Canada’s program targets four areas area sustainable hydrogen production, hydrogen storage, fuel cells and safety, codes and standards.
Hydrogen ’s value as an energy carrier stems from the wide base of primary energy sources which can be employed to produce it. These include both renewable sources such as hydro, wind, solar and biomass, and non-renewable sources such as natural gas, coal and nuclear energy.
Historically, Canada’s main thrust of past investments has been in hydrogen production via water electrolysis with special emphasis on systems for hydrogen production from wind. A considerable amount of R&D was carried out to address hydrogen production from low-value materials such as hydrogen sulphide and from coal or petroleum coke via the steam/iron process (a technology for centralized hydrogen production allowing easier carbon capture). Smaller program elements included purification and separation. Activities have steered away from technologies which are being developed extensively in other countries and for which there was not a unique Canadian capability. Going forward, Canada’s activities in the short term will focus almost exclusively on electrolytic hydrogen production using PEM technology.
Hydrogen storage is a key enabling technology for the deployment of fuel cell technologies in stationary, portable, and transportation applications. The challenge for most end-uses is reversible, lower cost hydrogen storage systems with high volumetric and gravimetric hydrogen storage capacities. For transportation, the overarching technical challenge for hydrogen storage is how to store hydrogen on-board to meet performance (weight, volume, kinetics, etc.) safety and cost requirements and enable 300-mile range, without compromising passenger/cargo space. Durability over the performance lifetime of these systems must also be verified and validated, and acceptable refueling times must be achieved.
Canada’s past investments have been in development of both compressed hydrogen storage systems and of solid hydrogen storage systems. Going forward, Canada will focus on solid hydrogen storage and will concentrate on applications for back-up and portable power where there is expertise and commercial applicability in Canada.
Canada has been developing fuel cell technologies for transportation, stationary, and portable applications. For transportation, small-scale stationary power generation (e.g., back-up power), and portable devices, the focus is on proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells. For larger-scale energy generation, the focus is on the solid oxide fuel cells (SOFC), which can, in some cases, directly use natural gas or other hydrocarbons as fuels.
Codes, Standards and Safety
The successful global commercialization of hydrogen and fuel cells depends on internationally accepted codes and standards. These will help to increase the experience, knowledge and confidence of local, regional, and national officials in the use of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies, and facilitate the development of regulations. R&D supports the development of performance-based, rather than product-specific, codes and standards.
International collaboration in this area is essential. Canada has played a leading role as chair of the ISO Technical Committee 197 (Hydrogen Technologies) and as a strong contributor to the IEA Hydrogen Implementing Agreement Task 19. Task 19 participants have been working to identify the physical properties of hydrogen which impact the issue of safety.
Canada has also developed the Canadian Hydrogen Installation Code. Published by the Bureau de normalisation du Québec (BNQ) as a National Standard of Canada, the Canadian Hydrogen Installation Code (CHIC) [CAN/BNQ 1784-000] will help pave the way for a greater use of hydrogen as an energy carrier by guiding safe design and facilitating the approval process of hydrogen installations across Canada.