Quebec invited to decarbonize its heavy industries above all

The water fuel car is not for tomorrow. By transforming its water into very low-polluting green hydrogen, Quebec should urgently attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from its dirtiest industries rather than targeting the transport sector, plead experts. Creating a Quebec hydrogen industry would thus have the double advantage of being beneficial for both the economy and the environment, a duality dear to the Legault government.

In industry, hydrogen can be used in many cases to replace the diesel or fuel oil used extensively by steel plants, aluminum smelters, cement plants and mining operations, where electrification – the method favored by Quebec to reduce GHG emissions in transportation – is not practical or cost effective. The industrial sector is the second largest GHG emitter in the province, after transportation, in fact.

At the moment, most of the hydrogen is produced from natural gas. This is called “gray” hydrogen. This process is not particularly clean, since it transfers emissions to where the hydrogen is produced, rather than where it is used. Several companies and experts believe that by capturing GHG emissions and burying them, it would be possible to produce hydrogen that is much less polluting, even downright carbon neutral, called “blue” hydrogen. However, the first large, viable commercial applications of carbon capture and sequestration, which are slow to emerge, have been waiting for years.

This is where Quebec and its “green” hydrogen could stand out. Green hydrogen is produced exclusively from renewable sources: energy comes from wind, solar or hydraulic power plants and breaks down water into two parts of hydrogen and one part of oxygen. This is how the French company Air Liquide produces some eight tonnes of green hydrogen per day in Bécancour.

While Quebec is starting its last public consultations this week with a view to finalizing its hydrogen strategy, representatives of the bioenergy sector are urging the government to reproduce on a larger scale what is being done in Bécancour. According to them, this would be the fastest and most cost-effective way to reduce both emissions from heavy industries as well as oil imports from outside the country.

“There is no single magic solution to climate challenges: more than one solution will be needed, and hydrogen is one for specific industrial sectors, especially heavy industries”, explains Bruno Pollet, professor of chemistry. at the University of Quebec at Trois-Rivières and international expert on the subject of green hydrogen. “Quebec has the advantage of being able to develop green hydrogen from renewable energy sources such as wind power. The province even has mining resources to produce the catalysts that produce hydrogen. Ultimately, we could have an entire value chain around Quebec hydrogen. “

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Green hydrogen currently costs more than double to produce than gray hydrogen, but that is set to change, Pollet believes. Ultimately, the first investors could be those who will benefit the most from the increasing consumption of this gas. “It’s like any technology that disrupts the established order. There will be a domino effect once the first adopters get started. But we must first break the current model of supply and demand to promote green hydrogen. “

The European expert recently arrived from Norway sees a little further than the simple production of energy from tap water. “There are projects underway elsewhere in the world to produce green hydrogen from wastewater. It’s killing two birds with one stone: we recycle non-potable water by creating clean energy. There are also projects – still very embryonic – to produce hydrogen from seawater, which would be absolute green energy.

There is no single, magic solution to climate challenges: more than one solution will be needed, and hydrogen is one for specific industrial sectors.

Obviously, we are not there yet, far from it, notes Marie Lapointe, General Manager of Hydrogen Quebec. In fact, the industry is still at the stage of explaining the different ways of producing hydrogen, comparing their level of efficiency and explaining how they can each in their own way suit very specific applications. . This is what she says explains why analysts criticize the low efficiency rate of hydrogen production: they focus on its less complex forms of production.

“For example, we can produce hydrogen from industrial waste or even domestic waste,” she illustrates. “The efficiency of this process is maybe 20 to 25%, but we still recover waste. Using hydrogen in transportation may increase its energy efficiency to 60%. This is probably why transport should not be the first objective of the Quebec strategy, she adds. “It is more urgent to decarbonize the rest of our economy. “

To replace oil with green hydrogen in heavy industries, Quebec will have to invest significant sums. But that would increase their energy efficiency from 15 to 80 percent, which would be a huge leap forward towards reaching Quebec’s climate targets, she said.

The government’s desire to bet hundreds of millions of dollars on this industry therefore rejoices the CEO of Hydrogen Quebec. “The drafts of the strategy were too timid,” she said. “It will take a lot of money to dislodge hydrocarbons from our industries and to reduce oil exports. “

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