One of the biggest obstacles to deploying hydrogen at-scale is solving supply and demand concurrently, says Sabina Russell, principal at Zen Clean Energy Solutions, which acted as a lead author for the Canadian strategy. “It’s challenging for investors to commit funds to develop hydrogen supply and distribution infrastructure assets when there isn’t certainty of demand, through solid hydrogen offtake agreements. On the flip side, if there isn’t certainty in local hydrogen supply and fuel pricing, it can be a non-starter to get adoption off the ground.” To solve this, Canada is aiming to establish hydrogen hubs where the full value chain is developed at-scale in a concentrated geographic region, with multiple end-use applications sharing a common infrastructure.
It is now looking for industry champions to help get them off the ground, though government too will have to play a role, adds Russell. “It requires significant coordination among consortium partners across the value chain to develop these projects. Regional and federal governments need to support with incentives and through regulatory measures to create the demand to adopt low-carbon fuels.”
The UK government is taking a similar approach, placing zero-carbon industrial clusters, powered by hydrogen, at the heart of its 2050 net zero commitment. One such project is HyNet North West, for which WSP in the UK is acting as an advisor. With a phased delivery starting as early as 2025, HyNet will supply energy-intensive industrial users as well as, ultimately, domestic heat customers, flexible power generation and fuel for buses, trains and trucks.
Chile’s green hydrogen revolution
For countries without existing capacity in natural gas, building a greenfield green hydrogen infrastructure is a much more attractive option. Chile is in a very different situation to Canada, relying on imports of coal, natural gas and petroleum to meet 90% of its energy requirements. But it does have huge renewable resources in the form of solar and wind power, so developing a national green hydrogen infrastructure represents the chance not only to cut its emissions but, crucially, to secure energy independence. This is the aim of its National Green Hydrogen Strategy, published in late 2020.
This will enable the country to transform some of its biggest and most carbon-intensive industries, says Guillermo Diaz Del Rio, Future Ready leader at WSP Chile. Chile is the world’s largest producer of copper and the second largest producer of lithium, and mining accounts for 10% of its GDP. “We see huge potential to decarbonize Chile’s mining sector by replacing the diesel used in haulage activities with green hydrogen-based fuel,” he says. “Each of the mining trucks is currently responsible for about 3,000 tonnes of CO2eq a year, and with demand for Chile’s minerals growing globally, our mining and hydrogen aspirations will be closely linked going forward.”
The benefits of green hydrogen for heavy transportation in other sectors will also be significant in a country that stretches 4,000km from north to south. In addition, the strategy identifies opportunities to decarbonize Chile’s agricultural sector through the use of fertilizers based on green ammonia.
A number of pilot projects are planned across the country. One example is HyEx, a collaboration between energy firm Engie and mining explosives manufacturer Enaex, which will involve the construction of a 2,000MW solar farm in the Antofagasta region, powering a 1,600MW hydrogen electrolysis plant to produce 124,000 tonnes of green hydrogen annually. This will feed an ammonia plant generating 700,000 tonnes of green ammonia annually, half of which is destined for domestic use in Enaex’s ammonium nitrate plant, fuel and green fertiliser production, and the remainder for export.