Alberta group eyes area near Edmonton as kick-off point for clean energy industry

A study released Monday says that an area northeast of Edmonton would be an ideal spot to develop Alberta’s hydrogen industry.

The study, put together for Alberta’s Industrial Heartland Hydrogen Task Force by the energy emissions research group Transition Accelerator, says the region could be developed into a hub that supplies hydrogen to the Edmonton area and beyond.

“We basically have all the technologies that we need,” Dan Wicklum, the CEO of Transition Accelerator, said.

“We can produce, distribute and use hydrogen right now. What we need to do is bring them together in the right combination so we can realize the potential.”

Hydrogen has been eyed globally as a greener option to replace fossil fuels. Alberta also already has a hydrogen industry; it’s used in the oilsands and in fertilizer production.

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Wicklum said the method that Albertans should be eyeing is creating “blue hydrogen” — a low emissions hydrogen that’s created by taking a fossil fuel like natural gas and putting it through a “reforming process.”

The gas is then separated into hydrogen and carbon dioxide and the carbon dioxide is stored.

“The potential for hydrogen is for us to be able to keep producing and developing our fossil fuel resources via hydrogen and have those fossil fuel resources, that energy, be used in a way that’s completely compatible in the low-carbon world,” Wicklum said.

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Currently, when hydrogen is created in Alberta the carbon is not stored but is released– meaning what the hydrogen industry creates now is called “grey hydrogen.” There’s also an even cleaner method — green hydrogen — where a water molecule is split in half by electricity to create hydrogen.

According to the study, the area northeast of Edmonton would be an ideal spot to launch a hydrogen industry due to its already-in-place infrastructure, close nearby markets, pipeline accessibility and interest from government.

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The area being eyed — Alberta’s Industrial Heartland — is 533 square kilometres of industrial-zoned land within the City of Fort Saskatchewan and the counties of Lamont, Strathcona and Sturgeon.

“We have the skillset in this region, based on our oil and gas history,” said Alanna Hnatiw, the mayor of Sturgeon County. “Whether it’s through infrastructure, just the labour market itself, and certainly just the ability of municipalities to be able to work cohesively together.

“This is an opportunity for us to maintain and in some ways regain some of our foothold in the energy sector by moving on the skillset that we already have in place.”

The study suggests a “hydrogen node” model where local governments and stakeholders work together to form agreements to use hydrogen such as in-fleet vehicles or in other ways. For example, ATCO is also beginning to blend hydrogen with natural gas in a pilot project in Fort Saskatchewan. That pilot project mixes about five per cent hydrogen into the city’s residential natural gas system to lower carbon emissions.

“We know how to do this, we’ve just never really done it at a scale where it can become economic,” Wicklum said. “This isn’t really about the technology not existing.

“It’s about bringing the technology together in the right ways that is profitable and economical.”

The new study comes shortly after the province launched a natural gas vision and strategy plan in early October where it said it wants to see Alberta export hydrogen globally by 2040.

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Read more: Federal government finalizes methane reduction deals with B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan

Wicklum said the next step is getting stakeholders and government together to work toward launching the industry in a tangible way.

“We have this natural competitive advantage… We understand what it takes to become a global energy leader,” he said.

The federal government has also pledged that Canada will exceed its Paris climate agreement targets by 2030 and then hit net zero emissions by 2050.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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