Potential Technical Challenges for the Hydrogen Economy
The transition to a hydrogen economy to decarbonize energy consumption has a number of technical challenges that need to be resolved to enable the widespread use of hydrogen. In Alberta, the key challenges for the hydrogen economy that need to be tackled are:
Decarbonized Hydrogen Production
Alberta currently uses natural gas as the feed stock to produce hydrogen using steam methane reforming (SMR) that produces a large quantity of CO2 as a byproduct. Other processes such as Auto-Thermal Reforming and pyrolysis are being developed that could reduce the volume of CO2 being generated during hydrogen production.
CO2 Transportation and Storage
Steam methane reforming creates CO2 as a byproduct, carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS) is a necessity to support the transition to hydrogen in Western Canada. Increased CO2 transportation and storage operations, including CO2 injection for enhanced oil recovery (EOR) will be required to allow growth of hydrogen production.
A hydrogen transportation and distribution network will require some form of temporary storage to ensure an uninterrupted supply to hydrogen consumers. Underground storage may be able to safely store large quantities of hydrogen.
Heavy industry in Alberta currently consumes 80% of the natural gas used in the province, making it a key target for conversion to hydrogen. Converting to hydrogen powered vehicles and converting residential and commercial end users to hydrogen for heat would also contribute to decarbonizing the energy system.
Alberta is well positioned to supply decarbonized hydrogen to the North American market in the near-term and to international markets in the medium- to long-term. Hydrogen could be exported in various forms including compressed or liquefied hydrogen or as other products such as methanol or ammonia.