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Canada’s first hydrogen hub launched Wednesday just outside Edmonton, a $2-million effort that will act as a focal point for developing a domestic industry that is projected to be worth $50-billion to $100-billion each year by 2050.

Hydrogen hubs across the country are key to the Hydrogen Strategy for Canada, announced last year, and feed into the country’s goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. The shape that such hubs take will differ, but in Alberta it’s an alliance of government, Indigenous, academic and economic development leaders that will find ways to produce, use, sell and store the low-carbon fuel.

Hub chair and Sturgeon County Mayor Alanna Hnatiw said that initial work will involve sharing information and strategic discussions around how best to access domestic and global markets.

“The race is on, and we will move as quickly as possible to be a part of the market,” Ms. Hnatiw said Wednesday as the hub was announced.

Canada has been a laggard over the past few years when it comes to gaining a share of the growing global hydrogen market, she said. However, she said the Edmonton regional hub presents a unique opportunity, given the co-operation between local, provincial and federal governments and First Nations, and the vast reserves of natural gas feedstock required to produce blue hydrogen.

Blue hydrogen is derived from natural gas, with resulting carbon emissions trapped via carbon capture and storage technologies.

Hydrogen as a fuel is light, storable and energy-dense. It produces no direct emissions of pollutants or greenhouse gases. That has made it an international energy darling over the past few years, drawing the gaze of countries pursing net-zero emissions goals.

The hub near Edmonton will be supported by the Transition Accelerator, a climate-focused non-profit spearheading a push for the development of a hydrogen economy in the oil processing and petrochemical region known as Alberta’s Industrial Heartland.

Dan Wicklum, who heads the Transition Accelerator, said initial discussions with Japan, South Korea and California officials about their plans for hydrogen consumption have demonstrated a willingness to buy the fuel from Canada as part of their emission-reduction strategies.

In the case of Japan, he said, there was little focus on whether hydrogen is blue or green (which is produced by electrolyzing water with renewable energy).

“They just didn’t care how the hydrogen was made. They cared deeply about how much carbon was embedded in the hydrogen life cycle, and they also cared very deeply about the price,” he said.

In terms of market size, Mr. Wicklum said Japanese authorities are “completely confident” they would be importing at least five million tonnes of hydrogen a year by 2050, possibly up to 10 million tonnes.

At the Edmonton-region hub, planning is under way for more than 25 potential projects related to the supply, delivery and use of the fuel, including hydrogen-powered municipal and commercial vehicle fleets, and home and industrial heat and power.

It’s backed by $1.2-million from Western Economic Diversification Canada, $600,000 from Alberta’s Industrial Heartland Association and $450,000 from the provincial government. Alberta’s associate minister of natural gas, Dale Nally, said the co-operation between all three demonstrates “the Team Canada approach that we need to win in the hydrogen game.”

William Morin, vice-chair of the hub and Chief of the Enoch Cree Nation, said while $2-million “might not sound like a lot of money today,” it’s enough to start developing long-term hydrogen transportation plans and economic opportunities.

MP Jim Carr, Ottawa’s special representative for the Prairies, said the hub will be a platform upon which a hydrogen economy is built.

Mr. Carr said “major investments” in the coming weeks and months will be a model for other countries “who look to Canada for ways in which we can take our resources, convert them sustainably, and market them internationally.”

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