An alliance formed this week between the governments of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz revealed a major point of disagreement that could determine the future of hydrogen in the global economy.

At the centre of the disagreement is what counts as “clean” hydrogen. Germany believes the gas — which one day could be used to clean up heavy polluting industries like cement or steel making — must be produced using renewable energy to be a climate solution (called green hydrogen). Canada wants the definition broader to include hydrogen made from natural gas, a fossil fuel, with carbon capture technology to stop most, but not all, of its planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions from reaching the atmosphere (called blue hydrogen).

In the days leading up to the announcement, Canadian officials played up the deal’s climate credentials and its importance to European energy security. They chose to sign the declaration of intent in Stephenville, N.L., where a company called World Energy GH2 plans to build a wind-powered, zero-emission plant to produce hydrogen for export.

On the same day the alliance was inked, EverWind Fuels, a company planning a hydrogen plant in Nova Scotia, and German utility Uniper signed a memorandum of understanding to negotiate a purchase agreement for 500,000 tonnes of green ammonia — a way to transport hydrogen in liquid form — to ship as early as 2025.

In the leadup to Scholz’s trip, an energy deal involving liquified natural gas (LNG) seemed possible given prominent ministers like Chrystia Freeland, Jonathan Wilkinson and Steven Guilbeault had all publicly discussed the role of East Coast LNG exports to Europe in recent weeks. But when the leader’s itineraries were published with no mention of LNG, speculation turned to hydrogen.

The joint declaration signed by Wilkinson, Canada’s natural resources minister, and German Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck does not guarantee the hydrogen Canada produces will be green.

Nor does it rule out the possibility of other energy agreements, like ones involving LNG.

Rather, the agreement is aimed at building a market “for hydrogen, in particular from renewable sources.” The deal does not come with specific targets, other than aiming to export hydrogen from Canada to Germany by 2025 at the earliest, though it does say the countries will “develop a common methodology” to “help define what clean, low carbon, and renewable hydrogen are.”

“Unlocking the potential of hydrogen is an essential part of our government’s plan for a sustainable economic future — not just for the domestic opportunities for emissions reductions but also for its potential as an export opportunity: to provide clean energy to countries around the globe,” Wilkinson said in a statement.

The joint declaration of intent signed Tuesday is vaguely worded, said Climate Action Network Canada’s national policy manager Caroline Brouillette. At different points, it refers to “renewable hydrogen,” “low-carbon hydrogen,” “ultra-low carbon hydrogen” and “hydrogen” generally. That reveals a key difference between the two countries' preferences, with Germany focused on green hydrogen made from renewable electricity like wind or solar, whereas Canada is interested in advancing both blue and green.

“Canada's clean hydrogen definition definitely is cover for continuing dependence on a fossil economy.”

Canada says it isn’t focused on colours, it's focused on emissions. But as previously reported by Canada’s National Observer, as of last summer, Natural Resources Canada was interested in learning how “to persuade financial institutions to invest in blue hydrogen projects” because it believes “Canada’s oil and gas sector is well-positioned to develop domestic hydrogen supply chains.”

“Canada's clean hydrogen definition definitely is cover for continuing dependence on a fossil economy,” Brouillette said.

“Obviously, some of these definitional issues are not settled yet,” she said, referring to what counts as clean. “I think the content of the agreement shows that these are very live conversations between the countries in terms of what kind of hydrogen is accepted, and we very much hope that Germany's strict definitions and categorizations of green hydrogen will prevail over Canada's ‘clean hydrogen’ euphemism.

“We've seen Canada use weasel words to dilute and reduce the ambition and rigour of climate policy in the past, for instance on subsidies, focusing on ‘inefficient’ fossil fuel subsidies,” she added.

Meanwhile, Germany is clear it is only interested in green hydrogen.

“Green hydrogen is an important key for a climate-neutral economy. We must resolutely pursue climate change mitigation in order to secure our prosperity and freedom,” Habeck said in a statement.

“The Hydrogen Alliance between Canada and Germany is a significant milestone as we accelerate the international market rollout of green hydrogen and clear the way for new transatlantic co-operation. Specifically, we aim to build up a transatlantic supply chain for green hydrogen,” he added.

