Hydrogen is going mainstream

Interest in Canada’s hydrogen future is spreading across the country. Chris Bloomer, CEPA’s President and CEO, recently talked with Tiphanie Roquette, of CBC Radio Canada, on the role pipelines can play in the new energy economy.  Read the French article here or see below for the English translation.

Now vilified, pipelines could be essential to a green economy

Tiphanie Roquette


Energy East, Trans Mountain, Keystone XL, Coastal Gas Link are all pipelines that have become synonymous with controversy. However, this pipeline network will be vital to the transportation of hydrogen, an energy carrier seen as a key component of Canada’s carbon neutral ambitions.

The federal government’s dreams of growth in this area are indeed ambitious. In its strategy unveiled in mid-December, the federal government said that one third of energy needs will be met by using hydrogen as an energy source.

Interested pipeline companies


Without a mode of transportation for this hydrogen, however, there will be no new energy network, explains Dan Wicklum, President and CEO of The Transition Accelerator, a non-profit organization that reflects on the energy challenges of the future.

“There are a number of solutions, but pipelines are the safest and cheapest way to transport gas,” says Wicklum.

The potential for this new economy has not gone unnoticed by pipeline companies.

“Our members are very committed to this area given that pipelines will be vital to the long-term development of a hydrogen economy. There are many business opportunities,” says Chris Bloomer, President of the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association (CEPA).

During a conference call at the end of October, TC Energy CEO François Poirier also showed interest. “We are at the early days, but we absolutely see [hydrogen] as an opportunity for us to deploy additional capital,” he said.

Three transportation solutions


First, hydrogen could actually be mixed with natural gas in the pipeline network.

ATCO Natural Gas Distribution has launched a five-percent hydrogen blend pilot project in Fort Saskatchewan, a suburb northeast of Edmonton.

Enbridge will also add 2% hydrogen in its pipelines, which supply 3,600 residents of Markham, Ontario. The results of this pilot project will allow the company to “pursue additional and larger-scale hydrogen blending projects.”

However, if the proportion of hydrogen used exceeds 15% to 20%, it could damage pipelines depending on their age and the materials used. Pipelines will need to be renovated to cope with a greater concentration.

The other solution is to build a new network of dedicated hydrogen pipelines. The federal government notes, however, that the initial investment would be high.

Europe ahead


What will the hydrogen pipeline look like in Canada? That remains to be seen.

“There is a lot of uncertainty. How fast will hydrogen-powered trucks and hydrogen heating develop? It’s really hard to define our infrastructure needs because, as we speak, supply and demand are growing at the same time,” says Wicklum.

Chris Bloomer is just as cautious. He notes that blending up to 20% hydrogen into existing pipelines is already a massive amount of gas production compared to current production.

“It’s going to take time to reach 100% hydrogen.”
Chris Bloomer, CEPA President

The European Union has taken the lead at full speed. Following last summer’s publication of its hydrogen strategy, a dozen gas companies have established the European Hydrogen Backbone.

Their plan is to have, by 2040, a pipeline network of 23,000 km that will connect “hydrogen valleys,” 75% of which will consist of converted natural gas pipelines. The total cost is estimated to be between 27 and 64 billion euros.

The Hydrogen Debate


Will it be easier for the public to accept this network if it comes to fruition? Chris Bloomer and Dan Wicklum are convinced that opposition does not come from pipelines as a form of transportation, but rather from what comes down the pipes.

Nevertheless, there is already a growing debate. Environmental groups such as Environmental Defence have denounced the prevalence of “fossil fuel hydrogen,” which is hydrogen produced from natural gas coupled with carbon capture and storage.

They encourage instead a strategy based exclusively on green hydrogen produced from renewable energy.

Friends of the Earth Europe asserts that the interests of oil and gas companies have sucked the blood out of the debate. According to this organization, the costly investment in hydrogen could instead be used for other greener technologies.

The federal government has yet to take a position on this issue.