Hydrogen… part of our low-carbon energy future

Remember high school chemistry class? Not such a happy memory? If so, advance warning… this blog could transport you back to high school.

In this week’s blog, we’ll explore the potential to produce low-carbon hydrogen fuel from Canada’s abundant natural gas resources. And we’ll touch on what this could mean for our pipeline industry. Our guide is Dr. David Layzell, research director for Transition Accelerator and director of the Canadian Energy Systems Analysis Research (CESAR) initiative at the University of Calgary.


But first… back to high school chemistry. What is hydrogen gas?


  1. Hydrogen gas (H2) is nature’s smallest molecule… rich in energy and lighter than air. Its component element, hydrogen (H), is the most abundant in the universe. On earth, the largest quantities of hydrogen are in water.
  2. The three main ways to produce commercial hydrogen are: reforming natural gas; gasifying oil, coal, or biomass; or splitting water atoms using electrolysis. Alberta produces about three million tonnes of hydrogen per year, mostly from natural gas.
  3. If you combine hydrogen and oxygen molecules in a fuel cell, you’ll get electricity. If you put them together using combustion, you’ll produce heat. And water vapour is the only emission that results from burning hydrogen gas.
  4. A recent International Energy Agency report pointed out there’s global interest in using hydrogen to power vehicles, heat buildings, and generate electricity. Pipelines will play a big part in its delivery.


About Pipelines: What does the hydrogen opportunity look like for Canada?


Layzell: The world is looking for affordable new fuels and energy systems that will help us reduce emissions. In Canada, we already make hydrogen as an industrial feedstock. And now we have the option to produce low-carbon hydrogen as a fuel. That has huge positive implications for Canada; it opens the door for us to build both a domestic and an export market for hydrogen gas while investing in low emission energy sources.

Hydrogen has advantages over other low-carbon electricity because it can be stored and used when needed. In the movement of heavy freight, or for heavily-used vehicles that need rapid refueling, hydrogen is again the preferred low-carbon solution. Hydrogen is also an important part of the process to decarbonize steel, which is used for pipelines.


About Pipelines: What does this mean for Canada’s energy and pipeline industries?


Layzell: We can make low-carbon hydrogen at half the cost of diesel by reforming our abundant natural gas reserves and storing (sequestering) the resulting carbon dioxide underground.

Hydrogen as a fuel presents great opportunities for Canadian energy pipelines. There’s potential to repurpose Canada’s vast network of natural gas pipelines for hydrogen. It would take time to do that, but I’m confident we have the knowledge to get it done. In fact, there are already trials in the U.K. to repurpose natural gas pipelines so they can carry 100 per cent hydrogen.


About Pipelines: Can you share some examples of the global demand growth?


Layzell: We’re seeing hydrogen fuel cells used in long-haul trucks, busses, and trains in some parts of the world. In Germany, hydrogen is already in use to replace coal in steel manufacturing. And an agreement between Australia and Japan will see cooperation on hydrogen, including the production of hydrogen from coal (with carbon sequestration) and solar power for export to Japan.


About Pipelines: How far along are we in developing the hydrogen opportunity for Canada?


Layzell: Some countries are ahead of us in developing their markets. So, we must move quickly, or we could miss the window. Canada currently has teams working hard to set the stage for provincial and national hydrogen strategies. And some of Canada’s pipeline companies are already involved in the global and national hydrogen economies.

CEPA members will continue to engage in opportunities to reduce emissions and play our part in building a low-carbon future for Canadians.

About Pipelines thanks Dr. David Layzell for the information and guidance on this blog post.

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