The Race to Green Hydrogen

Institute for Science, Society and Policy
Institute for Science Society and Policy

By Kamiel Gabriel

ISSP Senior Fellow, Institute for Science, Society & Policy

Dr. Kamiel Gabriel

Achieving net-zero emissions requires a radical transformation in the way we produce, supply, transform, and use energy. The rapid growth of wind, solar, and electric cars has shown the potential of how new clean energy technologies can bring down emissions. Earlier analysis of future energy pathways shows that it is technically possible to achieve improved energy access, air quality, and energy security simultaneously while avoiding dangerous climate change. In fact, a number of alternative combinations of resources, technologies, and policies are found capable of attaining these objectives. Reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 requires a much more rapid deployment of low-carbon power generation. But electricity cannot decarbonize entire economies alone. Hydrogen forms a bridge between the power sector and industries. Although a successful transformation is found to be technically possible, it will require the rapid introduction of policies and fundamental political changes toward concerted and coordinated efforts to integrate global concerns, such as climate change, into local and national policy priorities, such as health and pollution, energy access, and energy security.

Hydrogen is a gas that does not generally exist naturally in a pure usable form. The hydrogen atom is made up of a nucleus with positive charge and one electron. Conventional water electrolysis alone cannot meet the growing demand for large scale production due to its limitations and the expanded electricity supply requirements to meet such demand.

The promise of hydrogen as a key alternative fuel that contributes widely to decarbonization in all sectors of the economy has propelled the industry to new heights. With applications to abating high emitter industries like cement and steel production plants to aviation and marine transportation, the International Energy Agency predicts that hydrogen will constitute close to 25% of the energy supply by 2050. The primary markets for this green hydrogen include the growing fuel cell transportation market with trains, trams, buses, and automobiles, as well as ammonia and the production of synthetic fuels from CO2.  Another application that is gaining momentum in the power industry is Power-to-Grid (P2G), where hydrogen is injected into the natural gas distribution network as a supplementary component to offset emissions and improve the heat of combustion. Today, hydrogen is mainly manufactured using a steam methane reforming (SMR) process with natural gas as the feedstock. Currently, global hydrogen production is estimated at approximately 93 MMT per year, of which approximately 4% is produced via electrolysis, and the remainder from fossil sources. There is a push for “Blue Hydrogen”, where the CO2 produced in this process is sequestered in geological deposits; a process known as Carbon Capture and Storage (CCU). Many countries are adopting this method of large-scale hydrogen production, including Australia, Canada, US, Saudi Arabia, among others. The cost of production varies depending on whether the production is centralized or decentralized.

I recently returned from attending the largest industry trade show in Hanover, Germany. An entire Hall was devoted to vendors of hydrogen across its entire value chain. Canada’s presence was exceptionally strong, with several SMEs and service providers across the value chain. The time is right for Canada to claim its rightful position as a leader in the hydrogen and fuel cell technologies.  I see that we are at the cusp of a new era of green energy dominating our landscape and I am very optimistic that Canada will fair very well in this burgeoning industry.