Northern Ontario is ripe for the development of the hydrogen fuel industry, but there needs to be greater awareness about its uses and intended customers for it to move forward.
That’s the premise behind the Hydrogen for Sustainable Northern Communities Forum, taking place on June 27 at Canadore College, and jointly hosted by the Hydrogen Business Council and Invest North Bay Development Corp.
Industry stakeholders, government representatives, and potential customers will gather to talk about the industry and its possible benefits in the North.
Michael Stemp, co-founder and chief technology officer at Next Hydrogen, said North Bay is an ideal location to host the forum, partly because his company is located there, but also because of the city’s strategic advantage as a transportation hub with air, rail, and road access.
“There are hydrogen technologies now that are at the point where they are fully commercial; they're no longer prototypes,” Stemp said.
“Certainly from our perspective, as a company that generates hydrogen, we need to find users of hydrogen and we need to raise awareness of the potential uses, and what the benefits of using it are relative to whatever the incumbent technology is.”
His company, which is based in North Bay, develops large-scale water electrolyzers, which are used to split water into hydrogen-oxygen gases that can then be used to fuel everything from cars to commercial vehicles.
Next Hydrogen’s first commercial customer is Canadian Tire, which is starting to use hydrogen-fuelled forklifts at its distribution centres.
Next Hydrogen supplied the company with the unit that generates hydrogen to fuel the forklifts at its Brampton centre, and has already got an order to create another unit for use at its facility in Bolton.
Although components used to put together the units are imported from outside the city, significant portions of the units are manufactured in North Bay.
The nascent hydrogen fuel industry has largely stayed under the radar, Stemp noted, and there are few companies pushing to bring fuelling infrastructure to Northern Ontario.
Yet, car manufacturers are now making available to the public vehicles that are powered by hydrogen fuel cells.
Toyota makes the Mirai sedan, Honda puts out the Clarity sedan, and Hyundai makes a version of its Tuscon SUV that runs on hydrogen.
Companies typically only sell to customers in areas where fuelling infrastructure is available; in Canada, Hyundai will only sell to buyers in Vancouver, where fuelling stations are located.
For the North, Stemp believes the benefits of hydrogen-fuelled vehicles far outweigh those of electric-powered cars. A hydrogen-fuelled car has a better range than a battery electric vehicle, and the charging time is faster.
“So there are compelling reasons for people in the North to be aware of not only what the technologies are and how they compare, but also what the opportunities potentially are in terms of generating infrastructure,” Stemp said.
The June 27 forum will include speakers on transportation, industrial applications, microgrids, hydrogen fuelling infrastructure, and supporting hydrogen initiatives.
Stemp expects about 80 people at the event, but if it goes well, it could be the start of an annual gathering.
“There are all kinds of opportunities in the North, and it's really about raising awareness and bringing stakeholders to the table and saying, this is technology that's available today, both on the hydrogen-generation side as well as the use side,” Stemp said.
“We just want to get people talking and identifying where those opportunities are so that we can move the industry forward.”