Lawyer pushes for hydrogen energy use in Nunavut mining

Hydrogen-fueled mining truck unveiled at South African mine this month

Jonathan Cocker, an energy transition lawyer and partner at the law firm Borden Ladner Gervais, says hydrogen can be a clean energy source for Nunavut mining now, not just in the future. (Photo by David Lochead)

By David Lochead

Use of hydrogen as a clean energy source in mining is coming and Nunavut mining companies should not wait to adapt to it, says Jonathan Cocker, a lawyer who specializes in energy transition.

“It is only a matter of time,” he said Thursday, on the final day of the Nunavut Mining Symposium in Iqaluit.

Cocker is a partner at the law firm Borden Ladner Gervais, based in Toronto.

In his address at the symposium, he spoke of the benefits of using hydrogen as a form of clean energy in mining.

Hydrogen does not produce carbon emissions, but its fuel can be produced through a variety of sources, including natural gas, nuclear power, biomass, solar or wind power. When used, it produces water as a byproduct.

Hydrogen fuel cells have been used to power cars, and earlier this month, De Beers parent company Anglo American unveiled a prototype of what it says is the “world’s largest” hydrogen powered mine haul truck which is being used at its Mogalakwena platinum mine in South Africa.

At this week’s symposium, Cocker pointed to the potential for using hydrogen fuel to power mining equipment. He said hydrogen fuel cells would even be functional in Nunavut’s cold temperatures.

Cocker said regulators should start expecting mining companies to make the switch to clean energy now, because “we’ve got a climate emergency.”

The effects of climate change are apparent in the Arctic. The region is heating up three times as quickly as the rest of the world, causing permafrost melt and rising sea levels.

Cocker says federal funding is available for hydrogen energy, through the Government of Canada’s Indigenous-led clean fuels program, which can fund up to 50 per cent of capital costs on a project.

Heather Shilton, director of Nunavut Nukkiksautiit Corp., an Inuit-owned organization dedicated to renewable energy in Nunavut, said hydrogen energy has potential in Nunavut, but there is other work to be done to first.

“There needs to be a renewable energy strategy before we can work on a hydrogen strategy,” Shilton said.

At the Chidliak diamond exploration project on Baffin Island, De Beers Canada is looking at the potential of using fuel cells, according to company spokesperson Terry Kruger.

“That said, we anticipate that no single source of renewable energy will provide the power needed for a mine,” he said.

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(3) Comments:

  1. Posted by Electrical Engineer on

    Jonathan Cocker, perhaps you should stick to law, at least until you go back to school and study science or engineering.
    Hydrogen is currently an energy storage medium, and will remain so until we master the techniques of controled nuclear fusion, which produces energy by converting hydrogen into helium.
    Hydrogen is like a battery. You need a source of energy, before you can “store” it in the form of “free” (as in, unbound to oxygen) hydrogen. Except, remember the Hindenburg. It was an airship that used hydrogen as a floatation gas, until it burst into flames.
    Do you want to work in a mine with tanks of hydrogen? And where do you propose to get the energy needed to produce the hydrogen and put it into storage?

    • Posted by GetNerdy on

      The what!? Hidenbird? Ha thats was in 1940
      Since then hidrogen can safely be store in tanks just like propane in propane tank,and I be seen few hydrogen vehicle on YouTube too

  2. Posted by Bob the Builder on

    Another Environmentalist Lawyer, pushing the boundaries of the truth about hydrogen as a green alternative that’s not as green as you are being led to believe.

    FACT: There’s virtually no pure hydrogen on Earth because it’s so reactive. Most hydrogen is made from methane [natural gas] in a process that produces carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Hydrogen can also be made from water using electrolysis, but that requires electrical energy. To get that, we’re back to burning fossil fuels such as our ever present diesel generators in our communities.

    While hydrogen energy has a lot of admirable benefits, it’s not really the outright preferable, clean and cheap energy source for most governments and companies. In the gaseous state, it’s quite volatile. While its volatility gives it an edge over other energy sources in terms of accomplishing numerous tasks, it equally renders it risky to use and workaround.

    Some of the disadvantages and problems with hydrogen energy include:

    1. Hydrogen Energy is Expensive
    Electrolysis and steam reforming, the two main processes of hydrogen extraction, are extremely expensive. This is the real reason it’s not heavily used across the world. Today, hydrogen energy is chiefly used to power most hybrid vehicles. A lot of research and innovation is required to discover cheap and sustainable ways to harness this form of energy. Until then, hydrogen energy would remain exclusively for the rich.

    2. Storage Complications
    One of the hydrogen properties is that it has a lower density. In fact, it is a lot less dense than gasoline. This means that it has to be compressed to a liquid state and stored the same way at lower temperatures to guarantee its effectiveness and efficiency as an energy source. This reason also explains why hydrogen must at all times be stored and transported under high pressure, which is why transportation and common use is far from feasible.

    3. It’s Not the Safest Source of Energy
    The power of hydrogen should not be underestimated at all. Although gasoline is a little more dangerous than hydrogen, hydrogen is a highly flammable and volatile substance that frequently makes headlines for its potential dangers. Compared to gas, hydrogen lacks smell, which makes any leak detection almost impossible. To detect leaks, one must install sensors.

    4. Tricky to Move Around
    It’s a daunting task to transport hydrogen brilliantly due to its lightness. Oil can be transported safely because it’s mostly pushed through pipes. Coal can conveniently be transported in dump trucks. Hydrogen also presents challenges when considering moving it in large quantities, which is why it’s mostly transported in small batches only.

    5. It is Dependent on Fossil fuels
    Hydrogen energy is renewable and has a minimal environmental impact, but its separation from oxygen requires other non-renewable sources such as coal, oil and natural gas. Fossil fuels are still needed to produce hydrogen fuel.

    6. Hydrogen Energy Cannot Sustain the Population
    Despite the fact that hydrogen is bountiful in supply, the cost of harnessing it limits extensive utilization. As you realize, it’s quite challenging to disrupt the status quo.

    Energy from fossil fuels still rules the world. There is also no framework put in place to ensure cheap and sustainable hydrogen energy for the future.

    Even if hydrogen were to become cheap right now, it would take years to become the most used source of energy. This would require massive capital outlay.

    It’s a fact that hydrogen energy is a renewable resource because it’s abundantly available, and its impacts hugely neglected. However, hydrogen companies will, in a real sense, need other forms of non-renewable energy such as fossil (coal, natural gas, and oil) to separate it from oxygen. We may be able to minimize over-reliance on fossil fuels when we embrace hydrogen energy, but it will be daunting to get rid of it from the system.

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