Ever since he saw the brown pollution cloud covering the metropolitan area during his commute from his home in Vancouver to work, Francois Girard, Chair of CHFCA, knew he wanted to contribute to creating a cleaner environment for future generations.
Launched in 2009, as a result of a merger between the Canadian Hydrogen Association and Hydrogen & Fuel Cells Canada, CHFCA plays an active role in accelerating the integration of both hydrogen and fuel cells across the country.
Just last September, Girard was appointed as the new Chair of the association, a role which he is looking forward to getting stuck into as he hopes to promote hydrogen as a clear part of the portfolio for Canada’s clean energy future.
Girard has been active in the hydrogen fuel cell sector since the late 90’s, when he conducted industrial research with a company called H Power, which was later acquired by Plug Power.
“During those years, I realised the potential of hydrogen and fuel cells to provide clean power in complementarity to what batteries could provide,” Girard told H2 View in an exclusive interview.
“I then moved to Vancouver in 1999 and joined the National Research Council Canada (NRC) as it started its hydrogen and fuel cells initiative. After a few years of performing research at NRC, I changed my role to Business Development Officer for what was then the NRC Institute for Fuel Cell Innovation.”
Still at the NRC, but today as Technical Leader of Hydrogen and Fuel Cells, Girard is on a mission to help industrialise hydrogen and fuel cell technologies – something that he will now bring across to his new role at CHFCA.
Due to the NRC being a founding member of Hydrogen & Fuel Cells Canada back in the early 2000’s, and now a Sponsoring Member of CHFCA, Girard is no stranger to the association which now boasts over 64 members.
Girard’s new role will certainly be a demanding one as the pressure is arguably on Canada now, more than ever, to kick start its hydrogen economy and achieve its ambitious targets discussed at the recent f-cell+HFC 2020 event.
“It’s clear to me that hydrogen is part of a portfolio of options for Canada’s future. Our energy menu is vast. Canada has indicated its commitment to become carbon neutral by 2050. There is no single approach to achieve this for any country. Hydrogen is a critical part of the energy portfolio to achieve this.”
“First and foremost, I see my new role as supporting our CEO, Mark Kirby, in setting goals and directions for the association. CHFCA is growing, interest in several regions of Canada is growing and we expect a Canadian Hydrogen Strategy to be released soon. Growing the membership to better represent the sector is paramount.”
Talking to H2 View, Girard explains that the creation of regional branches, such as Hydrogène Québec and Hydrogen BC, will also help to promote the sector in collaboration with provincial governments.
“This is an important activity as Canada’s regions have different drivers and opportunities in the hydrogen value chain. The association will be able to speak for members according to the specificities of each region,” he said.
Canada’s hydrogen-fuelled future
The greatly anticipated release of Canada’s Hydrogen Strategy, of course, could not go without a mention when talking to Girard. Also outlined at the recent f-cell+HFC event, the strategy highlights Canada’s ambitious goal to become the third largest hydrogen producer in the world
“The fact that Canada will have a Hydrogen Strategy should send a powerful message to all stakeholders. We know that the intention of the strategy, from Minister O’Reagan’s speech at f-cell+HFC, is to position Canada in a leadership position both domestically and internationally,” Girard said.
“I would add that innovation to help maintain that leadership will be important too. We can expect that the industry will be invigorated by this message and we will become a major producer, and user, of low carbon intensity hydrogen.”
“The strategy will be a comprehensive call for action to enable contributions from industry, governments and research organisations to create conditions for a hydrogen domestic market and international exports opportunities to reduce emissions.”
Of course, as with anything, there will be some challenges and misconceptions to overcome in order to realise hydrogen’s full potential in the country. “From my perspective, one challenge we don’t need is the perceived competition between batteries and fuel cells in transportation.”
“This is not a productive conversation as we all aim at electrifying the economy. I hope that we can go past this through the strategy and other productive activities. The race is on and Canada will not watch it from the stands.”