Earlier this month, the Star published an opinion piece that said the oil and gas industry had “tricked” politicians in this country into supporting Canada’s hydrogen industry.
Contributing freelancer Taylor C. Noakes, a journalist, historian and regular contributor to the Star, argued that Canada’s goals for hydrogen as an alternative energy source are based more on “myth than reality” when it comes to fighting against climate change.
Noakes believes that instead of being the fuel of the future, as proponents call it, hydrogen use is still in the “highly experimental” phase and lacks the essential infrastructure to be transported to large scale, whether by land or sea.
Intended to coincide with the timing of the recent UN climate change conference in Egypt and linked to news earlier this summer of a hydrogen export pact signed between Canada and Germany, the article from Noakes started on the front page of our Insight section and provided lots of fascinating facts that seemed to back up his main thesis.
Noakes argued that hydrogen is a complicated solution given the existence of simpler options, including solar and wind power. He went on to say that hydrogen is touted by the fossil fuel industry because that industry derives financial benefit from it – primarily because they have abundant natural gas that they can use as a power fuel to create hydrogen.
He then quoted an Environmental Defense official who called hydrogen a way for fossil fuel interests to “lock in more natural gas infrastructure.”
Near the end of the article, Noakes pointed out that earlier this month the federal government committed several hundred million dollars to an ongoing hydrogen facility in Edmonton, operated by Pennsylvania-based company Air Products. , a company that calls itself the largest hydrogen company in the world. producer.
A reader, then, could not be blamed for concluding that our federal government politicians had just squandered a fortune in tax dollars on a new hydrogen facility after being duped by the oil and gas lobby.
But some experts, including representatives of Air Products and a local environmentalist who has studied hydrogen and clean energy for decades, contacted the Star to say that Noakes had omitted important context from his story – the salient details of which readers needed to fully understand what is really going on with our hydrogen industry.
After hearing their arguments, I tend to agree.
Opinion pieces are just that: an opportunity for authors to tell readers what they think about issues. As I do with my column.
But it’s a delicate balance. While opinion pieces provide a forum for writers to present After from their point of view, when it comes to important and complex issues that some readers may not be too familiar with, there is also a duty to inform.
Noakes has spent a lot of time delving into blue hydrogen, which he says is “championed” by the oil and gas industry as a stepping stone to greener hydrogen.
Blue hydrogen is created by a process called steam reforming, breaking down methane – a hydrocarbon and main component of natural gas – into hydrogen and carbon dioxide (CO2), and coupling this with another process that is supposed capture CO2 before it enters the atmosphere.
The article quoted an expert in the field, Robert W. Howarth, a professor at Cornell University, who basically rejected blue hydrogen. Howarth said in part that there are only two blue hydrogen plants “anywhere in the world” and that the plants “didn’t even try to capture the large amount of carbon dioxide generated by burning the natural gas that powers the steam methane reforming process”.
No experts working in the hydrogen industry were named in this story. (Tim Fryer, the Star editor who handled the article, says he erred in not pushing Noakes to do so.)
Quickly calling Air Products, the company that received the huge federal grant earlier this month for its new $1.6 billion facility (it will be operational in 2024, according to the company), Noakes might have mentioned that ‘Air Products plans to implement an auto-thermal reformer, a different process based on state-of-the-art technology that the company says will allow greater CO2 capture, at over 95%. Hydrogen-powered electricity will offset the remaining 5% CO2 to net zero, the company says.
The advanced gasification process uses oxygen, which captures a more concentrated form of CO2, says Simon Moore, vice president of Air Products.
Hydrogen is widely used to clean transportation fuels such as diesel, reducing harmful sulfur in the fuel, thereby reducing these emissions. Edmonton uses hydrogen buses.
Industry players also claim that for transportation purposes, hydrogen can be converted into ammonia, which has greater storage capacity. Ammonia can also be easily converted back to hydrogen.
In its report, “Net Zero by 2050: A roadmap for the global energy sector”, the International Energy Agency indicates that one of the main pillars of decarbonization – the rapid reduction of CO2 emissions over the next 30 years – includes electrification, renewables and hydrogen and hydrogen-based fuels.
“If we can sequester – (meaning isolate or cut) – the carbon, then we have a huge advantage as a country economically,” says Dennis Gazarek, a reader who contacted the Star after having read Noakes’ article.
Gazarek describes himself as a “practical environmentalist” (pro-wind, nuclear and solar) who has studied the hydrogen industry closely for decades. The world will need a mix of energy solutions in the future, he says, including hydrogen.
For me, hydrogen clearly has its advantages and disadvantages, and remains a work in progress if it really wants to become a “fuel of the future”.
But when you’re telling a story about such a nuanced topic, there are some important things readers need to know from the get-go.