Helen Carmichael, reporting from Vancouver, BC.

The Hydrogen and Fuel Cells 2011 Conference (HFC2011) held this week in Vancouver, BC, Canada opened with an announcement from British Columbia’s Premier, Christie Clark that the province will provide $870,000 in funding to develop the world’s first small scale hydrogen liquefaction plant.

The innovative new plant will be built in North Vancouver, BC, by local companies Sacré-Davey Engineering and its spin-off company Hydrogen Technology & Energy Corporation (HTEC), along with international partners Air Liquide.

Using hydrogen by-product vented from an electrochemical plant the 1200 kg/day plant will produce low carbon liquefied hydrogen to power hydrogen fuel cell buses and vehicles throughout the region. It will use proprietary technology and processes HTEC has developed for purification, along with Air Liquide Advanced Technologies group liquefaction process.

British Columbia is a recognised centre for hydrogen and fuel cell technology. As well as being home to 35 companies working in this field, the world’s largest fleet of 20 hydrogen powered buses, set up for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, operates in Whistler, BC.

The refuelling station currently operated by Air Liquide serves 75% of Whistler’s transit bus fleet with 1,000 kg/day of liquid hydrogen. The need for very high purity hydrogen is one reason why, to date, the hydrogen for this transit initiative has been trucked across Canada from Quebec. Commentators suggested that this negated the environmental rationale behind the bus fleet. In fact the bus fleet still cuts net CO2 emissions by 62%. However, according to Air Liquide, once the new local supply is operational this figure will further improve to a 94% reduction in CO2 emissions for the fleet compared with conventional vehicles.

Air Liquide told gasworld that the project was an interesting challenge for its French technical branch – this is the first time this intermediate size of liquefier has ever been used. With 1.3 (metric) tonnes/day throughput this is significantly larger than a test sized liquefier for university, trial or space research, for example, but is still relatively small compared to industrial-scale liquefaction plants. The partners hope that this will be the first in a new wave of smaller, distributed plants generating hydrogen associated with industrial sites where there is a hydrogen by-product.

The plant is part of an infrastructure strategy to create a Green Highway to power hydrogen, electric, biofuel and natural gas vehicles the full distance from BC to California. Global sales for Canada’s hydrogen and fuel cell sector are estimated to reach $8.5bn by 2016, creating some 14,000 jobs in Canada.

The announcement builds on news in March that Mercedes will locate its first standardised fuel cell stack production facility in Vancouver near the automotive company’s fuel cell stack developer, Automotive Fuel Cell Corporation.


* Figures quoted are in Canadian Dollars *