Nova Scotia

Halifax councillor wants transit fleet to use hydrogen energy

A Halifax councillor wants the municipality to look into using hydrogen energy to power transit buses and ferries.

'If we start now, who knows where we will be in 10 or 20 years,' says Coun. Richard Zurawski

According to Brant Peppley, a professor of chemical engineering at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., bus fleets all over Europe are switching over to hydrogen-powered buses. (Robert Short/CBC)

A Halifax councillor wants the municipality to look into using hydrogen energy to power transit buses and ferries.

Richard Zurawski called for a report on hydrogen fuel cells at the December meeting of the city's environment committee. His motion was approved.

"I think this is a perfect time for us to start looking at how we can facilitate something that will sustain us for decades to come in a way that will not trash the environment," said Zurawski.

Hydrogen fuel cells convert energy into electricity and run vehicles on a battery system similar to that of electric cars, which use lithium batteries. Hydrogen energy produces water — not carbon — when burned.

A hydrogen fuel cell bus is seen in operation at Cottesloe on March 17, 2005 in Perth, Australia. (Getty Images)

Zurawski said he understands switching to hydrogen could be a long-term strategy.

"We could do hydrogen here, it just takes political will power," said Zurawski. "If we start now, who knows where we will be in 10 or 20 years."

Halifax is not the only place interested in hydrogen fuel cells.

According to Brant Peppley, a professor of chemical engineering at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., bus fleets across Europe are switching to hydrogen.

Peppley said there is also interest in South Korea, Japan and China. In Canada, hydrogen fuel stations are now available in Quebec and British Columbia.

Hydrogen fuel used in Germany

"You can purchase or lease a hydrogen fuel cell car in Vancouver today," said Peppley, "The big advantage of hydrogen fuel cells over lithium batteries is you can basically refuel in three minutes instead of waiting to recharge them."

Peppley believes Nova Scotia could use wind energy to create hydrogen energy, or have it shipped from Quebec where it could be made from hydro power.

He acknowledges that the use of hydrogen has been held back by fears of it being explosive.

"I've always said hydrogen has the worst public relations of any element on the periodic table," said Peppley. "But fossil fuels are also associated with catastrophic events, including Lac-Mégantic."

Peppley also pointed out that hydrogen has been safely used in Germany's steel industry for 50 years.

Municipal staff are already working on a report that will outline ways to reduce the municipality's carbon emissions. The report is expected in early 2020.

Shannon Miedema, manager of energy and environment, said new technologies have been considered as part of the report, but hydrogen fuel cells were not one of them, so a separate report on hydrogen will now be prepared.

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