It is colourless, odourless, non-toxic and highly combustible. It’s a fuel that could transform the green energy sector and Alberta’s economy.
It’s hydrogen and leaders in Edmonton are already preparing for it.
“We believe the opportunity to build an entirely new industry around hydrogen is substantial,” explained Edmonton Global’s Chris McLeod, who is the vice-president of global marketing and communications.
Edmonton Global is an economic development organization for the Edmonton Metropolitan Region, an area that McLeod believes could soon become the international epicentre for hydrogen products and research.
Government, Indigenous, academic and economic development leaders have already come together to form the Edmonton Region Hydrogen Hub. The hub aims to kickstart the hydrogen economy and ensure long-term economic and environmental benefits can be had as demand for low-carbon fuels increases.
“We have the ability to produce hydrogen at a global scale,” said McLeod. “We are likely the only place in Canada that can do that and one of the few in the world with this ability.”
He noted the region has massive amounts of natural gas feed stock, the geologic conditions and infrastructure to sequester carbon underground, one of the highest concentrations of engineers in the world, existing pipeline infrastructure and a growing high tech sector.
“These pieces come together to make this a special place and moment to capitalize on the world wanting to address climate change,” he said. “Hydrogen isn’t the only solution but it’s one of the most critical solutions.”
McLeod explained the region could also be a proving ground for buses, trains, heavy trucks, home heating and farm machinery products that all run on zero-emissions hydrogen fuel.
“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform the economy,” he said.
A report released last November by Alberta’s Industrial Heartland Hydrogen Task Force outlined that Canadian hydrogen has a wholesale market potential of up to $100 billion a year and identified the Edmonton Region as the best launch point for a pan-Canadian hydrogen economy.
Things have already begun moving. Just last month, hydrogen producer Air Products announced plans to start construction on a net-zero hydrogen energy complex. The first portion of the project includes a $1.3 billion net-zero hydrogen production and liquefaction facility that is expected to begin producing in 2024. McLeod expects a flurry of projects to be announced in the coming months.
But McLeod fears despite all of Alberta’s advantages, the emerging sector could be limited by its ability to get product to market.
“We don’t have a fantastic track record on getting oil and gas to international markets,” he said. “We need pipelines to move hydrogen. Without them it will limit our ability to solve the world’s energy problems. It is absolutely critical.”
He urged all levels of government, especially leaders in Ottawa, to make hydrogen a national priority because of its climate change implications and economic benefits.
“International investors need to believe we can get product to market,” he said. “What we say and what we actually do haven’t really lined up.”
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