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B.C.’s hydrogen fuel project seeing big investor interest, Horgan says

Dedicated permit office aims to streamline development
B.C. Energy Minister Bruce Ralston tours Cellcentric’s hydrogen fuel cell plant in Burnaby, August 2021. Cellcentric is a German-based partnership of Mercedes Benz and Volvo, developing zero-emission heavy trucks. (B.C. government photo)

Since becoming the first province in Canada to develop a hydrogen strategy last year, B.C. has seen proposed investments totalling $4.8 billion in the clean fuel the government is counting on to meet its greenhouse gas targets, Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon said Thursday.

Kahlon and Premier John Horgan announced a dedicated hydrogen regulatory office March 31, during the GLOBE Forum in Vancouver, an annual conference devoted to reaching “net zero” economies by 2050. The new hydrogen office is designed to streamline approvals for new projects and build Canada’s first regulatory regime for hydrogen production and use in vehicles, with transportation being one of B.C.’s largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions.

Electric passenger vehicles and charging stations are becoming more common, but there are few places to fuel up a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. In September 2020, Energy Minister Bruce Ralston announced $10 million to finance development of the industry, including 10 filling stations in B.C.

B.C. has focused on promoting hydrogen for heavy trucks. Battery mass and charging time are significant limitations for large transport trucks using electric motors, and fewer filling stations are needed for established freight hauling routes.

Horgan noted that B.C.’s abundant natural gas and hydroelectric power position it well for developing a hydrogen fuel system. B.C.’s first effort, a “hydrogen highway” with transit buses piloted for the 2010 Vancouver-Whistler Olympics, was abandoned because there wasn’t a supply of hydrogen fuel, he said.

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B.C. Hydro has a subsidiary called Powertech Labs, with more than 200 scientists and technologists based in Surrey. The company is the first in the world to develop high-pressure dispensing of hydrogen to use in filling stations, with four in B.C. and others in California and Quebec.

One of Powertech’s big tasks is producing hydrogen, which can be extracted from water using electricity, or from natural gas, which requires carbon capture and storage to make it carbon neutral. The B.C. strategy says northeast natural gas fields have the low-cost feed stock and geological formations to capture carbon dioxide, but Ralston acknowledged last year that carbon capture operations in Saskatchewan and Alberta have not yet reached commercial cost.


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