A report into the potential for southeast Alberta to become a hydrogen production hub is due soon, but a council committee Tuesday was apprised of a high level overview of the rapidly advancing sector.
The utility and infrastructure division heard a presentation from top administrators which was recently provided to a group of Alberta engineers and geophysicists on the subject of the region’s potential.
That comes six months after the city announced a “hydrogen hub” strategy would be a pillar of economic development strategy.
“It’s created a lot of discussion in the community about hydrogen and what it does,” said Brad Maynes, head of the division. “We’re about to release a very significant report on it, but we’re providing some overview.”
Based on current growth in interest in the sector, he said, “residents should expect hydrogen to be part of their lives sooner than later.”
The region, home to burgeoning green power production and transportation corridors, could follow the Industrial Heartland, near Edmonton, as the second viable hydrogen production centre in the province, said Maynes.
“We’ve stared to contemplate whether southeastern Alberta could become Alberta’s or even Canada’s renewable heartland.”
City economic development staff announced in August a partnership to study industrial investment attractive strategy to create a “hydrogen Hub” in the region.
That would estimate the local market size for the fuel observers say is key toward reaching net-zero emissions, and is the focus of provincial and national strategies for industrial development and environmental initiatives.
The report is in the final stages of completion by staff at the “Transition Accelerator” on behalf of a partnership, including the Hat and Brooks, the Palliser Economic Partnership and corporate partners, including large petrochemical facilities Methanex and CF Industries, and other private interests.
A separate but related analysis by the City of Medicine Hat and partners to explore a carbon sequestration hub is due later this year.
That, say administrators, might be key as the sector could first support so-called “blue hydrogen” (produced by separating natural gas), before costs for “green hydrogen” (made from water) come down.
That production cost spread, according to the presentation, is more than double at today’s input prices, and would require three times more green power production to fill market demand than is in place today.
“It’s an opportunity to build a new economic activity around an environmentally sound (sector).”
About 20 per cent of Alberta’s hydrogen production occurs in the Medicine Hat area in existing industrial plants.
That “syngas” is mostly used in production of methanol and ammonia by Hub partners Methanex and CF Industries, though CanCarb generates some through its process to create the rubber additive, carbon black, and uses it on site as a fuel.
That equals about 1,200 tonnes of hydrogen per year, whereas the study estimates eventual demand for hydrogen across the province could reach 13,000 tonnes per day, not including industrial uses.
Advantages in the region include proximity to major highways – for potential vehicle fuel sales and shipping – as well as rail and pipeline networks for export and oversized power production compared to local demand.
The corner of the province is home to 15 per cent of renewable energy projects, but could approach half the province’s total green power capacity if proposed wind and solar plants are built out.
Such a large glut of renewable power projects, the presentation states, could make increased localized power use for hydrogen production economically attractive.
“There’s an opportunity for them to become stand-alone hydrogen production sites,” said Maynes. “That’s maybe not the standard business model, but it’s an opportunity.”
The combustible fuel that exhausts water vapour, not carbon dioxide, could potentially also be blended into home heating supply, or other uses for natural gas, such as turbine power production.
Excluding industrial use, the combined market in southeast Alberta could be 129,000 tonnes per year, or 350 tonnes per day, for transportation, building heat and thermal power production.
That assumes current population and a 50 per cent switch-over of vehicles to hydrogen fuel.
“Hydrogen is currently expensive … right now we (Western Canada) are projected to be on the low-end of the world production cost scale,” said Maynes. “The crucial question is will demand come? The report will show potentially what the demand side likes like.”
Source: Medicine Hat News
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