In part two of an exclusive three-part series, Dan Brock, Chair of H2GO Canada and Bob Oliver, CEO of H2GO Canada, explain why everyone is “looking for Canada” in the growing world of hydrogen.
As the developer of the fuel cell, Canada should arguably be ahead of the game when it comes to hydrogen and fuel cell technology, but when H2 View asked Oliver how he would describe the current state of hydrogen infrastructure in Canada he used the phrase, “Nascent and highly fragmented.”
In order for H2GO Canada to meet everything it sets out to achieve, both Brock and Oliver had to spend time evaluating Canada’s current hydrogen economy, and its past struggles, to fully understand the key issues that need addressing in order to be successful in their goals.
Nascent and highly fragmented
Described as an “intra-industry”, in which what hydrogen infrastructure is currently available in Canada is restricted to smaller areas and therefore unable to serve the wider country, Canada and H2GO Canada has a lot to achieve in order to be a hydrogen leader.
“There are deployments of hydrogen infrastructure, but they tend to be very much dedicated to specific movements of hydrogen from a particular producer to a particular customer,” Oliver tells H2 View in an exclusive interview.
“I would call this an intra-industry. For example, in Sarnia, Ontario, we have a cluster of chemical and petro-chemical processing facilities. There is production and use of hydrogen amongst that industry, so the infrastructure supports the movement of hydrogen there.”
“That being said, there is a surprising array of proposed hydrogen projects in Canada.”
It goes without saying that in order for the Canadian population to fully commit to hydrogen as a widely used fuel source the ‘nascent and highly fragmented’ infrastructure needs to be addressed.
Projects such as HTEC’s six-station network and the recent funding it received to develop and commercialise the next generation of hydrogen fuel delivery systems illustrate steps in the right direction.
After all, who will invest in a hydrogen-fuelled car if they don’t have the facilities to refill it?
“The industry is currently looking for the right economic conditions to move ahead with projects and receive the right approvals to pursue these projects. We are on the cusp of seeing a really interesting emergence on the array of this early stage hydrogen market,” said Oliver.
This is being proved in the automobile industry. At present, there is currently one functioning refuelling station which is accessible located near Toronto, Ontario. There are a further two stations in British Columbia and soon to be two more in Quebec, with several more in the planning and commissioning stages.
“If you live in lower mainland British Columbia, the greater Toronto area, or if you live in Montreal in Quebec, you will have access to high pressure 700bar hydrogen fuel. Outside of those areas it’s quite limited,” said Oliver.
H2GO Canada’s efforts is arguably ‘take-two’ on an attempt to drive the country to hydrogen. Back in 2010, as part of Vancouver’s winter Olympic Games, Canada was on the cusp of a hydrogen economy but unfortunately failed.
“Ballard Energy was the darling of the stock market and everyone was talking about a hydrogen future and a hydrogen economy,” said Brock.
“There was a hydrogen highway built to take athletes from Vancouver up to the ski hills in Whistler in a hydrogen bus fleet, but none of this took off.”
It was reported at the time that $90m worth of hydrogen powered buses were paid for by grants from the Canadian Government with the intention to be showcased at the games, but these were then switched for diesel powered buses whilst the hydrogen fleet was put in storage.
“There was a lot of excitement then, but nothing happened. The entire hydrogen idea just lost steam, the buses in Vancouver were decommissioned and the whole project was more or less abandoned,” Oliver added.
“I think the market, the Government, and policy makers were all really disappointed by this. It had so much promise and it went no-where.”
“But, fast forward to the last two or three years and a number of things have changed. Of course, the view on climate change as a public policy issue that has to be tackled is obvious and compelling, but also the technology has also developed.”
“Ten years ago, there wasn’t hydrogen fuel cell cars like there are today.”
Both Brock and Oliver pointed out that since the last efforts to deploy hydrogen fuel cell technology at mass, automobile makers have had years to develop their technologies which are now more suitable to serve end users.
“Right now, the Government is undertaking the initial work to map out what a hydrogen development strategy could look like. This contrasts to what it would have been ten years ago, which mainly focused on technology demonstration,” said Oliver.
“It is now all about ‘how do we deploy hydrogen with an eye towards developing sustainable markets?’, ‘how do we get volume and flow?’, ‘how do we cultivate the producers and the customers?’ and ‘how do we interconnect those with the appropriate infrastructure?’”
“Basically, how do we begin to really scale up energy or hydrogen in a way that it can be used when it becomes a practical decarbonisation tool for large businesses that have big decarbonisation challenges?”
Read part three of the H2GO Canada three-part exclusive series, H2GO Canada: The hydrogen catalyst, where Brock and Oliver discuss the industries which hold the most potential for hydrogen, its main hydrogen innovation leaders and how it hopes Canada will grow its hydrogen economy.