Universities are an essential partner on the path toward Canada’s low-carbon hydrogen future

June 5, 2024
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Photo of Kim Brooks / Photo de Kim Brooks

This op-ed was published in The Hill Times on June 3, 2024.

The pursuit of hydrogen as a clean energy source is gaining greater urgency around the world as global conflicts make the need for energy security more pronounced, climate change and environmental degradation demand immediate action, and Canada and other countries face imminent deadlines to achieve emissions targets.

Canada has set an ambitious goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 and a 100 per cent net-zero emitting electricity system by 2035, prompting a robust exploration of viable renewable energy solutions. Low-carbon hydrogen is a key tool along with electrification to decarbonize our economy. We possess the essential elements to create a competitive and sustainable low-carbon hydrogen economy: abundant renewable energy sources, advanced technology and infrastructure, a skilled workforce and a sustainable supply chain.

That’s already a long list of advantages, but Canada’s universities are an essential ingredient to our likelihood of success.  With projections for worldwide demand for hydrogen reaching $1.9 trillion by 2050, there are also significant economic benefits to consider, with the potential for high quality jobs.  We are crucial players and partners in spearheading research and development in this transformative field and we can train the needed highly qualified personnel.

In step with federal efforts and Nova Scotia’s energy goals, Dalhousie University is continuing to expand its research into green hydrogen production and utilization. Dal’s experts in the field are examining hydrogen production, utilization, combustion, as well as the socio-economic impacts likely to be created in this next wave of low-carbon energy development.

Dalhousie has already demonstrated a clear contribution to the development of battery science and is home to some of the world’s leading researchers in the field. This expertise has been a magnet for researchers and graduate students, and a catalyst for companies that have taken root in Nova Scotia, creating a valuable new sector for the economy. We are beginning to see that same effect forming around hydrogen science.

With climate tech and clean energy positioned as one of Dal’s signature research clusters, green hydrogen is a growing focus within our broader sustainable energy theme supported by Dalhousie’s Clean Technologies Research Institute, and members of the cluster have secured significant funding. The goal is to bring together researchers, industry partners, NGOs and government to generate green hydrogen for export and local use.

The transition to green hydrogen is a shift that demands interdisciplinary collaboration and innovation. Universities like Dalhousie are hubs of wide-ranging expertise and draw on chemists, economists, engineers and social scientists to tackle the multipronged challenges of scaling up green hydrogen production and implementation. Our researchers are studying everything from green hydrogen supply chains, environmental considerations, techno-economics, earth abundant catalysts for hydrogen generation, industrial applications and social impacts.

In an early success, Dalhousie established a new lab in partnership with Halifax-based Eastward Energy to explore applications of hydrogen that could assist Nova Scotia in its efforts to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Under the partnership, university researchers will test the limits of blending hydrogen into Eastward Energy’s natural gas system as well as the use of hydrogen-enriched natural gas in household appliances.

The lab, which was also supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, showcases the power of partnership and collective vision in advancing critical initiatives for Nova Scotia. At its heart is a commitment to pioneering research, carbon emission reductions and helping Nova Scotia achieve this important net-zero goal in a part of the country well-suited for the large-scale development of green hydrogen due to its abundant offshore natural resources. 

The researchers are strategically aligned with Nova Scotia’s Green Hydrogen Action Plan in serving government and industry in the development of the clean fuel. Their work will also have tremendous benefits as we pursue the historic memorandum of understanding signed last March with Germany to establish a bi-lateral trade program to sell hydrogen produced in Canada, including fuel from proposed projects in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Canada-Germany Hydrogen Alliance, which will support commercial transactions between Canada’s hydrogen producers and Germany’s energy distribution sectors, is expected to create thousands of jobs, generate billions in revenue and establish a sustainable energy supply chain. We are here to help make it happen.

A significant part of what positions Nova Scotia so well to develop a green hydrogen industry is the quality of our wind resources.  The Province has set aggressive targets for renewable energy.  Nova Scotia’s offshore is among the world’s best for wind energy.  Dalhousie is leveraging our oceans expertise- including natural sciences, social sciences, engineering, and law – alongside our energy researchers to help foster the development of this critical new Canadian energy sector.

The opportunities around the development of green hydrogen provide an ideal showcase for the potential of research-intensive universities like Dalhousie to make significant contributions to advancing vital initiatives for Nova Scotia and the world by harnessing research expertise in clean energy to support the transition away from fossil fuels, enabling Canada to meet its renewable energy goals.

Kim Brooks, president and vice-chancellor, and Alison Auld, senior research reporter, Dalhousie University. 

About Universities Canada
Universities Canada is the voice of Canada’s universities at home and abroad, advancing higher education, research and innovation for the benefit of all Canadians.

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Lisa Wallace
Assistant Director, Communications
Universities Canada
[email protected]

Tagged:  Environmental sustainability

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