By Justin Seward
A Southeast Alberta Hydrogen Task Force has been launched to look into establishing a framework to implement a hydrogen economy in the local region.
Invest Medicine Hat is spearheading the Task Force that will be composed of Prairie Economics Development Canada, the City of Medicine Hat, Brooks, Palliser Economic Partnership, CF Industries, Methanex Corporation, APEX Regional Innovation Network, Alberta Innovates, Community Futures Entre-Corp, Medicine Hat College, RockPoint Gas Storage, Campus Energy, Envoy Energy and The Transition Accelerator.
The Task Force will explore the southeast region’s potential as a hydrogen hub, with a focus on analyzing the area’s unique strengths and opportunities that could potentially make it one of the world’s lowest cost producers of low-carbon hydrogen.
The Task Force came up in discussions after one of IMH’s strategy meetings last year.
“We like to refer to it as kind ‘Trust Fund Child Syndrome,” said Eric Van Enk, Invest Medicine Hat’s director of investments and strategic planning.
“Where, historically, the City of Medicine Hat was very wealthy and really didn’t proactively reach out to establish a provincial or federal government relationship and kind of just did their own thing. They had their own oil and gas company, they made lots of money, taxes were low they had lots of reserves and they were kind of doing their own thing.”
Van Enk said those days are long gone.
“I think the economic development efforts from the city’s perspective have been more kind of one off,” he said.
“You try to build the Aurora plant down here or you try and encourage another greenhouse here. But if you really want to move the needle for economic development, I think you need two things. You need to be regionally coordinated—so you need to start showing that regional leadership as the largest municipality in the region and bringing together groups like the Palliser Economic Partnerships to work towards a longer-term solution of how we replace basically the hole that oil and gas has left.”
There is a significant implication for local rural participants with the solar and wind renewable projects all throughout the region.
“What’s really neat about that is a lot those projects are about the size and scale that they may initially overwhelm the local power grid and outstrip current demands of power,” he said.
“So, effectively they are using solar wind to run the electrolysis process to create the hydrogen. And then that hydrogen is being shipped or used for transportation to create value for those renewables and kind of bridge that gap between the onslaught of all of this renewable development and the advancement of the local grids to the point where it can actually handle all of the power that these renewables are set to deliver.”
A key infrastructure for this initiative is the Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage, which is blue hydrogen that burns natural gas, and in turn runs the electrolysis process.
The electrolysis process separates hydrogen from oxygen and creates a pure stream of both chemicals and can be sold to the medical field.
“That CCUS infrastructure we believe is essential for the region—not just for the production of hydrogen— but also for sustaining and growing our local industry,” he said.
“So, as you know the City of Medicine Hat supplies most of the local power and we do that by burning natural gas. Now in an increasing carbon tax environment, the cost to the municipality and surrounding regions that are relying on the City of Medicine Hat for power—the cost of the that power is going to continue to escalate under an escalating carbon tax regime.”
Van Enk sees water as being an issue.
“We see water and water rights as being huge issues moving forward,” he said.
“And when you’re trying to attract industry to the region, one of the first questions we get from companies that we speak to daily about trying to locate here is do you have water rights? And if you do, what does the water cost?”
IMH is in a good position compared to other southern Alberta communities for water rights with Medicine Hat having access to water rights from the South Saskatchewan River
The six-month foundational study is being ran by the University of Calgary’s Transition Accelerator, who were the same group that did the Edmonton hub.
Van Enk said IMH is looking to look at what the group did and try to make some slight improvements and make some tweaks to their hub.
IMH has met with Brooks, County of Newell and Medicine Hat and will continue to reach out to those municipalities that are a part of the Palliser Economic Partnership.
“The Southeast Alberta Task Force is the result of government and industry coming together to champion real change so Alberta can win economically and environmentally in a changing world,” said Dan Wicklum, CEO, The Transition Accelerator. “Picture Alberta using and supplying the world with zero-emission fuel made by upgrading natural gas or renewable energy. This could be a part of a very strong future for Alberta and Canada.”