Hydrogen Summit seeks to ignite concrete action

· The Pulse

Five companies representing complementary aspects of the developing hydrogen economy will bring the 2023 Hydrogen Summit to a forward-looking close on Feb. 7.

A panel of investment professionals will hear from three Edmonton businesses: Aurora Hydrogen, which is developing an emissions-free way to produce hydrogen; Diesel Tech Industries, a transportation technology developer; and ONEC Group, a project delivery firm. They'll pitch alongside two Calgary companies: Ayrton Energy, which is developing electric-vehicle charging powered by hydrogen, and Hifi, which detects pipeline leaks with advanced sensing and AI.

There's no prize up for grabs, but it will be a chance to get in front of almost 400 decision-makers and "showcase that there's activity and momentum in the region," said summit organizer Mark Lea-Wilson, the Hydrogen Hub lead at The Transition Accelerator.

The summit is meant to set the agenda for a year of action on the hydrogen front, said Lea-Wilson, noting that the Edmonton Region Hydrogen HUB spent its first couple of years on fact-finding and analysis.

"Now what we're trying to do is move towards the action space: getting projects launched, getting more people together, making this a bigger opportunity, because we think that we have the foundation, the fundamentals, and the knowledge to move things forward," he told Taproot.

In a way, it's a prelude to the Canadian Hydrogen Convention in April, but while that event is focused on bringing the world to Edmonton, the February summit is about gathering local players to "have conversations about how we want this year to play out," Lea-Wilson said.

Another way to think about the summit is as a sequel to forward/slash, the summit that Edmonton Global put on in 2022 to unite the region around a shared vision of economic success.

Mark Lea-Wilson stands at a podium at the Matrix Hotel in front of a slide that reads "The world has chosen a path."

Mark Lea-Wilson of the Edmonton Region Hydrogen HUB is looking forward to a year of action on the hydrogen file. (Supplied)

Potential hydrogen suppliers in places like Alberta's Industrial Heartland are clear that they need customers to justify the development of infrastructure, Lea-Wilson said.

"The HUB has been focused primarily on how do we create demand, and what that really means is understanding the markets that hydrogen will be competing against and who the customers and the clients are within those markets," he said.

Among the concrete issues to be discussed is what it will take to launch the 5,000-vehicle challenge that Edmonton Global has pitched to get more hydrogen or hydrogen-diesel trucks on the road with the necessary infrastructure in place to fuel and maintain them.

Hydrogen has many potential uses, but heavy-duty commercial trucking and municipal fleets are "the closest to economically viable right now, and therefore we believe they're the most likely to advance," Lea-Wilson said. "So we're trying to organize and coordinate demand-side consortiums, for example, to be able to incentivize infrastructure build-out."

The summit will include a demonstration of the Alberta Motor Transport Association's hydrogen-fuelled commercial vehicles, a project that recently received $3 million from the federal government.

Such government investment is necessary now to get things going, but subsidies won't be necessary forever, Lea-Wilson said.

"We see a pathway to a self-sustaining hydrogen economy. And we're trying to get there, I'd say, in the most optimal way with the most optimal spend of public dollars as possible," he said.

The summit takes as a given that hydrogen is key to any hope that Canada has of meeting its Paris Agreement commitment to reach net zero by 2050. There is something about that that allows a petroleum-based economy like ours to have its cake and eat it, too, Lea-Wilson acknowledged, with hydrogen development happening alongside traditional oil and gas, at least for a while.

While some may be skeptical about the environmental merits of blue hydrogen, Lea-Wilson believes we don't have many tenable options to rapidly decarbonize where we live, and over time, hydrogen will supplant current fossil fuel use because it will be more economically viable, while aligning better with social and environmental goals.

"It's clear that the momentum is going in the direction of net zero and that hydrogen has to be a part of a net-zero future," he said. "We believe, certainly in Edmonton region, there's a strong economic case that hydrogen will win a disproportionate share of that future energy system."