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Hydrogen Boom in the Oil Sands

The new 71 MMSCFD hydrogen plant in Alberta. Photo: Air Products and Chemicals

Air Products Canada Ltd. celebrated the commercialization of its first hydrogen production facility to serve the Canadian refining industry with a ribbon-cutting ceremony today in Strathcona County near Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

Air Products’s new 71-million standard-cubic-feet-per-day (MMSCFD) hydrogen production plant serves the Petro-Canada and Imperial Oil refineries, and other customers in the local area. This is the first of three hydrogen plants Air Products will have operating in Canada by 2008.

These will also be the first on-purpose production facilities to provide long-term hydrogen supply to Canadian refineries. The Alberta Industrial Heartland is one of three key Canadian refining centers and an area that will continue to grow in hydrogen demand as more oil sands crude is processed.

—Steve Losby, general manager for Air Products’s Energy and Process Industries Division-Canada

Hydrogen is used to upgrade bitumen and heavier crude feedstocks into cleaner transportation fuels and other products.

The Air Products plant, a natural gas-based steam methane reformer, is located adjacent to the Petro-Canada Edmonton Refinery and will also supply other customers in the area by pipeline. The supply arrangement is one of over 25 that Air Products has undertaken with refiners worldwide.

Additionally, Air Products has commenced engineering to expand production capacity at the facility through construction of a second hydrogen plant at the same location.

Announced in January 2006, the 105 MMSCFD facility expansion will serve several customers in the Alberta Industrial Heartlands corridor along with the Petro-Canada refinery. This plant will be the first Air Products facility to provide the sale of hydrogen for use in the processing of Canadian oil sands into gasoline and diesel fuel. It is expected on-stream in April 2008.


allen zheng

Canada's oil sands ops. are going to be limited by how much natural gas is available, and at what price. It would be interesting if they developed nuclear reactors for producing H2 via high temperature electrolysis, steam, and preheating from waste heat/produced electricity. Another source of electricity could be to develop current/ tidal power from British Columbia, and send it to Alberta. Then again, it may be possible to use H2 and CO2 (from flute/exhaust capture) to produce fuels.

Rafael Seidl

Pro: facilitates further shift of energy supply from the Gulf to Canada; petrodollars are not used to bolster an yutocratic regime or terrorism; Canadians trade more than just arms with the US.

Contra: facilitates further environmental damage due to oil sand mining; increases CO2 footprint per unit of energy delivered to end user (refers to tar sand + hydrogen, not hydrogen alone)

Given the scale of the economic opportunity, it is hardly surprising that Canadians are falling over themselves to exploit this resource. I just hope they are wise enough to set aside part of this windfall, much as Norway has done. For future generations, the cleanup costs alone could be substantial.

Meanwhile, Canada could and should put far more of its vast, sparsely populated landmass to use in producing renewable energy. These would offset some of the extra GHG due to the oil sand industry. Ontario is reportedly ahead of the other provinces but still far behind other industrialized countries in similar latitudes.

allen zheng

The Canadians are seeing signs of "Dutch Disease". Indusrial Canada (eastern Canada) is seeing their currency grow in value vs the US dollar, making thier exports to US more expensive, and threatening to stiffle Canadian manufacturing. Alberta (Canada is a federation, more provincial power than federal.... conservative rednecks' dream minus defence spending, though that is about to change) is starting to see signs of inflation as well. I do believe that they are setting aside funds for the future, though a large chunk may be for environmental remediation.


Here is a state-of-the-art reformer that not only makes hydrogen, but CO2 in an almost a pure compressed gas stream, unlike a typical combustion process. There is no mention, or consideration of any kind to sequester or otherwise keep the CO2 out of the atmosphere. Shame, shame, on this company, and the lack of imagination of the oil industry. Oil output from Alberta's conventional oil and gas fields is declining rapidly. The formations beneath this facility are recognized as amoung the world's best places to capture CO2 (see earlier GCC post) and extend the life of these valuable conventional resources.

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