The government of Alberta has developed a roadmap to scale up hydrogen production in the Canadian province.

The region said it has the capacity to produce 45 million tonnes of hydrogen per year by 2050, potentially meeting Canada’s projected 20 million tonnes per annum (tpa) demand for hydrogen and leaving room for substantial exports.

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Following the roadmap, the province plans to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 14 million tpa by 2030, increasing that number as the sector develops through 2050. This makes up about 5% of Alberta’s total emissions.

By 2030, the province wants to have C$30 billion (US$24 billion) of new investments allocated to clean hydrogen production and tens of thousands of jobs generated from construction and operation of hydrogen facilities.

Alberta is already a leader in hydrogen production as Canada’s largest producing province. The country’s first hydrogen hub was launched in Alberta by the Alberta Industrial Heartland Hydrogen Task Force.

Plus, Air Products and Baker Hughes are collaborating on a net-zero hydrogen energy complex in the region, and Shell is working with Mitsubishi on a blue hydrogen facility there.

Carbon capture is important for any hydrogen production process that uses natural gas, but many companies are developing large carbon capture projects in Alberta that can benefit hydrogen production efforts, including the Oil Sands Pathways to Net Zero and Shell’s Polaris CCS project.

A focus on natural gas

Because of Alberta’s abundant natural gas, the roadmap focuses on hydrogen production opportunities that use natural gas as a feedstock.

In Alberta, hydrogen production costs are lower than the global average for traditional steam methane reforming (SMR) without carbon capture, SMR with a carbon capture rate of up to 85%, and autothermal reforming, which also uses natural gas as a feedstock, with a carbon capture rate of up to 91%.

Costs are more expensive in Alberta, however, for hydrogen production from wind-powered electrolysis.

Even with carbon capture, utilisation, and storage (CCUS), SMR in Alberta does not have a carbon intensity below the limit set by CertifHy, a European based guarantee of origin program for clean hydrogen.

Gaps in technology for other processes using natural gas, like pyrolysis, need to be closed through research and innovation.

Green vs Blue

Blue hydrogen is produced from natural gas feedstocks, with the carbon dioxide by-product from hydrogen production captured and stored. However, the process is not emissions free.

Green hydrogen is made using electrolysis powered by renewable energy to split water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen, creating an emissions-free fuel.

“With our enormous natural gas reserves, land well-suited to storing carbon emissions, and a rapidly growing renewable energy sector, we have the assets needed to make clean hydrogen at a low cost," Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said.

"With our robust energy infrastructure, early investments and expertise in carbon capture, and decades of experience in natural gas and hydrogen production, we have all the knowledge and tools needed to grow hydrogen development," he added.

“And with the right set of policies, we can accelerate that growth to solidify Alberta’s place as a leader in the emerging clean hydrogen economy.”

New policy needed

Alberta’s hydrogen roadmap relies on seven policy pillars that the government plans to work on in the coming years in order to make the region a leading supplier of clean hydrogen in the global market.

Some of the key policy requirements include building demand for clean hydrogen, de-risking investments, establishing a regulatory framework with standards, scaling up CCUS, developing public-private partnerships, supporting demonstration and research projects for hydrogen, and building a hydrogen export supply chain.

The province is especially interested in growing its hydrogen exports given its high capacity for production. The roadmap says the global hydrogen market has a potential to reach $2.5 trillion a year by the end of 2050, providing up to 24% of global energy demand.