Edmonton Global floats idea to kick-start hydrogen economy

· The Pulse

In the next six months, Edmonton Global is looking to launch a "5,000 vehicle challenge" to build both supply and demand to feed a hydrogen economy.

The idea isn't fully fleshed out yet, said Chris McLeod, the agency's vice-president of global marketing and communications. But it starts with approaching heavy-haul trucking and global supply chain companies with an invitation: "We want to build a hydrogen economy. One of the pieces we need is to help you move quicker to your fleets being either hydrogen or hydrogen dual-fuels ... Will you commit to contracts?"

If Edmonton Global can get, say, three commitments from 30 companies, McLeod told Episode 194 of Speaking Municipally, then it can go to hydrogen-making companies like Suncor, Shell, and Air Products with another invitation: "What we need is infrastructure to fuel these trucks. We've got 90 commitments for vehicles — is this enough to de-risk building the infrastructure?"

With infrastructure commitments in hand, Edmonton Global can go back to the trucking companies and say, "OK, now you've got this, will you up your numbers to 10 vehicles each in five years?"

With that kind of back-and-forth, "we think by about 2027, we can have roughly 5,000 vehicles on the road that are either strictly hydrogen or hydrogen dual-fuel, by just convening people," McLeod said. "It's actually building a program that we don't own, but that has tons of buy-in from the trucking industry (and) the hydrogen production industry."

That's just one of Edmonton Global's hydrogen-fuelled dreams. Another is to grow the Canadian Hydrogen Convention from 4,000 attendees in its inaugural year to 8,000 in 2023 and 40,000 in five years, making it the biggest hydrogen convention in the world. Delegations from 21 different companies attended the hydrogen convention in April.

"Not only did they participate in the show, but we worked with Alberta's Industrial Heartland to give them tours around the heartland and the different facilities there," McLeod said. "We set up tours of some of the research spaces at the University of Alberta, also with the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute."

Such events are what it takes to bring the Edmonton region to the attention of a world that remains largely unaware of the opportunities here.

"We've got what the world needs. The world doesn't know it, and it kind of feels like we don't know it," McLeod said. "So I think part of our job is to kind of talk this stuff into existence in people's minds."

Two men in suits sit on stools surrounded by green graphics

Chris McLeod of Edmonton Global speaks with Mark Plamondon, CEO of Alberta's Industrial Heartland Association, from within the Edmonton Region Hydrogen Hub Stage at the Canadian Hydrogen Convention on April 26, 2022. (Edmonton Global/YouTube)

Another job is keeping the 14 municipalities that are shareholders in Edmonton Global happy, even if the fruits of the organization's labours may not be seen within an election cycle. That was part of the purpose of forward/slash, the gathering that brought almost 1,000 leaders from the region to unite around a shared vision.

The event could have been another opportunity to bring international investors to Edmonton to see what the region has to offer, but in the end, "we still felt like there was a lot of work to be done within the region," said Sherri Bouslama, manager of brand strategy and communications for Edmonton Global. This is the raison d'être of Edmonton Global.

"If we're going into the market all singing from the same song sheet, sharing the same messaging, it's a lot more powerful and less confusing to investors," Bouslama said.

McLeod cited the economic benefits that will result from the $1.6-billion net-zero hydrogen facility that Air Products is building. The construction will employ 2,500 people over three years, he said. St. Albert, for example, will see millions of dollars in direct, indirect, and induced impact as a result, he added. Those are the kinds of developments that help Edmonton Global make the case for its continued existence to the municipalities in the region, even if major projects don't land within the industrial tax base of every community.

"We really recognize that no one organization can do this by themselves. And it would be kind of ridiculous for them to try," McLeod said. "So we're just trying to pull together a coalition of the willing to make stuff happen."

Learn more about the stuff Edmonton Global is seeking to make happen, not only in hydrogen but also deep-tech, agri-tech, and more, in the Oct. 14 episode of Taproot's civic affairs podcast.