Canadian Consulting Engineer

Conversation: Hydrogen blending

April 17, 2024
By Peter Saunders

Fred Taylor

Fred Taylor. Photo courtesy GHD.

Fred Taylor, P.Eng., is a principal with GHD, based in in Waterloo, Ont. As the firm’s North American hydrogen lead, he contributed to a recent report, ‘H2 now: preparing the market, public and infrastructure for hydrogen blending,’ which provides recommendations to reduce emissions associated with natural gas by blending the fossil fuel with hydrogen and capitalizing on existing pipelines.

How does hydrogen blending work?

Natural gas provides almost half our energy in Canada. Even though the country has a strategy to reduce its use, our decarbonization efforts are not going to replace that overnight with electricity. Blending green hydrogen—which doesn’t emit any carbon—with natural gas is one way to help utilities and end users decarbonize. The more hydrogen you can blend in, the less carbon is emitted when you burn the gas.

We’ve built our massive natural gas infrastructure over a very long time, to provide energy safely and reliably to industries, businesses and homes. There’s no reason we shouldn’t continue to use it, rather than build new infrastructure for hydrogen, as part of the energy transition. Our existing pipelines are ‘low-hanging fruit’ for decarbonization. Where we don’t have that infrastructure, such as remote areas, we’re looking at fuel cells and other applications to replace diesel fuel.

Hydrogen is not a silver bullet for everything, but it is certainly part of the decarbonization solution.

“There’s no reason we shouldn’t continue to use our existing infrastructure.”

How is GHD involved in Ontario’s ‘hydrogen hub,’ in Sarnia-Lambton?

As Canada’s largest petrochemical and hydrogen hub outside Alberta, Sarnia-Lambton a good place to look at replacing carbon-intense ‘grey hydrogen’ with greener hydrogen.

To help develop a strategy, we worked with the Sarnia-Lambton Economic Partnership and engaged all of the stakeholders already involved in generating, distributing or using hydrogen, along with related services and infrastructure, as they have the most opportunity for success with greener hydrogen in the short to medium term.

Those stakeholders are now deciding what they should do, when and with whom, and how they can reduce their carbon reliably and profitably. We’ve laid out a road map for them to move toward their target of net-zero over 20 to 30 years. Now they need to take those first steps.

Sarnia-Lambton recently issued a request for proposals (RFP) for the next steps on their strategy and to drive more economic incentives into the region.

Can you also tell us about your work with FortisBC?

British Columbia, already on a decarbonization journey with renewable natural gas (i.e. derived from biogas), also has a longer-term vision for hydrogen.

As a natural gas utility, FortisBC had us do a feasibility study a couple of years ago around two hydrogen blending pilots for approximately 10,000 users in two different communities—one residential, the other a mix of residential, industrial and commercial.

We looked at all of the technical, regulatory and commercial aspects of implementing blending to help decarbonize those two networks, based on their different characteristics. We ended up developing a road map for them to convert the networks, win regulatory and community approval, overcome technical challenges and implement hydrogen blending.

“We are bringing global knowledge to North America.”

How does Canada compare in this field to the rest of the world?

GHD has a lot of staff supporting hydrogen projects in Europe and Australia, which are generally about five years ahead of Canada, but the growth trajectory is very similar—and we are bringing global knowledge to North America.

We did a study for Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) to research where hydrogen should be generated and how it should be exported (i.e. as ammonia or as hydrogen) to Asia, Europe and the U.S. That study is a good picture of where the best opportunities are across Canada.

For example, after the 2011 Fukushima disaster, Japan moved to invest in hydrogen to reduce its use of fossil fuels and decarbonize without nuclear.  We conducted a first-of-its-kind large-scale feasibility study, for a Canadian-Japanese joint venture client, of all components of the export supply chain, including production of hydrogen/ammonia, domestic transportation in Canada, storage and overseas transportation to an Asian port.

Europe is looking at large wind farm projects in Atlantic Canada to generate hydrogen, turn it into ammonia, ship it and transfer it back to hydrogen.

We’re now working for a large company whose pipeline provides natural gas to a power plant in Western Canada. We’re helping them determine how to convert to blended gas, how to deliver it safely and reliably and how much decarbonization they’ll achieve, at what cost. The ‘desktop’ portion of this project is targeted to be completed this spring and then we’ll move into field and laboratory testing to confirm the results and inform pipeline conversion requirements.

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2024 issue of Canadian Consulting Engineer.


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