Bringing the Hydrogen Economy Into Focus

Three new reports show Canada has the skilled and ready workforce to support a hydrogen economy, the CO2 storage capacity to make low-carbon hydrogen production viable, and the potential to build out value chains that will serve our short and long-term goals.

This month, the Transition Accelerator released three reports that bring a functioning hydrogen economy closer to reality.

Building on the shared vision behind the Edmonton Region Hydrogen HUB, these reports examine three essential aspects of our future hydrogen economy. The first, Assessing the Workforce Required to Advance Canada’s Hydrogen Economy, looks at Canada’s current hydrogen workforce and outlines the roles we’ll need to support the emerging H2 value chain. The second, Techno-Economics of a New Hydrogen Value Chain Supporting Heavy-Duty Transport, compares a range of potential supply chains to determine the most effective ways to distribute hydrogen widely and affordably, with a focus on heavy-duty trucking. And the third, Review of Carbon-Dioxide Storage Potential in Western Canada: Blue Hydrogen Roadmap to 2050, outlines Western Canada’s tremendous potential for carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS), which will play an integral role in Canada meeting its target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Individually, each report is a valuable tool for policymakers and key stakeholders in industry, government, and beyond. Taken together, this hydrogen deep-dive shows where we are on the road to a hydrogen economy, and how far we still need to go. By clarifying economic opportunities and identifying knowledge gaps, this work further highlights that hydrogen as an energy carrier is part of a compelling and credible pathway to a zero-emission future.

Assessing the Workforce Required to Advance Canada’s Hydrogen Economy
Vol. 4, Iss. 4. July 2022
Pat Hufnagel-Smith

To promote a just transition into a zero-emission future, we need to understand the workforce required for a hydrogen economy. What jobs will be needed in the hydrogen value chain? What skills will be required, and how do we ensure that training opportunities are widely available?

Growing the labour force for an emerging technology may appear daunting, but according to report author Pat Hufnagel-Smith, Canada is well positioned to meet this challenge. We already have a highly skilled and ready workforce that knows how to produce, handle, and use hydrogen safely. What’s more, we can build on this head-start through targeted training, using micro-credentials, bootcamps and work-integrated learning to bolster our skilled workforce.

Still, the transition will involve a number of risks, including the need for more industry standards, a lack of diverse talent pools from which to hire, and uncertainty around the exact structure the hydrogen economy will take. If those risks are addressed with planning and forethought, though, the report makes clear that the shift to a hydrogen economy has the potential to create desirable, well-paying jobs that leverage Canada’s existing labour force.

Hufnagel-Smith has also developed a Hydrogen Workforce Assessment Toolproviding a detailed breakdown of the occupations needed for the low-carbon hydrogen economy. This tool includes core occupations, qualifications, and requirements unique to the demands of working with hydrogenallowing users to determine a HUB’s specific talent needs, opportunities and risks based on its unique value chain components.

Techno-Economics of a New Hydrogen Value Chain Supporting Heavy-Duty Transport

Vol. 4, Iss. 5. July 2022
Mohd Adnan Khan, PhD; Catherine MacKinnon, MSc. P.Eng; Cameron Young, MSc, P.Eng; David B. Layzell, PhD, FRSC

Developing the infrastructure to distribute hydrogen fuel widely and affordably in time to meet Canada’s climate obligations won’t happen by accident. According to the analysis in our second report, Creating a hydrogen value chain will require the rapid, coordinated scaling up of both supply and demand, alongside significant investment in infrastructure, innovation, and knowledge sharing. While the complexity of this task is undeniable, smart policies and concerted effort on behalf of industry, government, and consumers can deliver results.

In the “Techno-Economics of a New Hydrogen Value Chain” report, Dr. Adnan Kahn, Energy Systems Engineer with the Transition Accelerator, explores the costs of not only producing low-carbon hydrogen, but transporting it from its site of production to make it available for fueling heavy-duty vehicles at 5, 40 or 300 km from where it is produced. In assessing the production, processing, delivery and fueling costs for such value chains, the report highlights the importance of ‘scale’ and ‘coordination’ of supply and demand to keep costs low.