This hydrogen alliance is the capstone to Scholz’s first official visit to Canada. It also was a long time coming: the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding to set up an energy partnership in March last year that specifically referenced collaborating on “clean hydrogen.” Canada also discussed developing a hydrogen market with Germany at last November’s COP26 climate conference, according to briefing materials prepared for a meeting between the two countries. “Creating a Canadian-German market for hydrogen is a key goal for our countries,” the documents, which Canada’s National Observer obtained through a federal access-to-information request, noted.

Beyond this agreement with Germany, Canada is hard at work in international arenas to push its vision of a hydrogen economy. The country is an active participant in initiatives like the International Energy Agency’s Hydrogen Technology Collaboration Programme and its global hydrogen review, the hydrogen initiative under the Clean Energy Ministerial, the Hydrogen Ports Coalition (which includes Vancouver, Montreal and Halifax), Mission Innovation’s clean hydrogen mission and several others. These are essentially all international working groups with other countries and institutions.

Canada’s hydrogen strategy, published in late 2020, outlines eight pillars to guide the growth of a hydrogen industry and counts strategic partnerships, de-risking investments and working with international partners to grow the hydrogen economy as central to its plan.

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educating the public, who read news anywhere on what clean green clean hydrogen actually means, is very important! the definition of green vs blue fracked gas hydrogen needs to be pushed daily into the public consciousnes. ….. like p polievre’s face in the sun and the globe! yes that level of pounding into people’s brains. otherwise. we will be “ gaslit”.

well stated!

A blue-hydrogen export industry is a pipe dream.
"Blue" hydrogen perpetuates the fossil fuel industry and may generate even higher emissions:
"Biden-backed 'blue' hydrogen may pollute more than coal, study finds" (The Guardian, 12 Aug 2021)
"Study finds large emissions from production of 'blue' hydrogen"
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/aug/12/clean-fuel-blue-hydr...

"Researchers from Cornell and Stanford universities said in a report published Aug. 12 that burning blue hydrogen for heating produces 20% more GHG emissions than using conventional natural gas on a life cycle basis."
"Blue hydrogen stirs debate as chair of UK lobby group resigns over skepticism" (19 Aug 2021)
https://www.spglobal.com/commodityinsights/en/market-insights/latest-new...

"Chair of UK hydrogen body quits over support for fossil-fuel dependent 'blue hydrogen' championed by Tories" (The Independent, Aug 19, 2021)
https://www.independent.co.uk/climate-change/news/blue-hydrogen-associat...
"The chair of the UK Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association (UK HFCA) has quit, saying he cannot support the body's support for so-called 'blue hydrogen', which scientists have warned could not only boost emissions of GHGs but also 'lock in' dependency on them.
"He described the technology as 'an expensive distraction' which could ultimately serve to undermine critical climate targets.
"'I believe passionately that I would be betraying future generations by remaining silent on that fact that blue hydrogen is at best an expensive distraction, and at worst a lock-in for continued fossil fuel use that guarantees we will fail to meet our decarbonisation goals.'
"His comments come after research released this month by academics at Cornell and Stanford universities warned that the blue hydrogen process could generate 20% more emissions over its life cycle than burning the natural gas in the first instance – and possibly even more."

"The 'Big Lie' of Blue Hydrogen Starts With Ignoring Basic Economics" (Desmog)
https://www.desmog.com/2021/09/10/the-big-lie-of-blue-hydrogen-starts-wi...

"Federal watchdog warns Canada's 2030 emissions target may not be achievable" (CBC, Apr 26, 2022)
"The commissioner, Jerry DeMarco, released a series of audits today that document the federal govt's environment-related shortcomings...
"But DeMarco was perhaps most scathing in his assessment of the govt's hydrogen strategy, which he said is based on 'overly optimistic' assumptions that 'compromise the credibility' of the govt's entire emissions reduction plan.
https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/environment-commissioner-emissions-redu...

