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  • Writer's pictureSonja Matthews

Canadian Hydrogen: Hit or Hoax?


Written by: Sonja Matthews

Edited by: Kyra Odell


Hydrogen’s current and future role in Canada’s energy transition

With hydrogen pushed back into the spotlight of media attention with the recent announcement of a new green hydrogen facility opening in Québec, attention has shifted back to Canada’s hydrogen strategy and whether the country is finally beginning to meet its long-promised hydrogen production plans.

What is hydrogen and how is it used for low-emitting or green energy?

Despite garnering recent attention for its potential in energy and transport, hydrogen has been used for years worldwide in industrial processing to make ammonia, to refine petroleum and to treat metals (U.S. Department of Energy, 2019). Hydrogen is a clean ‘energy carrier:’ when it is used to generate energy using a fuel cell, its only products are water, heat and electricity. Therefore, hydrogen can be used as a green fuel to generate electricity for heating and power generation, with almost no GHG emissions in its full production life cycle.


However, emissions from hydrogen energy production depend on the source used during its production. Hydrogen fuel is colour coded; grey hydrogen is produced using fossil fuels, such as coal or natural gas. Due to the production method, it is extremely emitting - with its CO2 equivalent emissions near the amount released from coal-powered generation (Government of Canada, 2021). Blue hydrogen is also produced via fossil fuels, but its emissions are abated through sequestration. Green hydrogen, the cleanest fuel type, is made from renewable energy such as solar or wind.


What is the current state of hydrogen production in Canada?

Currently, the hydrogen mix in Canada consists mostly of grey hydrogen, with a small percent of blue (Natural Resources Canada, 2020). Similar to the rest of the world, hydrogen use in Canada is still mostly reserved for industrial purposes, such as oil refinement and steel production. Canada’s hydrogen strategy, released in 2020, announced the government’s intent for 30% of end-use energy to be generated from green hydrogen by 2050 (Government of Canada, 2020). If this goal is to be reached, low-emitting or clean hydrogen production needs to be significantly and quickly ramped up. As of this year, not much progress has been made in Canadian clean hydrogen production. In 2021, a low-emissions hydrogen plant opened in Becancour, Québec, one of the only low-emitting plants in Canada (Beauchemin, 2023). Despite the need for further progress to reach this goal, Canada still claims its title as one of the world’s largest hydrogen producers in the world (Trade Commissioner Service, 2019). Already, private companies are leveraging momentum on hydrogen production in Canada by launching new hydrogen projects across the country. In all Atlantic provinces, new wind-powered hydrogen plants are underway, some receiving investments worth billions. In Manitoba, two clean hydrogen projects are underway, with one set to be completed by the end of this year.

The Future of Hydrogen Production in Canada


According to Bloomberg, hydrogen has the capacity to meet 24 percent of worldwide energy demands by 2050 (Dezem, 2020). Canada’s hydrogen strategy, unveiled in 2020, aims to leverage hydrogen as a tool to reach the country’s net-zero emission goal by 2050 and solidify Canada’s position as “global, industrial leader of clean renewable fuels” (Government of Canada, 2020). The strategy focuses on usage of hydrogen for energy-intensive applications, where it offers the most advantages over other clean energy options. The release of this strategy was followed by Canada’s latest budget, where tax credits surpassing $17 billion are available to fund green hydrogen projects until 2035 (Government of Canada, 2023).

With plenty of momentum and funding behind hydrogen projects, the future of clean hydrogen in Canada as a sustainable energy source appears closer than ever. Despite infrastructure and technology challenges, as a new 2023 IEA report tidily sums up: “Canada still sees a sizable role and competitive advantage in the production, distribution and use of hydrogen.” We just need to act on it.


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References:


Beauchemin, A. (2023, May 29). What can we expect from clean hydrogen in Canada? CBC. https://www.cbc.ca/news/science/clean-hydrogen-canada-1.6856584#:~:text=Canada%27s%20hydrogen%20strategy%20aims%20to


Canada Energy Regulator. (2021, January 29). CER – Market Snapshot: How hydrogen has the potential to reduce the CO2 emissions of natural gas. Www.cer-Rec.gc.ca. https://www.cer-rec.gc.ca/en/data-analysis/energy-markets/market-snapshots/2020/market-snapshot-hydrogen-potential.html


Dezem, V. (2020, September 24). Hydrogen Breaks Through as the Hottest Thing in Green Energy. Bloomberg.com. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-09-24/how-hydrogen-became-the-hottest-thing-in-green-energy-quicktake


Government of Canada. (2020). Seizing the Opportunities for Hydrogen: A Call to Action. https://natural-resources.canada.ca/sites/nrcan/files/environment/hydrogen/NRCan_Hydrogen-Strategy-Canada-na-en-v3.pdf


Government of Canada Trade Commissioner Service. (2019). CANADA A GLOBAL LEADER IN HYDROGEN PRODUCTION. https://www.chfca.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/GOC-HydrogenProduction_en_WEB.pdf


Government of Canada. (2023, March 28). Chapter 3: A Made-In-Canada Plan: Affordable Energy, Good Jobs, and a Growing Clean Economy | Budget 2023. Www.budget.canada.ca. https://www.budget.canada.ca/2023/report-rapport/chap3-en.html


IEA. (2022). Global Hydrogen Review 2022. International Energy Agency. https://iea.blob.core.windows.net/assets/c5bc75b1-9e4d-460d-9056-6e8e626a11c4/GlobalHydrogenReview2022.pdf


IEA. (2023). Canada hydrogen strategy – Policies. IEA. https://www.iea.org/policies/17710-canada-hydrogen-strategy



U.S. Department of Energy. (2019). Alternative Fuels Data Center: Hydrogen Production and Distribution. Energy.gov. https://afdc.energy.gov/fuels/hydrogen_production.html

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