Green Canadian hydrogen is not an immediate solution to Germany’s energy worries


OTTAWA — Some energy experts warn that a deal to sell Canadian hydrogen to Germany will be only a small, remote and costly part of the solution to Europe’s energy crisis.

OTTAWA — Some energy experts warn that a deal to sell Canadian hydrogen to Germany will be only a small, remote and costly part of the solution to Europe’s energy crisis.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are expected to sign a hydrogen accord in Stephenville, Newfoundland next week during Scholz’s official visit to Canada.

A government official speaking on the condition that they are not identified confirmed that a hydrogen agreement would be signed, the culmination of months of talks between the two countries.

Stephenville, a port town an hour south of Corner Brook on Newfoundland’s west coast, will be home to a zero-emissions power plant where wind power will be used to produce hydrogen and ammonia for fuel. ‘export.

The Canada-Germany deal is expected to make fuel-hungry Germany the first big customer for a one-of-a-kind project in Canada.

Germany was already considering hydrogen as an energy solution in its climate plan before Russia invaded Ukraine last February. But since that invasion, as Russia tries to fend off punitive economic sanctions, it has repeatedly threatened Germany’s energy supplies.

Germany typically gets around half of its natural gas from Russia and is looking for short- and long-term solutions to wean itself off Russian exports.

Proponents say the hydrogen deal comes at a pivotal time for Canada’s green hydrogen industry, which is still in its infancy.

But some experts also say the fledgling product comes at a steep price and won’t be able to help Germany in the short term. Canada does not yet have the infrastructure to produce large quantities of green hydrogen or export it over long distances.

“The key is that you need to build a lot of associated infrastructure before you can export hydrogen to other countries on a large scale,” said Amit Kumar, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research chair of industrial research. Council.

To be shipped, the hydrogen would probably have to be cooled in liquid, loaded into a specially adapted pipeline or tank truck, and reheated when it reached its destination.

The process and the infrastructure are expensive, as is the production.

Most of the world’s hydrogen production comes from the conversion of natural gas into hydrogen and carbon dioxide. If the latter is emitted into the atmosphere, the hydrogen is called “grey”. In Canada, the goal is to capture these emissions through carbon capture and storage, which would turn the hydrogen “blue”.

To date, Canada has mooted plans to help Germany with new natural gas projects in Atlantic Canada that could one day be converted into blue hydrogen facilities.

But Germany is mainly looking for “green hydrogen”, which is made by splitting water molecules using renewable energies like wind or solar power. It comes at a much higher price.

“You’re looking at three to four times the cost increase,” said Kumar, a professor in the University of Alberta’s faculty of engineering who was consulted when drafting Alberta’s hydrogen strategy.

He said the technology needs to be improved and more investment needs to be made before the cost is even relatively comparable to the natural gas-derived alternative.

The company behind the Newfoundland project, World Energy GH2, said the first phase of its Newfoundland project is expected to see up to 164 onshore wind turbines built to power a hydrogen generation facility. Long-term plans call for tripling the size of the project.

In its proposal, World Energy GH2 said it was at the forefront of a new green industry.

The construction of the first wind farm should start next year. That means hydrogen production is still a long way off, said Paul Martin, a chemical engineer and co-founder of the Hydrogen Science Coalition.

“It will take years and years and years,” he said. “And then you have the infrastructure problem.”

Martin says the infrastructure costs of producing and transporting green hydrogen don’t add up.

“Honestly, looking at the pitch of green hydrogen in Canada for export is dishonest,” he said.

That’s part of why Canada’s hydrogen strategy is to switch to “blue hydrogen” before eventually switching to green energy, Kumar said.

Germany’s strategy, however, clearly favors green hydrogen while the role of blue hydrogen is uncertain, according to an analysis by Isabelle Huber, a researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Trudeau and Scholz, who became German chancellors in December, first discussed hydrogen and Canadian energy exports during Trudeau’s visit to Berlin in March.

At the G7 leaders’ summit in the Bavarian Alps in June, Trudeau spoke at length with other world leaders about how Canada could offer alternatives to countries dependent on Russian oil and gas.

In a press conference at the end of the summit, Trudeau suggested that the infrastructure used to transport liquefied natural gas could be adapted to transport hydrogen, as an example of how Canada could help.

“We’re also looking at medium-term expansion of some infrastructure,” Trudeau said, “but in a way that achieves that medium- to long-term goal of accelerating the transition – not just of Russian oil and gas – but of our dependence on fossil fuels.”

Canadian hydrogen could be just one part of Germany’s plan to ditch German gas in a very difficult situation, said Sara Hastings-Simon, who leads the Master of Science in Sustainable Energy Development at the University. from Calgary.

“It’s not the end of everything, it won’t completely fix the problem or be the only answer,” she said in an interview.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on August 16, 2022.

— With files by Mia Rabson

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press


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