Having joined the international push to reach “net zero” greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, the B.C. government is banking on hydrogen production for fuel to replace gasoline, diesel and natural gas.
Energy Minister Bruce Ralston released B.C.’s hydrogen strategy in Vancouver Tuesday, calling it the first one in Canada. Flanked by hydrogen industry players who have joined a government partnership, Ralston said the first priority is getting a foothold for hydrogen vehicles in commercial trucking.
Electric passenger vehicles and charging stations are becoming more common, but there are few places to fuel up a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. Ralston announced $10 million last September to finance development of the industry, including 10 filling stations in B.C.
Battery mass and charging time are significant limitations for large transport trucks using electric motors, and fewer filling stations are needed for established freight hauling routes, Ralston said: “We think the next frontier is in the heavy duty market.”
The B.C. government’s greenhouse gas emission targets for 2030 and 2050 are expected to require large-scale commercial use of hydrogen as fuel to reduce carbon fuel use in transportation, heating, industrial processing and other energy-intensive industries.
B.C. Hydro has a subsidiary called Powertech Labs, with more than 200 scientists and technologists based in Surrey. Powertech CEO Raymond Lings said the company is the first in the world to develop high-pressure dispensing of hydrogen to use in filling stations, with four in B.C. and others in California and Quebec.
One of Powertech’s big tasks is producing hydrogen, which can be extracted from water using electricity, or from natural gas, which requires carbon capture and storage to make it carbon neutral. The B.C. strategy says northeast natural gas fields have the low-cost feed stock and geological formations to capture emissions, but Ralston acknowledged that carbon capture operations in Saskatchewan and Alberta have not yet reached commercial cost.
After vehicle use, the plan is to produce either “green” hydrogen with hydroelectricity, or “blue” hydrogen from natural gas, that can be fed into the existing natural gas distribution grid to reduce the carbon intensity of natural gas that is mainly methane.
B.C. has a long history of pioneering hydrogen, with Ballard Power among the first fuel cell producers. Federal and provincial innovation subsidies have helped create a cluster of companies, with more than half of Canada’s fuel cell and hydrogen companies in B.C.