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CBC Radio Interview: Fuelling the future with hydrogen with Brent Lakeman

Brent Lakeman of Edmonton Global sat down Thursday morning with Mark Connolly of CBC Radio Edmonton AM to discuss the Hydrogen Initiative and the exciting announcement that Air Products’ new net-zero hydrogen complex will be built in the Edmonton Metropolitan Region.

Listen to the CBC radio segment here: Fuelling the future with hydrogen or read on for the story…

Mark: Big news in Edmonton’s energy sector yesterday. When the private company Air Products Canada Ltd. announced a deal with the federal and provincial governments to build a 1.3 billion dollar hydrogen plant in the Aurum Energy Park in north-east Edmonton. The facility could be operating within three years to produce both hydrogen-fueled electricity and liquid hydrogen. For more on this, we have Brent Lakeman on the phone. He’s director of Edmonton Global’s hydrogen initiative. Good morning, Brent.

Brent: Good morning, Mark.

Mark: How big a deal is this for the local economy and the energy industry?

Brent: This is a really big deal for our industry. We’re very excited about this announcement and initiative with Air Products; this is one of the leading global players in hydrogen production picking Edmonton as the location for their world-leading facility to produce net-zero, clean, low-carbon hydrogen for a variety of industrial uses.
We’ve been a producer of hydrogen in the region for a number of years…It’s key to our industries, but now we’re turning it over to be net-zero hydrogen production and using some very advanced technology that Air Products is bringing into the market. So yes, this is a really great announcement for our region and positions us as a key hub for hydrogen in all of western Canada—if not in all of North America.

Mark: The energy industry has been hard hit in Alberta these last few years…what does this project mean as we transition to a new energy economy?

Brent: This is a great project because it plays off the strengths we have in terms of our energy and oil and gas experience. We have the infrastructure in place in the region. Again, we’ve been producing hydrogen; we have hydrogen pipelines in the Industrial Heartland Region of Edmonton.

We also have the geology. We have great experience now working on CO2 capture and storage which is fundamental to this net-zero hydrogen facility. We’ve been working on this technology for a number of years and now it’s in commercial stages. We’ve seen other companies make use of those technologies like Shell at its facility in the Edmonton region.

What this project shows now is that we’re a competitive jurisdiction for investment in net-zero hydrogen. Again, we are playing to our regional strengths, and we are in good alignment with the federal government and provincial government. There’s support around the initiative coming from them.

As was mentioned in yesterday’s announcement, this is a key strategic initiative for our energy sector that allows the transition to play out over the next 20 to 30 years as we move to a net-zero economy.

Mark: Not all hydrogen is exactly clean, right? You do use fossil fuels, so is that where the carbon capture comes in, in order to make a better product?

Brent: That’s right. There are different ways to produce hydrogen…In some jurisdictions, there’s some ability to use renewable electricity to produce it. But that’s still a very expensive technology compared to producing it with our abundant, low-cost natural gas. When you combine that low-cost with our carbon capture and storage experience we are, if not the lowest-cost producer of low-carbon net-zero hydrogen in the world, we’re certainly in the top three.

So we’re playing off our fossil fuel experience here—the ability to use low-cost natural gas that we have plentiful resources for. We’re either the fourth or fifth top producer of natural gas globally, so we have the resource, the experience using it, and now we can produce it in a manner that results in no net GHG emissions. This hasn’t been the case, until this announcement.

Mark: What is hydrogen used for? It is industrial? Is it commercial?

Brent: Hydrogen has a number of uses across the economy. We use it already for things like refining and upgrading our resources. It can also be used for transportation. We often talk about different GHG emission reduction opportunities for different sectors—many sectors are electrifying and turning to electricity rather than using oil or gas. But many other sectors have much more difficulty doing that, so they need to look to hydrogen fuel for their needs.

Heavy-duty truck transportation would be one example of a sector looking at hydrogen and seeing it as quite competitive. Municipal bus fleets—that was highlighted by Mayor Iveson yesterday—fleets will be a key strategic area where it perhaps makes more sense to use hydrogen rather than electrifying. Other industries that can’t use electricity need a different type of fuel source…think steel manufacturing and cement production. And as well, looking at the potential to blend hydrogen with our natural gas for things like home heating.

So there are many projects being looked at in our Edmonton region around using hydrogen for different sectors. We’re excited because this provides liquid hydrogen fuel…this would make the Edmonton region the only area in North America that can produce local net-zero liquid hydrogen fuel. So Edmonton is positioned at the center of attention for the future hydrogen economy, and we’ll see some spin-off economic developments associated with that. There’s lots of excitement in the region around this.

Mark: What would those spin-offs be? Once this facility up and running and producing hydrogen–obviously you can export it–but would there be other businesses that would locate in the area because of this?

Brent: We think so. I mentioned the transportation sector; companies are looking to make that pivot to hydrogen. Part of that overall supply chain of companies around transportation may be choosing to locate close to Edmonton where we have that low-carbon hydrogen for testing out new vehicles.  We’re working with a number of companies and global players to look at them bringing some of their vehicles into the market and testing for our regional cold weather conditions and some sector applications. We think this certainly will result in some additional economic benefits.

And there will even be benefits for the companies that already support the oil and gas sector. Making the pivot to hydrogen is not incredibly difficult. As companies look to produce things like compressors, or turbines for oil and gas…those same technologies are also going to be useful for hydrogen. So we can start to see the scale-up of that production as the hydrogen economy grows over the next 20 to 30 years.

Mark: Thanks very much for taking the time with us this morning, Brent.

Brent: Thank you.

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