"One [problem] is that while using natural gas is currently the cheapest way to produce hydrogen, the Int'l Energy Agency expects the cost of green hydrogen to fall substantially this decade to the point where it will be cheaper to produce hydrogen using solar panels than natural gas. In other words, to be successful, Canada's blue hydrogen bet depends on the cost of renewable energy staying higher than the cost of natural gas.
"The second problem is the markets Canada is eyeing in Europe are an ocean away and require specialized export terminals, ships and other infrastructure to reach, adding to the cost of Canada's hydrogen strategy and the risk this infrastructure could one day become worthless as the world quits fossil fuels in favour of renewable energy." Taken together, the risk is Canada's hydrogen made from natural gas could be more polluting and more expensive to produce and deliver to market than the green hydrogen options that may be available elsewhere."
"Canada is pushing 'clean' hydrogen to the world — with no end in sight for fossil fuels" (National Observer, August 11th 2022)
https://www.nationalobserver.com/2022/08/11/investigations/canada-pushin...

Either from an article, a reader's comment, or a link from one or the other, were several financiers' and market advisors' statements to the effect that getting out of a losing investment that cannot recover will become very difficult, and even more expensive as investors' abandon their carbon fuel investments.
There was specific commentary on the "blue" vs "green piece, and statements that other countries are gearing up for green because markets even now aren't clambering over one another to invest in the blue stuff.
So being color blind is nothing to brag about. It's another proposition claiming to be profitable that won't be, just like certain other publicly-funded "assets."
I also wonder what kind of loan guarantees the gov't made for those private lenders.

When I went looking for "clean" energy definitions, there appeared to be none. Like "natural" in terms of scent, color and flavor ingredients, or "plant-based" ...
I suspect Mr.T is still laboring under his own illusory talk two administrations ago, in which he thought he could claim other countries' carbon reductions (from "LNG: cleaner than coal, so there are fewer carbon contributions from burning it than there would have been with coal.
There needs to be explicitly defined vocabulary, and all agreements and pledges in future adhering to that usage.
I'm so tired of the BS about exporting Canadian environmental-leading-goodness to the rest of the globe, when we're basically the laggards of the entire world. And it should be clear by now to all that he has zero intention of ever reducing production in offending industries, so that gains made in other sectors can at some point reduce the total emissions. As opposed to simply a reduced rate of emissions produced. I expect that even before the hitherto unreported emissions are counted, the lift is going to get heavier and heavier, at the same time as the "savings" become harder and harder to get to.

So there's a need for comprehensive internationally-accepted definitions, with everything nailed down, none of this slippery weasel business that amounts to just another kind of harmful disinformation peddling.

And it IS harmful, because as long as the populace thinks we are climate leaders, the less each individual thinks their own inconvenience is warranted.

When I heard about the Newfoundland green hydrogen deal, I immediately assumed that the energy would come from the Muskrat Falls electricity generating station. Selling that energy in the form of much needed hydrogen or ammonia could well generate the high rates ($/kWh) needed to payback the extravagant investment that Newfoundlanders cannot afford to pay.
A very large windmill farm on settled land, as proposed, is not necessarily a green project, when all its ramifications are considered. The promoters would economize a lot of capital and speed up the delivery of hydrogen if they simply arranged to purchase a lot of Muskrat electricity as their energy source.
To meet the electricity needs of Newfoundlanders at a price that they can afford, building several smaller size wind farms would be more appropriate.

The best news we have heard in a very long time: Canadian government actually acting (not just publishing strategies and plans) to kickstart production of zero emission “green” hydrogen at scale!

While various environmental groups, activists, lawyers, and think tanks debate the value of green hydrogen in net zero transition, I am yet to see any alternate plan from any one of them, which analyzes emissions sector by sector and proposes a net zero solution for each sector without using green hydrogen.

Net zero is not possible without green hydrogen. Transition away from fossils is not possible without green hydrogen. The fossils industry knows this well, and that is why it has muddled the conversation, and confused environmentalists, by stepping in with dirtier, unsustainable flavours of their own: “blue”, “turquoise”, “pink”, “clean”, “low carbon”…

The fossil industry knows when green hydrogen production scales, their game is over. Ironically, most environmentalists do not get it.