Hydrogen as a future source of energy


For the seasoned industry professional, the use of hydrogen as a future source of energy (at face value) is fraught with pitfalls. Transport pressures above 2,500 psi (g), liquefaction temperatures below -250 degrees Celsius, and an energy density about one-third that of natural gas. These are some of the immediate challenges that come to mind when considering using hydrogen as a future source of energy.

However, when one takes the time to “look under the hood”, there are potential future uses for hydrogen that present compelling economic and regulatory arguments against the naysayers. On top of that, corporate sustainability disclosures regarding net-zero commitments, a huge focus on reducing GHG emissions, and a lack of clarity on the most attractive avenues to meet net-zero commitments.

The energy transition has shifted to hyperdrive over the past 24 months.

Fluor Canada Ltd. (Fluor) and GoobieTulk Inc. (GTI) have taken an in-depth look at whether hydrogen as a future energy source has potential in Western Canada. The first results are convincing, and if you haven’t given it a second thought, I recommend that you do.

The criteria for the success of the business case centered on a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, the potential for immediate implementation of the technology, the use of proven hydrogen production plants in the global scale, acceptable cash cost of hydrogen production and self-sustaining competitiveness as an alternative energy source. .

The study itself consisted of comparing steam methane reforming, autothermal reforming and electrolysis as alternative routes to future hydrogen production. Compared to the success criteria of the business case, autothermal reforming has enormous potential in Western Canada.

With the ability to capture 96% of the CO emitted, the lowest amount of natural gas required per gigajoule (GJ) of hydrogen produced, the ability to produce more than 50 petajoules (PJ) per year of hydrogen using ‘one plant on a global scale, combined With virtually the cheapest hydrogen production site in the world, Western Canada has a fascinating scenario.

Add to this an attractive cash-cost arbitrage, when using hydrogen as an alternative to traditional fuels, up to one sixth of the price in energy equivalent. Add to this that hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (HFCEs) are 44% more efficient1 than gasoline internal combustion engines, the ability of an autothermal reforming plant to replace more than 30% of annual fuel consumption. Alberta gasoline and a 10% reduction in transportation-related GHG emissions in Alberta. amplifies this opportunity.

HFCE cars are at a Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of eight (8) and a small number of manufacturers produce HFCE vehicles. Almost 10,000 HFCE vehicles are operated in South Korea, 10,000 in California and 4,000 in Japan, with initial market adaptation in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia. By some estimates, the hydrogen demand in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland is expected to (aggressively) exceed 20,000 tonnes per year by 20302.

For Western Canada, the only remaining challenge is that the hydrogen fuel market does not currently exist. Advances in infrastructure would promote adoption of HFCE vehicles in parts of Western Canada. Refueling infrastructures are in service in Europe, Japan, China and California. Refueling times for HFCE vehicles are comparable to internal combustion engines (approximately five minutes) and range estimates for HFCE vehicles are 550 to 650 kilometers for some models.

Despite the infrastructure hurdle, the economics are compelling enough to justify the continued study of a global hydrogen project in Alberta. This will require government leadership to reduce the risk of the investments needed to create an opportunity in Western Canada.

Another potential hydrogen market mentioned in the report is the replacement of “gray” hydrogen with “blue” hydrogen. Replacing gray hydrogen with blue hydrogen requires upgrading existing facilities with carbon capture and storage (CCS) or sourcing hydrogen from blue supplies.

To do this, Fluor has developed patented CO2 recovery processes, in particular the Fluor SolventSM Process, Fluor EconamineSM and Fluor Econamine FG PlusSM technologies. Econamine FG PlusSM has been applied in over twenty-five (25) commercial installations worldwide – in refinery, chemical and power plant applications.

Other potential hydrogen markets discussed in the report are 1) hydrogen as an alternative to natural gas, 2) the Alberta and British Columbia hydrogen markets, 3) hydrogen blending in gas pipelines, 4) ammonia and methanol production and 5) overseas hydrogen export markets. .

In summary, the hydrogen ecosystem in Western Canada, although currently nascent, is on the right track. A multi-part view is required to see the full image. If you haven’t thought about it, I recommend that you do.

Related: The Ingredients For A Future Hydrogen Economy: Fluorine

[1] – Transition Accelerator, Building a Transition Pathway to a Vibrant Hydrogen Economy in the Alberta Industrial Heartland, November 2020.

[2] – Zen Clean Energy Solutions, British Columbia Hydrogen Study, 2019.

[3] – The summary of the report is available by contacting David Mercer (david.mercer@fluor.com) or David Tulk (dave@goobietulk.com).


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