Cutting-edge hydrogen power project planned for Port Moody

Port Moody, British Columbia, will be home to an innovative low-emission hydrogen power plant, according to the three companies behind a pilot project set to begin construction late next year.

The test project would be the first such plant in British Columbia, and possibly Canada, to produce what is known as “turquoise hydrogen,” a nearly emission-free method for capturing and converting methane from from the combustion of natural gas. Similar projects exist in Germany and France.

The Port Moody project is now in the planning stage, a FortisBC Energy spokesperson said.

« Hydrogen has a lot of potential for British Columbia, » Sean Beardow said in a phone interview Monday. « It’s potentially a huge resource for us… an important part of how we develop our renewable and low-carbon gases. »

Hydrogen has long been seen as having major potential for climate-friendly power generation and fuel cells for transportation.

As British Columbia and other jurisdictions commit to drastically reduce emissions in the face of climate change, developing greener energy sources at scale is a key technology challenge, especially electricity that can be transported over great distances or exchanged abroad.

The pilot project in Port Moody would initially be small scale. But if developed commercially, the plant could eventually produce up to 2,500 tonnes of zero-emission hydrogen per year, which is equivalent to 300,000 gigajoules of energy, according to its proponents.

Hazer Group’s hydrogen plant in Western Australia is similar to a pilot project the company is helping build from late 2023 in Port Moody, British Columbia. (Submitted by Hazer Group)

That would be enough energy to power more than 3,000 homes, according to FortisBC.

The natural gas company is in partnership with Australian group Hazer – which is already producing hydrogen in a pilot project there – and Suncor, which will host the plant on its Burrard Terminal property.

The process of using natural gas to create hydrogen has been criticized because it still uses fossil fuels.

But proponents of the project say it will release no greenhouse gases. Using a method called methane pyrolysis, the plant would essentially separate carbon from hydrogen into the methane released when natural gas is burned. The hydrogen can be used as energy, while the carbon is stored as solid graphite, which could then be used in other industries like construction.

In April, the National Research Council of Canada described methane pyrolysis as a « completely new approach ». Last year, a methane pyrolysis plant opened in Nebraska, claiming to be « the world’s first commercial-scale methane pyrolysis unit ».

Werner Antweiler, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business who is currently working on a research paper looking at this type of hydrogen energy in international markets, said he was » very exciting » that this project is taking place in British Columbia.

« That’s the beauty of the future, » he said in a phone interview. « Hydrogen is a tool that allows us to exchange and store clean electricity. »

Antweiler explained that the approach is known as hydrogen turquoise because it falls between the so-called green and blue production methods.

In « blue » hydrogen generation, fossil fuels are burned and some, but not all, carbon emissions are captured and converted, he said. « Green » hydrogen is the most sustainable and relies entirely on large amounts of renewable energy.

Currently, the primary way to make hydrogen energy is dubbed « grey » hydrogen, which burns fossil fuels such as coal and comes at a high environmental price.

Antweiler sees the most promise in hydrogen turquoise, but the downside is that it is expensive to produce.

He said the planned pilot project for Port Moody could improve the technology and hopefully help reduce its costs.

“It really is the holy grail to make it economical,” he said.

« We hope that in the long term we can expand it and make it much cheaper than it is today. So it’s a pilot project for that reason, but we expect the hydrogen demand will increase in the future.

« And that’s something that would be revolutionary territory. »


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