The new economy?

How about this new(ish) vision of a ‘hydrogen economy’ that both the Premier of Alberta and the leader of the Opposition have been touting lately? Is it realistic?

Well, why not? We have lots of natural gas. Strip away the carbon from it and what you have left is hydrogen. Lots of it. It can be used for all sorts of things. There are apparently markets for it, even if a handy way to run cars off it does not exist.

The trick is figuring out how to dispose of all the carbon left over in the equation. You can’t just release it into the atmosphere. It has to be safely stored or turned into other things. According to people who should know what they are talking about (Nancy Southern of ATCO, for one), the whole thing rides on figuring out how to capture and store carbon economically. If it is (or once it is), boom! The hydrogen as clean energy rocket can take off.
Like anything else, it has its risks and complications. Any time anything is produced or consumed on a large scale, it has side effects. The trick – always – is to move towards less harmful activities that are also somehow affordable. Not to mention profitable – let’s just put that out there. Some people find it a dirty word, but it is the way the world works.

So, whose proposal for stimulating the hydrogen economy do you like? Kenney said it’s mostly a matter of ‘government getting out of the way.’ Notley says government should invest in a hydrogen pipeline. The debate will continue about the proper amount of government investment in such things. Either way, the carbon capture and storage dilemma needs to be solved.

And, let’s also note – because stories are appearing pretty much weekly on this sort of stuff – there are other schemes afoot. A geothermal energy project is being proposed for the Swan Hills. What you’ve got there are dozens of oil wells producing more hot water these days (turns out it’s pretty toasty down there) than oil. Turning all that free heat into electricity is something that can apparently be done, economically, and is being done. It’s yet another plank in the ‘new energy economy’ platform.

Then there’s the nifty process of turning wood waste from sawmills into fuel. Happening just down the road in the Mitsue Industrial Park.

From a bit further out in left field (apologies if that sounds like a criticism), comes the notion of industrial hemp as a cure for the economic doldrums in these parts. Hemp as the miracle product that can be turned into everything from concrete to plastics to food to medicine to clothing. Profits, jobs, hope for the future. It was discussed in pretty much those terms recently by a proponent, in a town council meeting in Slave Lake.

Well, why not? Global demand for hemp products is growing, as any number of articles attest. Farmers across the continent are planting more of it every year. Why not here?

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