February 2, 2023

The global race for hydrogen is on. Here’s how Alberta can win.

By Malcolm Bruce, CEO of Edmonton Global as published in the Calgary Herald and Edmonton Journal

Next week, eyes around Canada will be on Alberta as the epicentre for one of the most critical discussions for our nation’s energy future at the 2023 Hydrogen Summit in Edmonton, hosted by the Edmonton Region Hydrogen Hub. And there is no greater time than now for Alberta to seize the almost unparalleled opportunity at our fingertips: to lead the pack on hydrogen development — if we act quickly.

While most of our economy could transition to electricity, around 30 per cent of Canada’s energy consumption will be challenging to electrify. Hydrogen would be ideal for refining oil; producing petrochemicals and fertilizers; as fuel for long-haul trucking, heavy machinery and buses; and in high-heat manufacturing of glass, concrete and steel.

Globally, this represents an $11-trillion to $12-trillion market by 2050. The stakes are massive. But so is the opportunity.

Listen to Brent Lakeman, Director of the Hydrogen Initiative at Edmonton Global on AlbertaBETTER

Many countries recognize hydrogen’s transformative potential and are incorporating it into their economic and energy strategies. Japan, South Korea, China, Germany and California are already reaching out to Canada as a potential source of hydrogen.

Alberta is at the forefront of Canada’s hydrogen sector, producing two-thirds of Canada’s hydrogen, and is scaling rapidly. Companies are choosing Alberta as the place to produce hydrogen because of the province’s competitive advantages, including an abundant supply of low-cost natural gas, existing carbon capture and storage infrastructure and a knowledgeable workforce.

Air Products, for example, is investing $1.6 billion to build the world’s largest net-zero hydrogen energy complex, an innovative facility set to come onstream next year. Another example is ATCO, an early leader in Alberta’s hydrogen production, which launched its hydrogen blending project in Fort Saskatchewan in 2020.

Alberta’s opportunity extends far beyond the production of hydrogen itself. We are the centre of Western Canada’s energy supply chain, with many companies poised to play a significant role not only in hydrogen production but also in its transportation and use.

For example, Edmonton International Airport is exploring the use of hydrogen across airport operations, from ground service fleets to aircraft. And Canadian Pacific Railway launched and expanded its hydrogen locomotive program, which will see the world’s first hydrogen locomotive technologies.

Alberta is also beginning to attract advanced manufacturing companies; technology and AI startups; and the financial, venture capital and fintech sectors, all looking to be part of this emerging hydrogen economy.

Not only is the province creating an environment where ideas and technologies, such as hydrogen, can be tested, iterated and built out at scale, but it is, at the same time, generating significant economic impact and jobs for Albertans.

To truly take advantage of this opportunity, we need to invest in our infrastructure, including hydrogen pipelines and carbon sequestration.

Alberta is one of the world’s lowest-cost producers of clean hydrogen, perhaps second only to Russia — and there are clear reasons we may be a preferred supplier. Getting this product to domestic users — and to international markets — ultimately requires scalable transportation systems like pipelines, and Alberta’s pipeline infrastructure and expertise in pipeline technologies are unmatched. However, unlocking this resource by transporting hydrogen to international markets will take political will.

We also need to enable co-operation among all orders of government. Both the federal and Alberta governments see hydrogen as a necessary component to achieving our climate goals while being part of a multitrillion-dollar global economic development opportunity — but there’s more that can and should be done.

Building projects of this scale take significant time in Canada, a major disadvantage when competing with international jurisdictions that, in some cases, can move very quickly.

We must act at a pace that demonstrates our commitment to addressing the climate emergency and signals that we can be part of the solution. Right now, investors and countries lack faith that Canada can deliver on our hydrogen promise and build the infrastructure needed to get our hydrogen to international markets.

Furthermore, recent incentives put in place by the United States are eroding our competitive advantage. We must set forth a renewed approach to building our hydrogen economy. If we commit to doing this, we will ensure our energy economy thrives for generations to come.

The global race is on to adopt hydrogen technologies. Countries around the world are positioning right now to become tomorrow’s hydrogen superpowers. 

We need to move aggressively to take advantage of this opportunity for Canada and are working with our partners to establish Alberta and Canada as a world leader in clean hydrogen. We must accelerate our pace, collaborate to build infrastructure, ensure our regulatory environment is an enabler and be bold in placing Alberta and Canada at the forefront of this global energy transition.

The time to act is now.

Malcolm Bruce is the CEO of Edmonton Global and a contributor to the Business Council of Alberta. This opinion is part of a discussion paper series by BCA called Missions & Moonshots.

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