The AZETEC project will produce economic, environmental, and other societal benefits to kick start and grow a hydrogen economy in Alberta.
Alberta is a global energy leader. The petroleum industry is a primary economic driver for the province and Canada. In a net-zero global economy with changing demands for carbon-based energy products, Alberta is well-positioned to lead the development of low-carbon alternatives.
The heavy-duty, commercial transportation sector – a top consumer of oil products – is poised for disruption from forces such as high emissions, labour shortages, and low-profit margins. Hydrogen fuel cell electric and hydrogen dual-fuel powertrains are innovations actively being explored by the sector to address these issues. This presents an opportunity for Alberta to harness this disruption and use the province’s resource strengths and technical capabilities to become a producer of very low-carbon fuels (hydrogen), while safeguarding the environment and improving quality of life.
A Zero-Emission Fuel
The AZETEC trucks use fuel cells to convert the hydrogen gas stored in the trucks’ fuel tank into electricity that powers the trucks’ electric motors charges the battery. The only emission from the tailpipe is water vapour.
While hydrogen fuel cell electric powertrains eliminate tailpipe emissions, upstream emissions from the production of hydrogen must also be considered. The AZETEC project builds on the potential for ‘blue’ hydrogen supplies, consisting of hydrogen produced from natural gas where the carbon dioxide emissions are captured and stored (CCS).
Although the AZETEC project is not currently configured to accommodate CCS, the project will shift emissions to a location where they can be managed in future phases. Even without CCS, the AZETEC project is anticipated to achieve a 25% GHG emission reduction.
Another hydrogen production option is to use electrolysis technology to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen using electricity. The GHG benefit of this method depends on the carbon intensity of the electricity used. If renewable electricity is used, this known as ‘green’ hydrogen. This is a more costly method of hydrogen production unless extremely low-priced electricity can be sourced.
Hydrogen and the Net-Zero Economy
Hydrogen is widely recognized as an integral part of a future net-zero global economy, not only because it is the optimal choice for decarbonizing heavy-duty transportation. Hydrogen also can be used to provide space or water heating and the chemical energy needs in industrial processes, and it can be utilized to both store or generate electricity. As a producer of hydrogen, Alberta has an opportunity to realize there are significant potential economic and environmental benefits.
Alberta is already known internationally as one of the lowest-cost producers of ‘blue’ hydrogen, but we currently use our hydrogen to refine bitumen and as feedstock for chemicals and fertilizers. By leveraging our abundant natural gas and renewable resources, our geological formations that are suitable for carbon sequestration, our extensive pipeline infrastructure, and our strong technical capabilities, Alberta has a competitive advantage as a producer and supplier of low-cost, low-carbon fuels which the world demands.
The cost advantage of ‘blue’ hydrogen will also support the buildup of the necessary supply and distribution infrastructure in a hydrogen economy.
Commercial Transportation: An Ideal Partner
As a large, predictable consumer of transportation fuels – an energy product with relatively high value – combined with the drive for change, the heavy-duty transport sector is an ideal anchor in a transition to a ”made-in-Alberta” hydrogen economy. However, transformative change of this nature depends on an innovative ecosystem of diverse stakeholders for both hydrogen demand and supply, a balanced ecosystem aligned in scale, time, and region.