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Opinion: Prince George has plenty to gain pursuing hydrogen development

Building a plant in Prince George, as well as a delivery station for trucks with a committed customer base makes good sense.
Hydra Energy CEO Jessica Verhagen hydrogen fueled truck
Hydra Energy CEO Jessica Verhagen points to the nozzle where hydrogen fuel is pumped into a long-haul truck now in the hands of Lodgewood Enterprises

Why hydrogen production for Prince George?

Well, there are no good arguments against it. The currently sluggish forestry industry confirms the confidence of investors, as well as the government, that there will be a satisfactory long-term return on investment in this relatively new form of energy. What is hydrogen? Hydrogen is the most abundant atom in the universe, accounting for 75 percent of its normal matter. With three planned production companies in Prince George and region it potentially can be a future hydrogen hub in the Central Interior, also considering that there are only four production companies in BC up to date, with five total in all of Canada (one of them in Quebec).

The problem, however, is the hydrogen production process which is complex and requires another source of power. Sources of power for hydrogen production are very much available in our province: natural Gas and/or electricity, but all production methods are currently considered more expensive than fossil fuel-based production methods and are not pollution-free processes.

Another way for hydrogen production is to split the hydrogen from methane gas under very high heat and pressure, called steam-methane reformation. However, this production is not pollution-free either. Hydrogen is not a greenhouse gas (GHG), but when released into the atmosphere its chemical reactions with methane, ozone and stratospheric water vapor can cause some global warming. However, the application of hydrogen and burning of it when used and applied does not contribute to pollution.

With this explanation hydrogen can clearly be considered as one of the clean energies, although it can and will not replace electric vehicles at this time, which is due to distribution and logistics.

The future hydrogen distribution throughout our country and delivery to other customers has to be done via pipelines, or high-pressure tube trailers, or liquefied hydrogen tankers, while the costs of building and maintaining hydrogen stations would have to be reduced for a potential future hydrogen market. I am convinced that it is possible to reduce all these costs, if hydrogen is getting accepted not only by the industry, but also by car manufacturers who are producing test vehicles already.

Obviously the respective filling stations will have to be available and safety measures will have to be established, because hydrogen is a flammable gas, which can cause fires and explosions if not handled properly, just as natural gas as we know it.

I am referring to my earlier article on the dwindling oil and gas reserves, which is causing China to apply huge amounts of hydrogen already now. China’s strategy is to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. China currently causes 31 percent of the world GHG, Canada 1.5 percent, and BC less than 0.15 percent per capita. Producing hydrogen here and exporting it to other markets where it helps to replace carbon emitters makes sense, especially when the production contributes positively to our economy. Yes, there will be transportation costs involved. We certainly will require more technically educated individuals to enter into the Clean Energy equation to build and maintain production facilities and assure a good customer base as early as possible, such as Asia and Europe.

Building a plant in Prince George, as well as a delivery station for trucks with a committed customer base makes good sense. I am referring to the company Hydra Energy. Several trucking corporations have already committed themselves to have their trucks “converted” for dual use, diesel, as well as hydrogen. I consider this to be a smart approach, allowing new hydrogen applications to be an increasing part of the new clean energy market. However, again: The production of hydrogen is not emission free! Even though our total carbon emissions in the Central Interior are almost negligible in comparison to the word’s overall emission. Investment in hydrogen production and application sets an example, which can be applied elsewhere and can contribute to a carbon emission reduction in densely populated areas and other countries as well.

Future years will show in what way governments and industry will support this. In closing: Hydrogen is one of promising new alternative green energies that in total can contribute to a reduction of fossil fuels and GHG.

Dr. Albert Koehler, P.Eng, is a former Prince George city councillor