow dung from a local feedlot. Mr. Feltham stressed that various carbon-reducing alternatives such as renewable gas, solar, wind and hydrogen aren’t competing with each other, and will each form part of the future energy mix.
“The energy demands of the world aren’t going down, so we’re going to need it all,” he said.
The other two hydrogen-themed projects that received cash explore new technologies to produce the fuel. Both use proven technologies in novel ways to decarbonize natural gas by separating out the hydrogen.
Standing Wave Reformers Inc. received $3-million to further develop a system that uses the pressure in a natural gas pipeline to initiate a shockwave that cracks gas molecules, producing hydrogen.
Co-founder and chief executive Kathleen O’Neil told The Globe that the system can be installed on any existing natural gas pipeline, thus eliminating the need for building new infrastructure – the cost and time of which are two of “the biggest hurdles in the transition to a hydrogen economy.”
Ms. O’Neil said the goal is to have an operational pilot up and running in the next two years, and a commercial pilot available by 2023.
Emissions Reduction Alberta will also provide $5-million to Ekona Power Inc. to develop and field-test a system that cracks methane into hydrogen and solid carbon – a kind of black, sandy-looking material – which can then be developed into other products.
“Rather than just getting rid of something that is only a burden, we’re producing a commodity carbon that can have tremendous value,” company vice-president Gary Schubak told The Globe.
Both he and Ms. O’Neil said government policy will play an important role as the country’s hydrogen sector continues to expand.
“Hydrogen is going to be a prominent part of our clean growth strategy in Canada. I really believe it will be a significant part of our nation’s plan moving forward,” Mr. Schubak said.
Your time is valuable. Have the Top Business Headlines newsletter conveniently delivered to your inbox in the morning or evening. Sign up today.