Green Hydrogen: First Large-Scale Production Plant Takes Shape in Ontario

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Green Hydrogen: First Large-Scale Production Plant Takes Shape in Ontario

The Niagara Hydrogen Center is scheduled to be commissioned in 2024.

Last week, Atura Power announced its choice of supplier for the electrolysis system that will become the centerpiece of the first green hydrogen plant in Ontario. The construction of the Niagara Hydrogen Center is the province's flagship initiative to develop its production of this gas which represents an alternative to fossil fuels.

The multinational Cummins has been awarded the contract to design the system that will separate the water molecule to extract the hydrogen from it using a strong electric current. The device will be manufactured in Mississauga, a suburb of Toronto.

It's the main piece of equipment [at the factory], argues Kelly Grieves, acting director of the division hydrogen from Atura Power, a subsidiary of the public company Ontario Power Generation.

The Niagara Hydrogen Center project was announced last April as the Ford government unveiled its low-carbon hydrogen production strategy.

In its plan, the province is laying out its ambition to become a leader in the hydrogen economy, which it sees as a promising fuel in the global energy transition.

The government believes that hydrogen could replace fossil fuels in certain energy-intensive industrial processes such as steel manufacturing, for example, but also to power heavy vehicles that can hardly be electrified. The plan also identifies hydrogen as a potential source for heating the province's buildings, although a similar initiative has been criticized in Alberta.

The combustion of hydrogen does not generate carbon dioxide, hence its interest in the energy transition. Its ecological footprint depends above all on its production method. The industry essentially distinguishes between three types of hydrogen:

  • Green hydrogen: Produced from renewable or low-emission energy (hydroelectricity, nuclear energy , solar energy, etc.)

  • Blue hydrogen: produced from fossil fuel combined with a capture system carbon emissions.

  • Gray Hydrogen: Produced from fossil fuel with no carbon capture system.

Source < em>: KPMG

Last August, Canada and Germany signed a hydrogen supply agreement. The agreement provides for Canada to increase its production of this gas, while Germany undertakes to develop a maritime corridor to transport hydrogen between America and Europe.

The two countries estimate that the first deliveries will be possible as early as 2025, which some experts question, in particular because of the lack of infrastructure to transport hydrogen to coastal regions.

According to Ms. Grieves of Atura Power, the Niagara plant, which is scheduled to be commissioned in 2024, will produce up to 7,200 kilograms of hydrogen per day, the amount needed to power 360 buses that travel 200 kilometers daily .

The Sir Adam Beck hydroelectric plants will provide the energy needed to produce hydrogen.

The Sir Adam Beck I Hydroelectric Generating Station in Niagara

The energy company estimates that the plant's operations will reduce greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to taking 4,000 cars off the road.

That's a drop in the bucket. the ocean in relation to our hydrogen needs, says Jacquie Hoornweg, executive director of the Brilliant Energy Institute at Ontario Tech University, although she is enthusiastic about the project.

“[This project] demonstrates that Ontario is beginning to recognize the importance of hydrogen in the clean energy equation.

— Jacquie Hoornweg, Executive Director of the Brilliant Energy Institute at Ontario Tech University

The researcher sees the Atura Power project as an opportunity to test the business model for green hydrogen as well as the logistical infrastructure needed to deliver it to users.

The big unknown is the scope of the market, but also the cost that this market will be willing to bear to make way for hydrogen, argues Jean-Thomas Bernard, professor in the Department of Economics at the University of d' Ottawa.

For him, it's still an embryonic industry.

In its strategy, the Ontario government admitted that the production of low-emission hydrogen is currently marginal. In 2020, green hydrogen accounted for 0.1% of global production of the gas, according to the Wood Mackenzie research group which is cited in the province's report.

The the vast majority of hydrogen is produced from hydrocarbons, a more affordable process.

Being first on the Ontario market does not worry Atura Power, who believes the Niagara Hydrogen Center will be commercially successful. Ms. Grieves says she is in discussions with potential customers in several sectors.

Atura Power believes that it can control the cost of the electrolysis system as well as the energy required to the production of hydrogen, the two main determinants of the price of this gas, according to the company. We are strategically positioned to be the lowest cost hydrogen producers in Ontario, says Ms. Grieves.

Ontario plans to develop four additional projects, including three production plants , to propel the hydrogen sector in the province. These projects are also overseen by Atura Power.

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