The provincial government is being asked to acknowledge what the Sarnia-Lambton Economic Partnership says is already true – the Sarnia area is Ontario’s hydrogen hub.
And that claim is more than hot air.
A submission to the province by the Lambton County-funded economic partnership – prepared in consultation with more than 40 experts in industry, academia, research, government and industrial organizations – says the Sarnia area is Ontario’s largest cluster of current and potential hydrogen producers and users.
“All the major petrochemical companies were consulted and provided great detail and great insight into what’s happening here already and what the future could be,” said partnership CEO Stephen Thompson.
The submission promotes “the Sarnia-Lambton area as what we believe we are already – Ontario’s hydrogen hub,” he said. “We have more hydrogen activities already going here than anywhere else in Ontario.”
The submission says Sarnia-Lambton “is the best place for the focused development of the low-carbon economy to create opportunity for all of Ontario” and calls on the province to recognize and support the community’s role as “Ontario’s hydrogen hub.”
The submission was prompted a discussion paper released by the province in November that began a public consultation period the government says will guide its strategy to create a new hydrogen economy and help Ontario achieve its greenhouse-gas reduction target. The hydrogen strategy is expected to be released in 2021, the province said.
The province contends that, depending on how it’s produced, hydrogen has the potential to be a low-carbon fuel. Government officials say Ontario is well positioned to become a leader in the sector, given its low-carbon electricity supply, extensive natural gas distribution system and established global companies.
Matthew Slotwinski, a senior economic development officer with the partnership, said the success of the national and provincial move to a hydrogen economy “will be based on the development of hydrogen hubs where growth of the sector can come from key areas that have a critical mass of producers, users, supply and demand.”
He added, “Sarnia has all of those things.”
From the standpoint of investment and job-creation, “we are the natural fit for Ontario to centre its first hub,” Slotwinski said.
Local producers of hydrogen include Air Products, Praxair, Nova Chemicals, CF Industries and Imperial Oil, Slotwinski said.
Heavy industry is currently the largest user of hydrogen in Canada and, “If we’re looking to grow this industry, the natural place to do it is where there is already that demand,” he said.
Thompson said the partnership has also been speaking directly with provincial officials about the Sarnia area’s potential role in Ontario’s strategy.
“We already have the hydrogen economy here, and there’s a lot of potential for further growth in the Sarnia-Lambton area,” he said.
“We have businesses with the expertise, we have trades with the expertise, we have the workforce, we have the infrastructure, we have the power, the natural gas – you name it.”
Thompson added any future growth in hydrogen “is really going to be dependent on the policies and programs that are set by both the provincial and federal governments.”
The aim of the partnership’s submission is to educate governments “on what we have already and what it would take to further grow the sector,” he said.
The partnership’s recommendations to the province include creating incentives to encourage use of hydrogen technologies and the move to low-carbon hydrogen. It also calls for lowering electricity costs for low-carbon hydrogen technologies and integrating national and provincial standards with those in key export markets, such as the U.S.
Slotwinski said expanding the hydrogen economy is an opportunity to further diversify the Sarnia-area’s economy since the hydrogen industry operates “within the same value chain” as the region’s petrochemical, refining and biochemical sectors.
He added several corporations with operations in the Sarnia area have pledged to lower their carbon use and the growth of low-carbon hydrogen “is going to be a critical step in meeting those mandates.”