Hydrogen Fuel Canada

How Ottawa hopes to supercharge Canada's hydrogen fuel sector

Hydrogen Fuel Canada

For years, David Lloyd has been intrigued by hydrogen-powered cars. Living in Burnaby, B.C., he regularly passes by Ballard Power Systems — the hydrogen fuel cell company — and often wonders when the technology would go mainstream.


Then last month, while his RAV4 was getting serviced at a Toyota dealership, he spotted a hydrogen car in the showroom. He couldn't believe it.


Lloyd wasn't in the market for a new vehicle, but he bought it anyway.


He's owned the Toyota Mirai for a few weeks and enjoys the smooth, quiet drive. Filling up at one of the three nearby hydrogen stations is pretty straightforward, he said, and costs about $50 if the tank is empty. The vehicle is emission free.


"I'm surprised that I could get in on this sort of next wave of technology," said the 69-year-old former university instructor.


WATCH | Take a spin in the Toyota Mirai:


Canada wants in on hydrogen, too, in a big way.


The fuel is having a moment globally, in large part because it's viewed as a critical component in combating climate change, improving air quality and creating economic growth in a carbon-constrained world.


Amid this resurgence of interest in hydrogen, Ottawa has been crafting a long-term strategy aimed at  securing a place for a Canadian sector in what's expected to be a significant, global industry in the decades ahead.


The government anticipates it will release its plan this fall.


'Things are happening quickly'

As momentum around hydrogen builds globally and other countries execute their own strategies, Ottawa is under pressure to act.


"Things are happening quickly," said Natural Resources Minister Seamus O'Regan, who remembers riding on a Ballard hydrogen-powered bus during Expo 86 in Vancouver.


"It looks like trends we saw before the pandemic have accelerated. We want to be ahead of it."


WATCH | O'Regan on what hydrogen could mean for Canada:


But hydrogen's hurdles include technology, economics, infrastructure and transportation requirements. Producing large amounts of the fuel in a low-carbon and affordable way has also been challenging. The cleanest way of making hydrogen is to use renewable electricity to split water into oxygen and hydrogen through a process called electrolysis.


Governments around the world have begun investing money to kick-start the sector, a move the federal government and some provinces have signalled they will follow. Alberta and Quebec have already committed funding to hydrogen.


The federal natural resources department has been working with industry and different levels of government for the last three years on the project.


The strategy is expected to lean into the strengths Canada already possesses, including low-carbon intensive electricity, like hydro, and ample fossil fuel reserves, according to background documents provided by the federal government.


Alberta has been working with Ottawa on the national strategy and is developing its own blueprint.


Hydrogen in Alberta is traditionally made from natural gas, but the province believes it can become a leader in cleaner "blue" hydrogen by introducing carbon-capture-and-storage technology to the process.


"By 2050, [hydrogen] is going to be a $2.5-trillion industry," said Dale Nally, Alberta's associate minister of natural gas, citing global hydrogen industry figures.  "We need to keep advancing this sector."


The 'fuel of the future'

For decades, hydrogen has been referred to as the fuel of the future. A history of complicated challenges has kept it from becoming the fuel of today.


Part of the appeal is hydrogen produces water — not carbon — when used in a fuel cell.


Enthusiasm has returned with hope that advances in low and zero-carbon production technology could have the potential to provide the hydrogen that governments and industries are looking for to help slash greenhouse gas emissions over coming decades.


Powering cars is one thing, but most experts say hydrogen's true potential is in decarbonizing some industrial sectors like steel-making, providing heat for buildings and being a reliable fuel for trains and heavy-haul trucks.