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Alberta has pushed its goal to gain a foothold in the world hydrogen market forward by a decade, releasing a plan that lays out how the province intends to make the fuel an integral part of its energy sector and broader economy.

The Alberta Hydrogen Roadmap, released Friday by Premier Jason Kenney, focuses on expanding carbon capture, derisking investment and creating market demand – though it does not make any fiscal commitments. With demand for the clean-burning fuel on the rise as the world focuses on achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, the plan underscores Alberta’s intention to secure as much of the global hydrogen market as it can over the coming years.

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Hydrogen as a fuel is light, storable and energy-dense. When burned, it produces no direct emissions of pollutants or greenhouse gases, making it an attractive prospect for decarbonization.

The 50-page roadmap builds on the province’s natural gas strategy, which was released last year. The acceleration of the original 2040 timeline to establish domestic and foreign hydrogen markets and attract $30-billion worth of investment – as outlined in the 2020 plan – reflects just how quickly global markets are already pivoting toward the fuel.

“These are not just pretty words on paper here. We’ve already been taking concrete actions, and that is being noticed,” Mr. Kenney said, citing the four large-scale hydrogen projects proposed for Alberta this year.

The province is already one of the world’s largest producers of hydrogen, at about 2.4 million tonnes a year.

Between that expertise, abundant natural gas feedstocks and the province’s carbon-capture utilization projects (which are essential to capturing emissions when producing hydrogen from natural gas – known as “blue hydrogen”), Mr. Kenney says he believes Alberta has the building blocks needed to capitalize on growing demand for the fuel.

But what’s driving that demand for hydrogen is a global commitment to climate action, says Nina Lothian of the Pembina Institute, a think tank – and yet Alberta has no such commitments or net-zero goals.

“It’s a little bit ironic that they’re talking about this future trillion-dollar marketplace, but that trillion-dollar marketplace is being driven by climate ambition,” she said in an interview.

Still, she said she was pleased that the roadmap doesn’t completely rule out the province pursuing green hydrogen, which is produced by using renewable power to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen via electrolysis.

The roadmap identifies five key markets: heating, power generation and storage, export, transportation such as buses, trucks and trains, and industrial processes such as fossil fuel refining, bitumen upgrading and making ammonia and fertilizers.

By 2030, Alberta would evaluate its plan by measuring export levels of the fuel, economic factors such as job creation and revenues and how well hydrogen has been integrated into provincial energy systems.

David Layzell, a research director at the Transition Accelerator, a non-profit spearheading a push for the development of a hydrogen economy in Alberta’s Industrial Heartland, said Friday that the roadmap “marks a pivotal moment in the evolution of Alberta’s energy sector,” as important as premier Peter Lougheed’s push to develop the oil sands 50 years ago.

“But this time around, the tapping of Alberta’s natural resources will align with the need to address climate change and to accelerate the transition to a more sustainable global energy system and economy.”

Mr. Kenney said the federal government’s planned carbon-capture tax credit will play a large role in Alberta meeting its goals. He called on Ottawa to “significantly increase the scale of its ambition and future investment” in the technology, adding that Alberta hasn’t ruled out its own investments in carbon capture, but “we need there to be a partnership, and that’s where the feds really do need to come to the table.”

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