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Solutions
| 11/23/16

Canada’s ‘Mid-Century Strategy’ Part II: Hydrogen no transport niche player

TCE

Canada’s “Mid-Century Strategy” for climate change, a high-ambition document outlining a variety of scenarios for how to achieve 80 percent emissions reduction on 2005 levels by 2050, suggests that due to the country’s geography and weather, battery technology on its own is unlikely to be enough to achieve deep decarbonisation.

The document was unveiled during UN climate talks in Marrakech, Morocco, alongside similar 2050 visions produced by the United States and Mexico. The US plan, an 111-page document, likewise envisages an 80 percent reduction over the same timetable, but following the surprise election of climate sceptic Donald Trump is widely being described as “what could have happened”. Mexico aims to halve its emissions compared to 2000. The three countries have been collaborating on their long-term strategies since the ‘Three Amigos’ summit in Ottawa in June.

Both the US and Canadian documents back shifting the majority of freight transport from trucks, which are hard to electrify, to trains. The challenge comes from insufficient range for long-haul routes, long charging times that confound timely delivery, and the large energy requirements and engine sizes required to move heavy loads.

Electrification of aviation and shipping face similar challenges. This is no minor concern: of transport emissions in Canada, roughly 57 percent come from passenger transport, but 37 percent comes from freight transport.

The technological challenges of electric passenger vehicles are fewer, and the document laments how Canada “lags behind” countries such as Norway in electric vehicle adoption, where EVs enjoyed a market share of 23 percent of new cars sold last year.

But significant challenges remain for EV adoption in Canada nonetheless. Charging speeds and battery range do not match the refuelling times and range of traditional gasoline vehicles. Cold weather can also reduce EV driving range.

The strategy discusses modelling of various scenarios for the transport sector, responsible for about a quarter of Canadian GHG emissions (and 38% of British Columbia emissions). Unsurprisingly, battery-electric vehicles are projected to play a large role by 2050, and thus build-out of fast-charging stations will be necessary, the document says, albeit far fewer than the current number of gas stations as 95 percent of charging will be done while cars are parked at home.

However, due to the challenges of electrification, the models suggest that hydrogen fuel cells and renewable fuels such as second-generation biofuels and biogas will play substantial roles. This may come as a surprise to those who have written off hydrogen as an option, or suggested at best it will play a niche role.

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles do not face the same range or temperature challenges and enjoy similar refueling times to internal combustion engine vehicles. However, the cost remains significant, and a hydrogen-dominant transport system would require much greater infrastructure build-out for refuelling stations than battery vehicles.

Biogas is generated from biomass from landfill sites, agriculture, or wastewater, and then refined to natural gas quality, which can be used for transport or heating.

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Hydrogen, 2nd-generation biofuels, biogas make a come-back in Ottawa's long-term climate planning

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