Mr. Trudeau, Build That Hydrogen Pipeline! – Editorial by Mark Kirby

I had a dream the other night about a pipeline protest. I was standing by a road in a remote area – perhaps unceded First Nations territory…and there were hundreds of people with placards and signs chanting a protest song.  First Nations, young people…wait, is that Greta Thunberg?  She’s in a battery electric vehicle. Didn’t anyone tell her this is a long way from Vancouver and an electric charging station? Uh oh, here comes another group…truckers and oil workers from Alberta and factory workers from Ontario.  And they’re all driving big pickups and heavy trucks loaded with new protesters.

Now the two groups are meeting up and a big, burly oil worker walks up to Greta and…plugs her car into his pickup.  Wait, what?  Does that say fuel cell electric vehicle on the side of his truck?  They hug, she hands him a sign and they join the chant:

“WHAT DO WE WANT? HYDROGEN PIPELINES! WHEN DO WE WANT THEM? NOW!!”

Okay, clearly I’ve been reading too much hard data and factual information about hydrogen and climate change. Clearly, I’m haunted by the reality that hydrogen is absolutely essential if we’re going to achieve our Paris commitments and limit global warming.  And clearly I’m in high spirits because there is actually something we can do with huge environmental benefits that unites East, West, pipeline workers and environmentalists.

I blame Steve Quinn of FortisBC.  He presented at the recent Globe conference and outlined the amount of biogas, renewable natural gas and low-carbon intensity hydrogen needed to meet the 2030 commitment in the BC Low Carbon Fuel Regulation requirements: 30 pedajoule.  How much is a pedajoule?  A lot.  After 10 years of work, Fortis currently has about 0.5 pedajoule of biogas in their network. And what about 2050?  Another 120+ pedajoule is needed.

And that’s just in BC, just for Fortis, just for home heating.  No mention of the additional hundreds of pedajoules needed for transportation: transit, heavy trucking, etc., all across Canada. Or the thousands more needed for export to the USA and other countries so they can also decarbonize while saving money on fuel. Low carbon intensity hydrogen can do all these tricks, but how do we get that much hydrogen to where it’s needed? Magic?

Hold onto that thought, because wait, did I just say save money on fuel? Yes I did. That is because I’ve also drunk the meticulously researched and carefully measured Kool Aid of Prof. David Layzell, Director of CESAR at the University of Calgary. He envisions transforming the trucking industry with big fuel cell rigs that fuel up in minutes at hydrogen truck stops and drive hundreds of kilometers spewing nothing but water. All for half the cost of diesel.

He backs up his research with hard facts about hydrogen cost vs. diesel, fuel cell efficiency, electric drivetrain advantages and practical plans for transformation.  In fact, he’s part of a project that’s actually building fuel cell trucks to run between Edmonton and Calgary, (Azetech).

Okay, okay. Back to supply.  So, we know we can produce that much low-carbon intensity hydrogen – projects by Renewable H2 Canada, Shell, CNRL, Air Liquide and HydroQuebec are demonstrating that. And we know we can do it cheaper than just about any country in the world with our huge reserves of low-cost clean power and our proven and growing ability to safely capture and permanently store underground any CO2 produced in northern BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan.

But again, how do we move the vast quantities of hydrogen from those low-cost production points to where it’s needed?

Which brings me back to those protests:  WHAT DO WE NEED? PIPELINES! HYDROGEN PIPELINES! WHEN DO WE NEED THEM? NOW!!  Now, there’s a civil uprising I would welcome. Those are marches I would join.

However, before the environmentalist and roughnecks join hands, they’re going to have questions – as they should.  Is it safe?  Technical feasible? Does it positively affect First Nations? Will it create billion-dollar projects that boost our economy? Will they make money?  Is it better than local distributed hydrogen production using the electrical grid?  Can we also reform natural gas locally and use the carbon produced as new products or food rather than emitting as CO2? Are gaseous hydrogen pipelines better than transporting it as liquid, or ammonia or methanol?  I believe the short answer to all is yes, but let’s have that conversation.

And what better place to have it than at the upcoming f-cell+HFC 2020 conference at the Vancouver Convention Centre on April 1 & 2?  The key people will be there – hydrogen producers from across the country and around the world, fuel-cell makers, OEMS of fuel cell bus, truck and cars, scientists, pipeline companies and many more.  Plus, the politicians and corporate decision makers who need to lead the change.  More information at www.hyfcell.com  Register and be part of the conversation.

Final word: It won’t take magic to get this done, but it will take hard work, commitment to change and investment – in pipelines, hydrogen products and more. But we need to do it quickly, because we’re running out of time and our kids are getting impatient.