Fuji, Not Kodak, Is Our Energy Sector’s Future. The Newly-Announced Clean Fuels Fund Will Help.
June 24, 2021
It’s conventional wisdom that digital film disrupted then destroyed Kodak. It’s unconventional knowledge that Fuji pulled through.
After wrenching but necessary layoffs, Fuji redirected its collagen and antioxidant expertise from film to cosmetics. They entered other new fields, including pharmaceuticals and medical imaging, and they survived. They made it.
Canada’s energy sector’s future can be, should be, and will be more Fuji than Kodak.
While Canada has a half-continent of above-ground renewable energy resources – hydroelectric, wind and solar power – it’s our half-continent of below-ground fossil energy resources we think of, when we talk about the Canadian energy sector. We’ve become experts at producing and processing fossil fuels.
And to give them the credit they’re due fossil fuels have provided such cheap energy in such abundance, they’ve helped raise worldwide living standards. In Canada the sector has offered premium blue-collar jobs, boosted our trade balance, and – at least for a time, at least for some – created prosperity. But like every hero it’s lived long enough to see itself become the villain.
The solution to our climate efforts isn’t to rely on renewables to electrify everything and abandon seemingly non-core (in our case, hydrocarbon) expertise. Kodak did this, divesting its health division in 2007, while Fuji correctly saw health and wellness as paths for new growth. The world is thirsting for energy without emissions. Our above-ground and below-ground resources will both contribute. “To go fast, go alone. To go far, go together.”
But to go farthest, we must go with a plan. Which is what the previously-announced Clean Fuel Standard and now-unveiled new Clean Fuels Fund provide: markets and funding for low-emissions hydrogen which will allow producers to scale production high enough to bring costs low enough for widespread use as feedstock and fuel. [It would’ve been better if we could have gotten a hydrogen-exclusive carve-out. That didn’t happen this time; all the more reason to broaden our coalition.
Announcements this past month from Suncor and Air Products – with more to come – already show how we can, should and will be turning more attention to below-ground energy without emissions. Clean hydrogen projects leveraging our above-ground energy resources, such Renewable Hydrogen Canada’s Sundance Project in British Columbia, are also in development. And the world’s largest proton exchange membrane (PEM) hydrogen electrolyzer began operations this year in Quebec, generating low-emission hydrogen from hydroelectricity with Canadian-developed technology.
As with every climate solution more is needed, and faster. Dedicated support for clean fuel distribution infrastructure would parallel the government’s transformational investments to modernize our electric grid. Direct support for industry, businesses and individuals adopting or retrofitting to clean fuel solutions would complete the virtuous loop.
Skeptics may ask why hydrogen is having another moment and if it is even needed at all. The difference is Net Zero. When governments aimed for 20 percent, 40 percent or even 60 percent emissions reductions renewables and batteries were largely adequate, so low-emission hydrogen and adjacent technologies such as fuel cells weren’t a priority. Net Zero plans brought them back into the limelight, for the first time as “must-haves” instead of “feel-goods”.
And unlike past cycles where hype ran ahead of reality, the technologies are ready. Low emissions hydrogen can now be sourced from clean power, biomass, pyrolysis and even fossil fuels, at industrial scale. And for the past several years worldwide fuel cell production has scaled up steadily, closely mirroring the growth of wind turbines and solar photovoltaics in earlier decades.
Canadians have toiled on fuel cells since the early 1980’s, so the technology may be considered a late bloomer. This isn’t uncommon. Nokia established its electronics division in 1967 but the pivotal Nordic Mobile Telephone network didn’t get built until 1981. It was thirty-eight years from Karl Clark’s patent for separating sand from bitumen to the first commercial oil sands facility. And even in the natural world it takes thirty to forty years for maples to grow large enough to be tapped for maple syrup.
Now it’s 2021, Canada has committed to Net Zero, and the Canadian hydrogen and fuel cell industry is ready. The government’s new Clean Fuels Fund will accelerate growth in our above-ground energy industries and help ensure the future of our below-ground energy industries can, should and will be more Fuji than Kodak.
And it’s tapping time.