Hydrogen key to clean long-haul transport in Canada

Long haul transportation, core to shipping people and goods across Canada’s vast geography, remains an obstacle to the country embracing clean energy. 

Between 1990 and 2018, Canada’s transport emissions grew 55 per cent, much of that coming from trucks — both freight and light passenger models. With the long-awaited launch on December 16 of a national hydrogen strategy, the federal government signaled that hydrogen will be part of its long-haul solution. The strategy aims to position the country as a global leader in the production, export and use of clean hydrogen and associated technologies. To support those goals, the government has invested  $1.5 billion in a fund to support low-carbon fuels, including hydrogen.

Hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles are fast to fuel up, have longer mileage ranges than electric vehicles, and emit only pure water. But they require a network of refueling stations (unlike EVs, which can be charged in an owner’s driveway). Also, they’re far more scarce than EVs — offering few options to consumers.

Sourcing the hydrogen further complicates the national plan. Most hydrogen currently is produced using fossil fuel. As technology improves, electrolyzers powered by renewable energy will help boost production. In an ideal scenario, geothermal energy in Alberta, wind or sun in the prairies, or hydroelectric power in Ontario or Quebec would be captured in hydrogen and shipped (via a pipeline even) wherever it’s needed. With enough infrastructure to support such a system, hydrogen potentially could be used to heat homes, or power industry.

“In a province like Ontario, where frequently we’re actually paying the Americans overnight to take electricity off the grid, you could be creating hydrogen and that hydrogen could be firing our burners,” said Stephen Beatty, vice president and corporate secretary of Toyota Canada Inc. In time, Beatty believes hydrogen — which is core to Toyota’s global strategy — could be a viable economic sector for Canada, as well as a pillar of clean transportation.

One more positive development: In December, public utility Hydro-Quebec announced plans to construct one of the world's most powerful electrolyzers to produce green hydrogen.

© 2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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