The report finds that the hydrogen value chain is highly capital intensive, with 45-65% of the total cost per kilogram of hydrogen coming from capital expenditure. That high capital cost means scale is critical and communities and industries wishing to transition to a hydrogen economy must “go big or go home”. With each fueling station needing to deliver 2 or more tonnes of hydrogen per day to achieve economic viability, many dozens to hundreds of hydrogen-using vehicles must visit the station every day.

For example, each station will need the support of about 40 trucks, each driving 650km and using 50 kg hydrogen/day. However, most trucks driving such distances are involved in intercity transport, so two fueling stations and 80 trucks are needed, with one fueling station at each end of the corridor.

The report’s findings are already being incorporated into the development of strategies for deploying hydrogen hubs and corridors that can achieve economic viability without ongoing public investment. Once established, the hubs and corridors can grow and eventually connect with other hubs and corridors at minimal cost, delivering both economic and environmental benefits.

Review of Carbon-Dioxide Storage Potential in Western Canada: Blue Hydrogen Roadmap to 2050
Vol. 4, Iss. 6. August 2022
Richard Hares, P.Eng, MSc; Sean McCoy, PhD; David B. Layzell, PhD, FRSC

The global interest in hydrogen as a zero-emission energy carrier has led to renewed interest in carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS), which allows relatively low-cost “blue” hydrogen to be made by reforming natural gas and preventing the resulting CO2 from being released to the atmosphere. The Canadian federal and provincial governments have identified CCUS as a major component of their strategies to reduce greenhouse gas GHG emissions, and meet the 2050 targets that were identified in the federal Hydrogen Strategy for Canada. The large-scale production and domestic use of blue hydrogen as a fuel would create significant demand for CCUS, potentially requiring about 200 megatonnes of CO2 storage per year for many decades.

Our third report this month combs through decades of research to determine Western Canada’s carbon storage potential, reviewing storage projects, identifying knowledge gaps, and suggesting strategies for future CCUS deployment. The authors, Richard Hares, Sean McCoy and David Layzell, confirm that Western Canada has the ideal geology for CCUS—theoretically enough to contain several centuries of projected blue-hydrogen production emissions for the region.

However, uncertainty remains around the specifics for these storage resources, and what proportion is economically viable. The report notes that future CCUS deployment may be caught in a “chicken or the egg” situation, as projects that could reduce uncertainty will require significant investment, but attracting investment will depend on reducing uncertainty.

Among its recommendations, the report suggests that CO2 storage projects must be accelerated, with a focus on areas that have already been partially de-risked through past studies or are lower-risk due to the presence of existing infrastructure. Initiatives like the Alberta government’s recent $40 million investment in CCUS pilots are promising, and a combination of standardized assessment tools, public sharing of data related to CO2 storage studies and projects, and the development of a complete CCUS strategy supporting blue hydrogen production can help further advance this technology.

Credible, compelling, and capable

Reaching Canada’s 2050 emissions targets will require more than just reducing emissions. To act efficiently and effectively, we need to be sure the pathways we pursue towards decarbonization are credible, compelling, and capable of achieving our net-zero goals. The vision of a hydrogen economy in Western Canada—developed in collaboration with industry, government, Indigenous communities, academia, and other stakeholders—has the potential to meet those requirements. The Transition Accelerator’s latest reports are a major step towards advancing that vision.

The opportunity here is clear: Canada has the skilled and ready workforce to support a hydrogen economy, the CO2 storage capacity to make low-carbon hydrogen production viable, and the potential to build out effective value chains that will serve our short and long-term goals. But having the right ingredients isn’t enough to guarantee the right outcome. Seizing this opportunity will take coordinated strategic planning from a vast range of stakeholders—and these three reports can provide decision-makers with the tools they need to create practical transition pathways to a hydrogen economy that will drive prosperity in a net zero future.

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