Push on to make Sarnia hub of Ontario’s hydrogen economy

Cathy Dobson

Sarnia-Lambton is the ideal location for Ontario’s first commercial scale hydrogen plant, says a local sustainable energy expert lobbying to make it happen.

“There’s a huge and important role for Sarnia to play with the hydrogen economy,” said Ed Brost. “It’s a slam dunk.”

Ed Brost

Brost is an associate with the Bowman Centre for Sustainable Energy headquartered at the local research park. He is also part of a team that recently submitted a discussion paper to the Ontario government, which hopes to lower its carbon footprint by using energy generated from hydrogen.

“We will still need oil for decades to come but there’s also a need for a transition plan,” said Brost.

“The world is beginning to take climate change seriously. Whether you believe in climate change or not, right or wrong, the world is going down this path,” he said.

Many experts predict Canada’s energy future will revolve around electricity and hydrogen, though the process of extracting hydrogen from water is currently very expensive.

“We live in a really exciting time,” said Brost. “It’s scary, but it’s exciting.

“Really smart people are looking at hydrogen for things like the airline industry because it can be produced with no carbon footprint.  That’s why the world is so interested in it.”

Sarnia already has several producers of hydrogen, including Imperial Oil, Nova Chemicals, Air Products, CF Industries and Praxair.

Not only is Sarnia already producing hydrogen, the region has hundreds of underground salt caverns that could be used to store the colourless, odourless, flammable gas.

That’s something few other places can offer, said Brost.

“We already know how to make hydrogen here, we have the infrastructure, we know how to handle it safely and we have the capacity for geological storage.”

Add in Sarnia’s access to shipping, rail and major transportation links and it should be a “no brainer,” he said.

The Bowman Centre is funding a study at Queen’s University that’s looking at the economic viability of building Ontario’s first hydrogen plant here. The results could be released in months, Brost said.

The Sarnia Lambton Economic Partnership (SLEP) has also submitted a paper to make a case for why Sarnia should be the hydrogen hub of Ontario.

More than 40 experts, including associates at the Bowman Centre, contributed to SLEP’s submission. It says development of a low-carbon economy in Sarnia-Lambton would create environmental and economic opportunity for all of Ontario.

SLEP representatives have spoken directly with provincial officials about Sarnia’s potential.

“We plan to use the Queen’s study to push and press the government,” said Brost. “I believe the Ontario government’s discussion paper shows they are serious.”

Brost spoke recently at a Sarnia-Lambton Golden K Kiwanis Club meeting.

In December, Quebec Hydro announced it will build and operate a green hydrogen production plant in Varennes, Quebec.

With a capacity of 88 megawatts, it will be one of the world’s largest hydrogen plants when it comes on stream in late 2023.