The blue future of hydrogen

The rise of one of the most promising candidates to lead the energy transition in transport and energy infrastructure.

by Michelle Leslie
25 January 2021
5 min read
by Michelle Leslie
25 January 2021
5 min read

Hydrogen is transforming the way the world moves. Countries and companies around the world are working on technologies to weave hydrogen into transportation, energy infrastructure and pipeline networks globally. "Thinking in terms of transition pathways, we see the early adoption of hydrogen through the use of natural gas," explains Malini Giridhar, vice president of business development and regulatory at Canada's Enbridge Inc.

As Giridhar and others assert, finding innovate ways to safely blend hydrogen into existing natural gas supplies may help the world to cut carbon emissions, make the targets set out in Paris in 2015 more achievable.

Emissions-free air travel

In late September 2020, European engineering giant Airbus announced plans to make aviation travel emissions-free by 2035 with ZEROe, a hydrogen-powered concept set to take flight. Its concept will be able to ground emissions in one of the fastest growing industries. Between 1960 and 2017, the number of airline travelers increased from 100 million to 4 billion. With that increase also comes an increase in carbon emissions. As reported by the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, "Passenger air travel is producing the highest and fastest growth of individual emissions despite a significant improvement in efficiency of aircraft and flight operations over the last 60 years." 

In 2019, global events like political unrest hindered air travel, but the International Air Transport Association (IATA), reported the sector still grew nearly 5%. The IATA is also forecasting a return to pre-COVID global passenger levels within the next four years, highlighting the ongoing importance of cutting carbon emissions from the airline industry. According to AirBus, the ZEROe concept can pave the way for greener air travel, reducing the aviation industry's carbon footprint by upwards of 50%.

The new ZEROe aircraft made by Airbus

Decarbonizing energy infrastructure and transportation networks

Exploring the role of hydrogen to meet the energy needs of communities is a quest that Enbridge has been on for quite some time, says Giridhar. “Enbridge got interested in renewable power generation in the early 2000s, and we invested in onshore wind and solar fairly early. Our interest in hydrogen came about as we have natural gas infrastructure and we were interested in renewable power." In the race for hydrogen integration there is also a debate surrounding the type of hydrogen that should be used. Blue hydrogen, for example, is produced through the use of natural gas and capturing and storing the carbon emissions. Green hydrogen is produced through electrolysis using clean, renewable sources.

In Canadian provinces such as Alberta and British Columbia, home to natural gas deposits, blue hydrogen may help to lower carbon emissions by blending it to existing grids. In other regions where renewable energy is more prevalent, green hydrogen can be used to help provide clean energy solutions. At the forefront of Enbridge's clean energy solutions is their partnership with Hydrogenics. The two companies worked together to make history for North America, developing the first energy storage facility using hydrogen technology. Meanwhile, the Government of British Columbia recently made headlines, announcing a multi-million-dollar program to install hydrogen-fueling stations throughout the province. “For British Columbia to reach its CleanBC targets, we must shift how we produce and consume energy," says Bruce Ralston, Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources.

“Hydrogen will play a significant role in B.C.'s sustainable energy future, generating environmental and economic benefits across the province." Home to the largest hydrogen network in Canada, British Columbia's initiative is expected to not only help the Canadian province meet their targets of net-zero vehicle emissions, but also double the provincial GDP and create thousands of jobs. As Giridhar explains, the future for hydrogen is bright. "There is a huge potential for hydrogen as a primary energy use and to bring down emissions." Whether the future is blue, green, or a combination of both, hydrogen has the potential to help countries get on the net-zero track, improve the health of communities, and transform regional economies now and into the future.

The author: Michelle Leslie

Journalist and meteorologist, she writes about Energy,  Environment, Climate, Weather, Health, Sustainability issues.
She contributes to Global News-640 Toronto.