Edmonton's skyline with a bridge over a river.

Edmonton’s hydrogen economy will catapult Canada into a clean energy powerhouse

Clean Technology, Hydrogen
Published On
June 17, 2021

This op-ed was co-authored by Don Iveson, Mayor of the City of Edmonton and Malcolm Bruce, CEO of Edmonton Global and first appeared in the June 16, 2021 digital edition of The Hill Times

Air Products (NYSE:APD) has announced plans to build the world’s largest net-zero hydrogen complex in the Edmonton Metropolitan Region. The first phase of this new facility will involve a $1.3 billion capital investment — the first of its kind in Canada. The announcement, which was supported by all three orders of government, is a giant leap forward in building a hydrogen economy for Canada and reaching our climate goals for carbon-neutrality by 2050. This project serves as a signal of our region and country’s commitment to this generation’s “moon shot” for a low carbon future. There is, after all, no greater intergenerational issue for our country or the planet.

As the world responds to the challenges of climate change, energy systems are evolving — and quickly. We’ve seen a rise and dramatic cost reduction in alternative energy sources that are now becoming mainstream. Hydrogen will be the next breakthrough energy source.

Key investments in infrastructure, including hydrogen and ammonia pipelines, carbon sequestration, and cooperation among all orders of government, will be critical to the scale up of this industry. The race is on, and those jurisdictions that present a united and strategic approach to building out hydrogen nodes will be the winners. Both the federal and Alberta governments see hydrogen as a necessary component to hitting our climate goals — but there’s more that can and should be done.

As technologies evolve, so too must our thinking. We have a moral and economic obligation to overcome the barriers we’ve created to working across provincial boundaries on pipelines. As a country, we must respect and include our First Nations in this work as full and equal partners. We also need to stop talking and valuing hydrogen projects by their colour. The seemingly simple “green” and “blue” doesn’t reflect the most important issue, which is the carbon intensity of the product and the plant lifecycle. Net zero hydrogen of any colour is what we need, and that’s the outcome we need to reach – and reach quickly. We need many, many pathways to get to net zero by 2050 and live within both the planetary carbon budget, and to meet Canada’s carbon reduction goals. What matters most is de-carbonizing our economy.

Canada needs a united front among all orders of government on what we want to tell the world about our role as a clean energy leader — and there’s a compelling story to tell. Canada is already a world leader in renewable energy and we have the potential to be a global supplier of sustainable batteries. When it comes to hydrogen, there’s a story to tell that stretches from coast to coast. There is enormous potential to produce hydrogen across the Maritimes, Quebec, and Manitoba. Saskatchewan and BC also have the potential to produce zero-carbon hydrogen at a scale approaching Alberta’s — a scale that can make a global impact approaching $100B in export value. Investment is needed across Canada to transform this potential into action.

The Edmonton region has a successful track record in building disruptive technologies and its role as one of three national AI hubs, is creating opportunities to apply AI and ML to the energy sector and accelerating innovation. We think of our region as an energy innovation sandbox where ideas and technologies can be tested, iterated, and built out at scale — and this is exactly what is happening with hydrogen technologies in our region right now.

When Air Products’ facility begins full operations in 2024, it will be a cornerstone of the world’s largest zero-carbon hydrogen network. The first phase of the project will dramatically de-carbonize industry, energy. and transportation networks across Western Canada. Future phases of this project and other parallel investments will allow us to export hydrogen to markets like California and Asia — helping dramatically de-carbonize some of our largest trading partners. We need to invest in infrastructure to move hydrogen across Canada and to international markets. The global demand for hydrogen is predicted to reach $2,3 trillion annually. We have the ability to produce zero-carbon hydrogen at a low cost and at a volume that can make a global difference. We must ensure we don’t hold ourselves back.

The Edmonton region is at the forefront of Canada’s hydrogen economy. We have established Canada’s first hydrogen hub, a network of governments, First Nations, NGOs, universities and colleges, and industry. Unlike traditional products in the energy sector which were built independently of each other, the hydrogen economy requires a high degree of collaboration across a broad range of stakeholders to unlock its potential. And this is exactly what is happening in this case: a broad spectrum of stakeholders, from industry, academia, the non-profit sector and all three orders of government laboured together for many months to make this announcement possible.

Our partnership sends a clear message to the global investment community: we’re collaborating locally to compete globally. We’re working together to make the Edmonton region a world leader in clean energy innovations — and it’s working.