By Jack Chaben, FCHEA Intern
In 2010, to support transportation needs during the Olympic Games in British Columbia, the Canadian government added 20 fuel cell buses (FCBs) to Vancouver’s transit supply. Despite the insufficient supply of hydrogen fuel, and the subsequent end of the program in 2014, the clean and efficient vehicles demonstrated Canada’s commitment to a sustainable future, and the model it hoped Vancouver would become.
Canada’s quick adoption of hydrogen and fuel cells in 2010, however, showed the importance of infrastructure development to support an expanding fleet of fuel cell vehicles (FCVs), and established a foundation for further research, development and deployment throughout the country. While the luster of hydrogen may have dulled after the Olympics, Canada has since renewed its efforts at promoting a clean and sustainable energy future through widespread industry efforts and government cooperation.
In November 2018, the Government of Canada released its Fall Economic Statement which introduced several new energy-based initiatives that could benefit the hydrogen and fuel cell industries in the country. Included in these initiatives is the government’s plan to modernize federal regulations to support the development and deployment of emerging technologies. The program will also allocate funds to support the full cost of clean energy equipment through immediate expensing. This federal urgency to support an efficient and sustainable energy supply in Canada has cultivated a renewed effort for innovation in the country.
Canada’s Department of Natural Resources (NRCan) introduced the Green Infrastructure Fund in 2017 to support the efforts of industry and government entities working to deploy clean energy infrastructure solutions throughout the country. Part of the funds are dedicated to the Electric Vehicle and Alternative Fuel Infrastructure Deployment Initiative, a federal program seeking to construct a coast-to-coast charging network for electric vehicles, natural gas trucks, and FCVs. Under Phase 1 of the Initiative, three hydrogen stations received investments and began construction, including two stations under construction by FCHEA member Hydrogenics in Quebec and Ontario. NRCan has approved four stations under the current Phase 2 of the Initiative including one built by Hydrogenics in Quebec, and two built by the Hydrogen Technology and Energy Corporation (HTEC) in British Columbia. As the Initiative continues to support innovative energy solutions, Canada’s hydrogen infrastructure will grow to support its clean energy future. In June 2018, Canada’s first retail hydrogen station opened in Vancouver, at an existing Shell gas station after receiving an investment during Phase 1 of the Initiative. The station, a product of the cooperation between HTEC and Shell, revealed the benefit of the Canadian government’s involvement in the development of alternative fuel infrastructure.
Quebec’s first hydrogen station, built by Hydrogenics and Harnois Energies, with support from NRCan and FCHEA member Toyota, is set for completion in spring 2019. The Quebec City station will use an electrolyzer to convert the province’s abundant supply of hydropower to hydrogen fuel. With the station complete, the Government of Quebec will gain the infrastructure required to operate its new fleet of 50 Toyota Mirai FCVs. FCHEA member Honda also revealed its commitment to promoting hydrogen power in Canada, announcing its investment in a new Montreal station in January 2019. The efforts of these automakers paired with government cooperation has solidified Canada’s strong foundation as it transitions to a clean energy future.
FCHEA member Hyundai is also working to advance Canada’s hydrogen future, releasing its NEXO FCV in Vancouver in March 2019. The automaker will collaborate with Modo, Vancouver’s first car sharing co-operative, to make the NEXO available to a wider audience without purchasing or lease requirements. Two NEXOs will be available starting in spring 2019, providing access to FCVs to consumers for the first time in Vancouver. Hyundai’s involvement in Canada’s clean energy future has also advanced British Columbia’s progress towards its zero emission vehicle targets. In November 2018, the province announced its plan to begin phasing in the targets in spring 2019. By 2025, British Columbia projects ZEVs to count for 10% of total vehicle sales, and 100% of sales by 2040.
Vancouver-based Ballard Power has announced several international projects utilizing its fuel cell products to advance the global transition to clean energy. In October 2018, Ballard received $5.8 million in preliminary funding from the California Air Resources Board’s Zero and Near Zero Emissions Freight Facilities program to provide fuel cell modules to propel four UPS delivery vehicles in Ontario, California. The long range and quick refueling times make these fuel cell trucks an efficient alternative to battery-powered options. Ballard’s FCveloCity fuel cells have also become popular options to power FCBs. The fuel cell system has been deployed in 15 countries over the past 10 years, travelling over 6.8 million miles. In 2018, Ballard announced a new agreement with China-based Weichai Power Co. to support China’s growing fuel cell industry. Under the agreement, Ballard will provide its fuel cell modules for bus, commercial truck, and forklift operations in China. Ballard’s international efforts reveal the strong industry effort supporting Canada’s transition to a clean energy future.
Ballard’s fuel cell systems will also power two fuel cell yard trucks at California’s Port of Los Angeles. Starting in March 2020, the trucks will operate in the Port’s terminal yard. As detailed in a previous In Transitions post, clean hydrogen and fuel cells can significantly reduce the emissions from these large trucks, while preserving the long runtimes, quick refueling, and efficient operation expected in this environment.
These industry efforts in conjunction with government investment continue to advance the prospect for a sustainable future in Canada by developing the infrastructure required for a hydrogen-powered society. The Canadian government continued to demonstrate its commitment to sustainable energy by allocating CAD $670,000 in funding (US $502,290) to the Canadian Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association in February 2018. The CHFCA supports Canadian corporations, provincial governments, and educational institutions that seek to adopt hydrogen and fuel cell products and services. These new funds are targeted towards the growth of the industry in Canada’s western provinces. Ultimately, the CHFCA is working to showcase Canada’s leadership in the hydrogen and fuel cell industries to attract worldwide attention and spur national economic growth.
In addition to recent progress in the transportation sector, Canadian companies have also begun to explore the stationary power potential of hydrogen and fuel cells. The flexibility of hydrogen to power not only cars, trucks, or buses, but homes and businesses reveals its value in a country seeking alternative energy sources. Canada’s excess supply of electricity , due largely to its nuclear, hydropower, and other renewable infrastructure, presents an exciting opportunity for the use of hydrogen as a backup power source; rather than exporting surplus electricity abroad at times of low demand, hydrogen can be used to store the excess energy and be converted to electricity to meet Canada’s varying demand.
In July 2018, Hydrogenics expanded Canada’s stationary use of hydrogen after opening the first multi-megawatt power-to-gas facility using renewably-sourced hydrogen in Ontario.The facility, owned and operated by Hydrogenics and Enbridge, Canada’s largest natural gas distributor, is the first high capacity energy storage facility using hydrogen in North America.Hydrogen produced here can power light and heavy duty FCVs, buses, and trains, but its ability to improve the stability and reliability of the power-grid reveals the versatility of the fuel; by quickly correcting for short-term changes in electricity use, Hydrogenics’ plant can compensate for volatile supply and demand change on the grid.Not only a fuel source for transportation, hydrogen can become an essential aspect of Canada’s energy infrastructure.
The fledgling FCB experiment during the Vancouver Olympics revealed the complex task of implementing a new form of energy into an already-established energy mix. However, innovative industry developments paired with widespread government collaboration has allowed Canada to approach the integration of hydrogen and fuel cells from a new angle. With an expanding hydrogen infrastructure supporting a new wave of FCVs, and innovative stationary solutions to provide resilient and sustainable power, Canada has charted a new path to a clean energy future.