Export of Canada’s hydrogen to Germany by 2025 is a pipedream

I admire Germany for doing so much to reduce greenhouse gases. Too bad that the initiative has left them dependent on the import of natural gas –half of it from Russia.

image: Utility Analytics Institute

Olaf Scholz, Chancellor of Germany, came to Canada and signed a “Declaration of Intent” that would see hydrogen exported to Germany by 2025. Dream on.

Talk of hydrogen during Scholz’s visit has set Newfoundland abuzz with plans to build wind turbines to generate electricity and produce green hydrogen for export. But no turbines have been built, nor plants to produce hydrogen from electricity, and no facilities to convert the hydrogen into ammonia for transport.

Scholz also wants our liquefied natural gas. The chances of exporting of LNG from the east coast are close to zero.

First of all, there are no LNG export terminals on the East Coast. And even if there were, there is no pipeline to supply them. In fact, there are no operational LNG export terminals in all of Canada –the only one under construction will ship LNG from Kitimat, B.C., to Asia.

Another idea being floated is the dual use of LNG plants for compressing hydrogen. That’s also unlikely say Johanne Whitmore, chair in energy sector management at HEC Montréal and Paul Martin, a chemical engineer:

“However, hydrogen-ready LNG terminals do not actually exist today because both gases have different properties which require different infrastructure. Repurposing existing infrastructure would require extensive retrofitting at great expense. New infrastructure will take years to build, which won’t help Europe meet near-term energy needs, or abate its emissions (Globe and Mail, August 8, 2022).”

Hydrogen can be made from natural gas or electricity. When made from natural gas, it is classified as “grey” if none of the carbon produced in the process is sequestered and classified as “blue” if at least 90 per cent of the carbon is captured. When hydrogen produced from renewable electricity sources is classified as “green.”

It takes a lot of energy to make hydrogen. The use of natural gas to make hydrogen is more polluting than LNG without carbon sequestration. And most of the hydrogen produced in Canada is grey. Canada’s ambitious Shell Quest sequestration project has carbon capture rates of less than 50 per cent, well below the threshold that would classify it as blue.

Exporting liquid hydrogen is not only technically challenging, there are huge energy losses using natural gas production (30 per cent, compared to LNG’s 8 per cent).

 “As academics and engineers with decades of experience in energy,” say Whitmore and Martin, “we are concerned that Canada’s dash to build new LNG infrastructure in the hope of exporting hydrogen is not only scientifically baseless, but risks locking both Canada and Germany into a fossil-based economy.”

Newfoundland’s concept would overcome the shipping problem, somewhat, by transporting hydrogen as ammonia. But more energy would be lost in converting ammonia back into hydrogen at the end.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was dreaming when he told a G7 in June that Eastern Canada LNG infrastructures could be expanded on the basis “they could then be used for hydrogen exporting,” thereby “keeping it consistent with Canada’s longer term climate goals.”

Dreams and hydrogen have one thing in common: they are both lighter than air and float away.


Canada goes nuclear

Canada is third in the world in replacing fossil fuels with nuclear. France and Sweden have replaced almost all of their fossil-fuelled generated electricity with nuclear power. Now France generates only six per cent of electricity with fossil fuels and Sweden only one per cent.

Darlington Nuclear Plant, Ontario

Canada comes behind France and Sweden in replacing fossil fuels. Now fossil fuels generate 19 per cent of our electricity. Canada has an advantage with hydroelectricity: hydro generates 59 per cent of our total.  Nuclear generates 15 per cent and wind/solar generate 7 per cent.

Ontario is mainly responsible for Canada’s third place position. In 2003, the Ontario government started phasing out coal-fired generators. At the time, coal generated one-quarter of the province’s electricity. By 2014, coal was gone. Now 60 per cent of Ontario’s electricity comes from nuclear plants, not far behind France at 77 per cent (Globe and Mail, June 21, 2019).

Other countries aren’t even close to top three. In the United States, 67 per cent of electricity comes from fossil fuels. In Germany, despite massive subsidies for wind and solar, 55 per cent of their electricity comes from fossil fuels.

Nuclear energy is the most dangerous source of electricity in the world, except for the alternative. Nuclear meltdowns are spectacular but deaths are much fewer than those from fossil fuels.

The explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant in 1986 killed 50 first responders and will likely kill 25,000 from cancer resulting from radiation. There were no direct deaths from radiation when a tsunami hit the Fukushima Nuclear station in 2011 but radiation from the plant is expected to generate 180 cases of cancer. Fukushima was second largest nuclear disaster in history, after Chernobyl.

The burning of fossil fuels, mainly coal, causes 7.3 million premature deaths annually according to the World Health Organization. Not all of those deaths are from the production of electricity but coal generates 41 per cent of the world’s electricity. Extrapolating those numbers means that coal sourced electricity kills 3 million people annually.

The burning of fossil fuels is the greatest threat to humanity. Our very existence in some parts of the planet is at risk due to climate change.

Misconceptions over nuclear energy abound. One in three Canadians think nuclear power plants emit as much carbon dioxide as burning oil. Almost three in 10 think it emits more. Nuclear energy plants emit no carbon dioxide.

You hear about the nuclear plants that blow up or melt down but not much about the about 450 now in operation, most in the U.S., with 60 more reactors under construction worldwide.

Nuclear plants have their problems. They are expensive to build and disposal of spent radioactive fuel is controversial.

Nuclear power is a taboo topic in politics. I can guarantee that you won’t hear any of the leaders of Canada’s three main political parties even mention the word nuclear prior to the upcoming federal election.

Environmentalists despise nuclear energy as being too risky. Some unions support it, such as the Power Workers Union who placed full-page ads in the Globe and Mail praising nuclear power. Most Canadians, I suspect, would rather not think about it.