Hydrogen is the simplest, most abundant element in the universe and it’s been a key component of industrial processes for years. It should be old news, but hydrogen has become the subject of unprecedented interest in recent years, as a replacement for fossil fuels in a net zero world. When this colourless, odourless, non-toxic but highly combustible gas is burned to generate energy, the only emissions are water in the form of steam.
As countries work to decarbonize their economies by 2050, many are exploring the potential of hydrogen not only to heat homes, power cars and balance energy grids but as the key to cleaning up hard-to-abate sectors that are not easily electrified, such as industrial manufacturing, heavy-duty transport, and aviation. More than 30 national governments have produced strategies that aim to create a new hydrogen economy – the EU, for example, wants to generate 1 million tonnes of renewable hydrogen a year by 2024, rising to 10 million by the end of the decade. Hydrogen’s proponents call it “the Swiss army knife of energy solutions”, and argue that it represents the missing piece in the renewable energy puzzle, addressing both intermittency and storage issues.
The ultimate destination may be the same, but countries’ intended paths to a hydrogen economy take different routes, dependent on their current energy and economic mix. Canada, the world’s sixth-largest energy producer, is betting heavily on hydrogen to decarbonize the energy sector that contributes more than 10% of its GDP, predominantly from oil and gas. The Canadian government’s Hydrogen Strategy, released in December 2020, builds on its existing strength in natural gas to envisage an industry that could be worth C$50 billion by 2050, creating 350,000 jobs and significantly advancing its progress to net-zero by meeting up to 30% of the country’s energy needs.