BC hydrogen strategy aims to spur new policies and investments in the sector

Monte Stewart
August 11, 2021

The British Columbia government’s recently introduced hydrogen strategy will accelerate the commercialization of hydrogen and fuel-cell technologies, says the B.C. head of the Canadian Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association (CHFCA).

The B.C. Hydrogen Strategy aims to develop hydrogen as a clean-energy source while reducing carbon emissions and increasing investment in the area. The strategy includes a $10-million provincial investment designed to develop policies that will reduce the carbon intensity of fuel and promote a hydrogen economy.

"It gives a reasonably clear signal that the government will support a wide array of projects,” said Colin Armstrong, chair of the B.C. chapter of the CHFCA, known as Hydrogen B.C. “Policy discussion and core programs are needed. It’s still early stages in hydrogen. To move the needle, you need policy support, for sure.”

The CHFCA, a national non-profit organization, also manages the B.C. government’s hydrogen fuelling and clean-energy-vehicle (CEV) fleet program, which is developing hydrogen fuel stations in the province.

Infrastructure projects de-risked

Colin Armstrong, chair of Hydrogen B.C., says the new strategy is meant to reduce the risk for hydrogen infrastructure projects.

Armstrong is also the president and CEO of North Vancouver-based infrastructure developer Hydrogen Technology and Energy Corporation (HTEC), whose projects include four BC hydrogen fuelling stations now in place, and another four under development in the region, along with other stations in Alberta and California.

The BC strategy will help HTEC and other developers invest in infrastructure, he said.

"At that early stage, it is a high-risk venture to develop projects,” Armstrong said. “So [the strategy] helps de-risk the development phase and it helps de-risk the bigger investment at stages if you're going to do a production facility.”

By facilitating more infrastructure development, the strategy will also assist fuel-cell vehicle manufacturers and buyers with their investment-planning, because they will know that hydrogen is available, he added.

The “foundational” strategy will then aid production-forecasting efforts. Armstrong said provincial policies supporting annual production capacity are critical to ensuring the viability of infrastructure developments and future use of hydrogen as a fuel. Developers need to be incentivized because they can’t rely on an if-you-build-it-they-will-come approach, he added.

“As infrastructure providers, we don't have huge control over the demand side,” said Armstrong.

Hydrogen finally a “viable means to decarbonize”

Chris Sacré, president and CEO of North Vancouver-based Sacré-Davey Engineering, which specializes in hydrogen projects, said the BC strategy, coupled with the Paris accord on climate change, demonstrates that Canada is serious about using hydrogen to reduce its carbon footprint and develop a sustainable energy system.

“Investment by government in accelerating the deployment in hydrogen is a fantastic signal that hydrogen as an energy carrier has finally been accepted as a viable means to decarbonize society,” said Sacré, a long-time hydrogen-energy developer who is also an HTEC director.

The strategy aims to incentivize the production of renewable (green) and low-carbon (blue) hydrogen as part of 63 actions to be deployed over the next decade and beyond.

Other actions include:

  • Regional hydrogen hubs that co-locate production and demand;
  • Expanded use of hydrogen across different industrial sectors and applications;
  • Use of hydrogen in regions where it is the most cost-effective emission-reduction tool;
  • The creation of the $105-million BC Centre for Innovation and Clean Energy to drive the commercialization of new hydrogen technology, on which Research Money previously reported.

According to the strategy document, B.C. is the home of Canada’s largest hydrogen-business sector, accounting for 51 percent of Canadian companies in the industry. The province believes that, given its proximity to export markets, B.C. could capture “a significant part” of a global hydrogen market expected to exceed $305 billion by 2050.

But the strategy’s inclusion of blue hydrogen, which is produced from natural gas, drew criticism from environmentalists, including Karen Tam Wu, the B.C. regional director for the Pembina Institute.

“Because BC hasn’t prioritized green hydrogen production, it misses B.C.’s clear regional opportunity to build a hydrogen economy on a renewable-energy foundation rather than on fossil fuels and maximize the potential climate benefits hydrogen has to offer,” Tam Wu said in a statement.

Armstrong called such resistance to blue hydrogen “emotional.” He said critics don’t realize how much hydrogen with high carbon content is currently used to produce gasoline, ammonia and other products.

"We need to start making that stuff blue,” he said. “It's super-important to have both [green and blue hydrogen] in place, and a strategy to support both.”


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