Alberta hopes hydrogen becomes the next oil sands and ‘generational wealth’ creator

EDMONTON –

Alberta says it is heading down a path that will prove as bountiful as its decision to develop the oil sands 50 years ago.

The provincial government released on Friday a plan to get locally produced hydrogen to global markets by 2030, a decade sooner than it had previously set a goal of doing.

Called the Alberta Hydrogen Roadmap, the plan outlines how the province will attract investment, integrate hydrogen into existing sectors, and bring in regulation.

At a news conference about the launch of the plan, speakers compared hydrogen’s potential — and Alberta’s pursual of it as a cleaner source of power — to the 1970s Alberta government’s investment in the oil sands.

“The oil sands has been an absolute bounty for all Albertans and we believe that hydrogen has the potential to create the same type of generational wealth,” Associate Minister of Natural Gas and Electricity Dave Nally said.

Hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe, only emits water when burned for energy or used in a fuel cell.

Alberta already produces 2.4 million tonnes of hydrogen annually — but the provincial government wants to make more to heat homes and businesses, fuel all kinds of vehicles, make electricity, and, of course, sell around the world.

Canada’s Hydrogen Strategy estimates demand for hydrogen domestically could be 20 million tonnes per year. Alberta estimates it could produce 45 million tonnes annually, satisfying both domestic and global demands.

The global hydrogen market is expected to be worth $2.5 trillion by then.

The so-called roadmap to transforming Alberta into one of the world’s largest hydrogen producers also calls for:

creating more demand for hydrogen within the province beyond what is needed in the industrial sector;

partnering with industry and other governments to encourage long-term investment; and

growing its carbon capture and storage systems to de-carbonize current industrial hydrogen production.

For example, Alberta plans to blend hydrogen into existing natural gas networks to reduce emissions, and use excess wind and solar production to create hydrogen, which can be stored and used later in times of high power demand.

“These are not just pretty words on paper, here. We’ve already been taking concrete actions and that is being noticed,” Premier Jason Kenney said Friday.

The government officials pointed to recent hydrogen projects — like a blue hydrogen plant and the country’s first hydrogen liquefaction facility in western Canada, both coming to the Edmonton region — as evidence Alberta’s preliminary efforts have been successful.

“There will be several more over the next year or two, announcements about major new hydrogen projects in Alberta, so I think that our targeted approach is working. We’re not here to stroke subsidy cheques for the sake of it,” Kenney commented.

They believe as much as $100 billion could be invested in Alberta’s hydrogen sector.

They also expect clean hydrogen to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 14 million tonnes per year by 2030, equal to five per cent of Alberta’s emissions in 2019. 

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