Is Canada ready to embrace hydrogen’s multibillion-dollar bonanza?

“Hydrogen is the next big thing and always will be.” 

It’s a clever line and easily adaptable to any product, trend or technology that generates periodic buzz, but never makes the leap from concept to reality. 

The global hydrogen economy is in rapid development, and there has been a lot of buzz around it now, as in earlier years. The difference today is that it is much more than a mere potential pathway or prospective “next big thing.” 

Immense work is underway to plan, design and build-out hydrogen supply, shipping, access and capacities. There’s a widely shared determination to do so, and accelerating momentum. Global customers are scouting sources of large and long-term supply, and producing jurisdictions are making investments, jockeying for position and beginning to sign contracts. 

You may have seen some of the high-level projections of the potential importance of hydrogen within the global energy mix. The International Energy Agency defines it as one of six “decarbonization pillars” with the potential to meet 10 per cent of global final energy demand by 2050. 

B.C.’s hydrogen strategy notes that projected hydrogen demand – in the proximate markets of China, Japan, South Korea and California alone – will be valued at more than $300 billion by 2050; while the federal strategy cites a possible global hydrogen market valuation of more than $11 trillion by that same year. 

It might be tempting to dismiss such figures as hyped. But they are increasingly validated by real-world technology and project development, national energy planning and private and public transactions. 

Japan is a compelling example. It is the first country to develop a national hydrogen strategy and it is investing in technology for co-firing or pure combustion of hydrogen and hydrogen-based fuels (such as ammonia) in what are now fossil fuel power plants. 

Japan’s largest power generator recently rendered things even more commercially concrete. In February, JERA launched an international bidding process to procure up to 500,000 tons of fuel ammonia annually under long-term contracts beginning in 2027 and extending into the 2040s. 

Developments such as these are definite indications of a very real next big thing, and they raise a number of questions for Canada. 

Most fundamentally, do we want to step up and seize what could be an outsized share of the global hydrogen opportunity? 

Do we want to leverage our wealth of natural gas, renewables and energy-related expertise to establish ourselves as a leading supplier of first blue and eventually green hydrogen? Do we want, in turn, to jumpstart our own transition to greater hydrogen use domestically – advancing our national progress towards net zero carbon emissions and offsetting lost economic benefits as production of conventional energy products winds down? 

And most importantly, are we prepared to act fast, in a world where competitors such as Australia are beginning to outpace us? Or are we content to be a late arrival to global hydrogen markets and accept a smaller and less profitable role as swing producers, as it appears we may be fated to do in global liquefied natural gas markets? 

The answer to all of these questions should be a resounding “yes,” and British Columbia and the rest of Canada would stand to benefit greatly if it is. 

For our part, we foresee hydrogen as centrally important in a transition needed for our terminal: away from our current exclusive reliance on handling conventional energy commodities and towards establishing Trigon as a key link in global clean energy supply chains. 

We’re developing relationships with producers, customers and investors and working to build required infrastructure at our terminal. 

Many potential partners share our enthusiasm for hydrogen. 

This green diversification vision was also the driver behind adoption of our new name and identity – one rooted in the artistic traditions of our Indigenous co-owners and which represents the concepts of transition and upward movement. 

Successful transitions are by definition progressive and depend on being able to recognize when a next big thing is taking shape and what’s needed to leverage the opportunity. 

Hydrogen is clearly one such thing, and there’s no question in my mind that Canada (and Trigon) can and should be a key player. • 

Rob Booker is the president and CEO of Prince Rupert’s Trigon marine terminal, formerly known as Ridley Terminals Inc.