Overview

Ambition: Develop an engaged network of key players and enablers (technical, business, financial, academic, etc.) who are knowledgeable, comfortable, and supportive of a hydrogen economy in Alberta.

The world is looking to decarbonize transportation and industries. Electrification is currently the leading approach, but it does not address all the needs for some specific applications. Alberta does not have an inherent commercial advantage around electrification. If that is the only pathway developed for the future energy system, Alberta will lose its current fossil fuel industry and not have anything ready with which to replace it.

Hydrogen is an energy carrier that has some advantages over electricity in some uses. Alberta has several natural resource advantages, technological advantages, and commercial advantages when it comes to hydrogen. By developing and commercializing hydrogen technology in Alberta, we can help make it a viable decarbonization option and provide jobs, investments, tax revenue, and royalties that will help keep our province economically and socially viable. With so many ways to produce it and use it, and the associated technology that is being developed for these uses, there are tremendous technology development and entrepreneurial opportunities.

This initiative supports the exciting work on the technical pathways to hydrogen development led by the Canadian Energy Systems Analysis Research (CESAR). There are a myriad of considerations in moving hydrogen from a technical element to an embedded component of a social and economic system. The EFL leverages its diverse network and broad expertise to identify, map and engage the full complement of system-wide considerations and stakeholders for development and deployment of a hydrogen economy.

This initiative first aims to identify and map a full picture of a mature hydrogen economy in the province, while engaging key stakeholders in its development. This likely includes expertise (knowledge, work experience, labour, skills), business models, financing and economic models, regulatory elements, as well as other intangibles of a hydrogen economy (e.g. comfort, willingness to risk in an emerging industry, etc.).

Challenges

The biggest challenge to overcome is the fact that hydrogen as a transportation energy source is new in Alberta, and relatively new globally. This means that those who would normally be involved in supporting a new venture are not familiar with its challenges, including regulatory, legal, financing, and policymaking. A big challenge, therefore, is doing the necessary legwork to help people get comfortable with hydrogen across the breadth of the full system, including everyone who would ultimately help enable a hydrogen economy.

Some additional challenges include:

  • Current businesses and investors in Alberta do not see the fossil fuel industry at risk
  • Current hydrogen production releases CO2, and some activist groups do not want to see an initial use of SMR-sourced hydrogen due to those emissions (i.e. it is too difficult to build the entire hydrogen economy in one push, and phasing it in does not immediately eliminate all emissions)
  • Retrofitting pipelines to handle pure hydrogen is very expensive, building new infrastructure is even more expensive; this is all compared against electrification, which already has an existing network everywhere it is needed (it may need to be enhanced over time, but it is not a current bottleneck for electricity)
  • Much of the end-use technology is not commercially ready or available, and where it is, it is often more expensive than electrification options

Initiative Status

The EFL held an Accelerator on Mobility in a Low-Carbon Future to share leading-edge research on Alberta’s role in the movement of people and goods in a low-carbon future, while accelerating innovations in hydrogen, biofuels, metals supply, and more. Learn about the outcomes here.

The EFL featured this initiative as one of the Five Big Ideas for Alberta’s Economic Recovery. View the recording of the virtual conference here.