Using hydrogen in Canada
The potential for hydrogen use in Canada is as diverse as the pathways to create it. Adoption of hydrogen will be focused on energy-intensive applications offering advantages over other zero-carbon options. This includes using hydrogen as a fuel for long-range transportation and power generation, to provide heat for industry and buildings, and as a feedstock for heavy industrial processes such as steel and cement making. Domestic deployment of hydrogen will be critical to supporting Canada’s world-leading hydrogen and fuel cell sector as well as to meeting our climate change objectives.
There are opportunities to use hydrogen in every mode of the transportation sector, although some, like on-road vehicles, are more advanced than others. Trucking, rail, marine and aviation applications have energy-intensive duty cycles and long ranges, making them well suited for hydrogen. In all modes, hydrogen can be used directly in a fuel cell or can be combusted either directly or in fuel blends.
As fueling infrastructure can be expensive, fleets that return to base, such as medium- and heavy-duty vehicles (buses, delivery trucks, freight trucks, etc.), and areas where multiple uses converge, such as ports and mining applications, can ensure adequate hydrogen demand to decrease costs.
On road: light- and heavy duty vehicles
Hydrogen can be used directly as a fuel in fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs), which have twice the efficiency of combustion engines and zero harmful emissions at the tailpipe. FCEVs offer opportunities for long ranges and fast refueling times and are well suited to larger passenger and commercial vehicle platforms.
The Government of Canada has set federal targets for zero-emission vehicles to reach 10% of vehicle sales per year by 2025, 30% by 2030 and 100% by 2040. In addition to battery-powered electric vehicles, fuel cell electric vehicles will play an important role in ensuring national targets are met.
Natural Resources Canada’s Electric Vehicle and Alternative Fuel Infrastructure Deployment Initiative is helping to remove barriers to the availability of hydrogen fueling stations for public use. As of March 2020, the program had selected 837 EV fast chargers, 23 natural gas refuelling stations and 8 hydrogen refuelling stations for funding. Additionally, new investments in publicly accessible fueling stations are being supported by British Columbia and Quebec and offer enormous potential in the long-haul trucking and freight industries.
Other transportation applications
More than 35,000 hydrogen-fuel-cell-powered forklift trucks for moving goods are already in use across North America. There are many other opportunities for goods movement, both in marine vessels and in rail cars.
Ports provide options not only for marine vessels, including fueling and providing shore power in harbour, but also for decarbonizing the heavy diesel equipment and vehicles also converging within port boundaries, such as drayage trucks, gantry cranes, straddle carriers and rail yard switches.
Hydrogen can also reduce the reliance on diesel or replace it for both aboveground and underground power and heavy-duty vehicles in Canada’s mining operations, thereby decreasing exhaust emissions such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter. Underground use of zero-emission fuel cell mining equipment can ultimately reduce the ventilation requirements that contribute to 30-40% of a mine’s total operating costs.
Greenhouse gas emissions from diesel trains are a significant contributor to global warming and, in urban areas, produce local air contaminant emissions. Hydrail trains powered by hydrogen fuel cells enable a gradual transition to electrification as they offer the advantage of being able to use existing unmodified tracks with no additional electrification infrastructure.
The International Marine Organization is driving aggressive emission reductions in the shipping industry and has identified ammonia (made with renewable hydrogen) and hydrogen used directly as a fuel to decarbonize the shipping industry. Although less mature, demonstrations throughout the world are occurring in this sector. Early applications include ferries, tugboats and coastal and inland barges.
Hydrogen has high gravimetric energy density, offering a significant advantage as an aviation fuel. It can also be used to power a fuel cell to provide energy for on-board systems, significantly reducing overall jet fuel consumption. While not yet commercial, a wide range of applications ranging from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones to propulsion systems in manned aircraft are in the study and pilot demonstration phase.
Hydrogen can be used as a fuel for power production through either hydrogen combustion in turbines or use in stationary fuel cell power plants. Hydrogen can be produced from off-peak and variable renewable power and can be used as a storage mechanism to allow for greater grid resiliency.
Heat for industry and buildings
As a fuel, hydrogen is a cleaner-burning molecule that can be used instead of fossil fuels where high-grade heat is needed both for industrial processes and in the built environment. When hydrogen is blended with natural gas, the resulting gas mixture can be used in many applications instead of pure natural gas, including for heat generation. Clean hydrogen used directly or via blended natural gas pipelines or other fossil fuels will help reduce carbon emissions.
Feedstock for industry
The largest current use for hydrogen, both in Canada and globally, is as a feedstock in emission-intensive industrial sectors, such as oil refining, ammonia production, methanol production and steel production. Most of this feedstock hydrogen is currently produced via steam methane reforming of natural gas without capturing and storing the carbon. Clean hydrogen presents a major opportunity for these industries to lower the carbon intensity of their products and overall emissions.
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