Hydrogen from aluminim

An illustration from Frontenac Energy's website showing a facility like the one it proposes to build in Penticton to convert scrap aluminum into power. The company is now known as GH Power.

Summerland has joined Penticton on a short list of Okanagan communities where a Toronto-based company is planning to build cutting-edge facilities to convert scrap aluminum into hydrogen and electricity.

Officials from GH Power – formerly known a Frontenac Energy – on Monday provided an update to Summerland council to explain their technology and future demand for it.

Using a proprietary catalyst, the company starts an exothermic reaction that coverts scrap aluminum – sources could range from empty beverage containers to old house siding to engine blocks – into hydrogen, steam, aluminum oxide and water.

The hydrogen could be stored and sold for use in vehicles – including at an on-site filling station – while the steam could be used to generate electricity for the local power grid and the aluminum oxide could be sold back to aluminum manufacturers for re-smelting.

Steve Neil, the firm’s vice-president of business development, told council the market for so-called green hydrogen is expected to grow exponentially as the world moves away from fossil fuels.

“Hydrogen is a big part of decarbonization, which Canada and every other country around the world is really pursuing right now... and we plan to be a big part of that in this country and beyond,” said Neil.

He noted vehicle manufacturers including Toyota and Kenworth have made major investments in developing hydrogen-powered fleets, and the Port of Los Angeles just last year began a pilot project to test the fuel in its operations.

“They’re all going down this road, so the opportunity for the sale of our product is really unlimited, and with the federal and provincial governments, they’re really creating policies and so on that are driving the process, to help the country decarbonize and assist companies like ours to be successful,” said Neil.

GH Power has selected Penticton and Summerland as test sites because they’re among just a handful of municipalities in B.C. that operate their own power utilities.

The company, which claims the engineers on its management team have helped commission more than 20 power plants around the world over the course of their respective careers, is eyeing deals with both local governments to purchase land and sell power back to the respective utilities.

“B.C. has some of the cheapest power rates anywhere in the world and it does make it a little more challenging for us, but we’re (going to be) selling the power in Penticton below what they’re getting it for from Fortis and we’d be doing the same for the District of Summerland,” added Neil.

He said the company is eyeing a one-acre plot near the Summerland wastewater treatment plant that could be home to a 10,000-square-foot building, which at full annual production could generate 1,080 metric tonnes of green hydrogen, 18,000 metric tonnes of aluminum and five megawatts of electricity.

Neil estimates the facility could create 15 to 17 permanent jobs, while generating “zero” pollution and recycling most of the water it requires.

Coun. Erin Carlson posed the million-dollar question: “Have you built one and does it work the way you anticipate it to work?” she asked.

“To date we have a demonstration reactor in Toronto on a very small scale that does prove out the technology, but we are also building a full-scale reactor right now in the City of Hamilton,” replied Neil. “The anticipated time to actually turn on the switch and prove the technology on a large scale will be in the middle of March.”

Council accepted Neil’s report for information only.

Talks are slightly more advanced in Penticton, where company officials paid a visit to city council in August 2021.

“The city remains in regular contact with the (GH Power) team and we expect to see them back before council soon with an update on their plans and next steps,” said city spokesman Philip Cooper in an email Monday.

The federal government’s Hydrogen Strategy for Canada released in December 2020 cites a Goldman Sachs estimate that the global market for green hydrogen could be worth $11.7 trillion by 2050.

“Hydrogen might be nature’s smallest molecule but its potential is enormous,” states the strategy, which was developed by Natural Resources Canada.

“It provides new markets for our conventional energy resources, and holds the potential to decarbonize many sectors of our economy, including resource extraction, freight, transportation, power generation, manufacturing, and the production of steel and cement.”