The end of mining, and other reader opinions

There are no hydrogen fueling stations on the Prairies, so no one will be driving hydrogen-powered cars anytime soon in Saskatchewan or Manitoba.

As of last week, The Flatlander passed 4,000 subscribers. To celebrate, I thought I would dip into the virtual mailbag, so to speak, and share some reader letters.

On the future of hydrogen vehicles on the Prairies

A Regina reader named Keith wrote in about the May 24 issue The Flatlander did on Saskatchewan’s and Manitoba’s hydrogen industry ambitions. (The next energy boom worth $2.5 trillion).

Keith wrote:

Thanks for the article on Hydrogen fuel.

It’s interesting hearing about the latest developments in hydrogen as a fuel.  As the article indicated, there are three types: grey, blue, and green. Ideally, producing green is the way to go. There is a company in BC, Ballard Power, that designs and builds hydrogen fuel cells and I think they have been doing this for a few decades.

One of the things I read that is a challenge when it comes to hydrogen fuel is storing it on vehicles. As hydrogen is a gas, liquifying it is a challenge. Also, there’s a safety issue with hydrogen storage on vehicles (flammability and high pressure). I haven’t read any recent breakthroughs in being able to store large amounts of it safely. I could be wrong though.

Elon was asked why he didn’t make a hydrogen fuel Tesla and he remarked that after all the pros and cons, etc., battery was the way to go. I think one of his reasons was one has to use energy (producing CO2 emissions) to make hydrogen.

One factor that gas cars have is energy storage on the vehicle. The amount of energy stored per kilogram for gasoline is high. Batteries and hydrogen are getting there, but they have always to go.

The difference between hydrogen-powered vehicles and battery electric vehicles

Ballard has been working in renewable energy since 1979. They started out researching high-energy lithium batteries and have since turned their attention to hydrogen.

Their claim to fame is developing “Polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells.” Basically, these fuel cells create an electric current that can be used to power an electric car.

When it comes to a hydrogen-fueled vehicle, simply put, the fuel cell stack transforms the hydrogen into electricity. The car would essentially have its own power plant onboard.

Battery electric vehicles, like the Tesla, need to plug into an outside power source. 

How hydrogen is stored in a vehicle

Hydrogen can be stored physically as either a gas or liquid, but it needs to be stored in a tank that can withstand high pressure and not leak any hydrogen.

Most hydrogen-powered vehicles have a compressed hydrogen gas tank.

Coming across a fueling station with liquid hydrogen is hard to come by. That said, the BMW did make a car model, the Hydrogen 7, back in 2005, that used both liquid hydrogen and regular gasoline.  

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The disadvantage of using liquid hydrogen is that it can have boil-off problems, so if the car is left unused for several weeks at an airport, for instance, the hydrogen will evaporate out of the tank.

Liquid hydrogen also must be stored at a temperature below minus 253 degrees Celsius to maintain liquidity, which would require a special freezer system.

Very few hydrogen fueling stations in Canada

There are no hydrogen fueling stations on the Prairies, so no one will be driving hydrogen-powered cars anytime soon in Saskatchewan or Manitoba. There is one fueling station in Quebec City, another in Mississauga, one in Victoria and one in North Vancouver.

Is hydrogen safe?

When it comes to safety, hydrogen fuel tanks, which are made of carbon fibre composites, on vehicles must be crash tested.

A standardized international safety standard for hydrogen is under development. In the meantime, safety comes down to understanding the physical, chemical, and thermal properties of hydrogen.

Presently, the Canadian Hydrogen Installation Code defines the requirements applicable to the installation of hydrogen equipment. And the Society of Automotive Engineers provides hydrogen safety standards for the transportation industry. 

That said, there have been various explosions and fires over the last several years at hydrogen storage plants. For instance, back in 2020, a hydrogen fuel facility exploded in North Carolina, causing damage to 60 nearby homes. A few months later, another hydrogen production plant in Texas had a small explosion.

In 2018, a truck carrying 24 compressed hydrogen tanks to a fueling station caught fire in a Los Angeles suburb and people within a mile-radius had to be evacuated. 

So, accidents can happen.

Elon Musk on hydrogen

As for Elon Musk, he has gone on the record calling hydrogen-fueled cars “mind-bogglingly stupid.” He’s also called fuel cells “fool cells.” This is because making hydrogen takes a lot of energy since it doesn’t occur naturally on earth, so production is currently inefficient and expensive. Of course, this could eventually improve in the future, proving Musk wrong.

Toyota chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada, for instance, isn’t as negative about hydrogen vehicles, and said his company hasn’t given up on electric fuel-cell technology.

“We don’t really see an adversary ‘zero-sum’ relationship between the EV (battery powered electric vehicle) and the hydrogen car,” he told Reuters in 2017.

Hydrogen needs more space than gasoline

Storing hydrogen takes up three times as much space as regular gasoline. It is 120 MJ/kg for hydrogen versus 44 MJ/kg for gasoline.

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Vehicle hydrogen storage tanks must be able to hold up to 13 kg of hydrogen to meet the standard of a 482 km driving range for a car.

Compressed hydrogen gas tanks are lined with Metal hydride, which is very expensive and heavy.

Basically, the tanks need to be cheaper, lighter and be able to hold more hydrogen to make sense for it to be used in a car.

On gun control

When it came to the June 7 issue Gun control… again, a reader named Heidi wrote in to say she found the proposed bills C-21 and C-5 at odds with each other.

Toronto Sun columnist Brian Lilley shares Heidi’s opinion. You can read his column on this here.

If Bill C-21 is passed, it would ban the sale of new handguns, and criminal penalties could be increased for those caught smuggling and trafficking firearms.

Meanwhile, if Bill C-5 is passed it would eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for 13 firearms offences, including possessing a restricted firearm with ammunition, weapons trafficking, discharging a firearm while committing an offence, reckless discharge of a firearm, and extortion and robbery with a firearm.

Critics of mandatory minimum sentences argue they disproportionately affect Black, Indigenous and marginalized Canadians and lead to over-incarceration. They also say mandatory minimum sentences do not allow a judge to take mitigating factors into account.

Another Flatlander reader June wrote on gun control:

I am so sorry, but no one ever considers the law-abiding gun owner who uses it for pest control or the law-abiding hunters. Everything is based on criminals. They are not the majority, believe me.  When the government takes guns from law-abiding citizens, they are aiming at taking away your freedom. Be careful.

In regards to the related May 10 issue Gun violence is rampant in rural Saskatchewan and Manitoba, Shirley wrote: Banning legal gun ownership because a thief may come and steal it? What’s next banning cars because someone may steal it and use it for criminal activities?

Parliament is on break now for the summer, so Bill C-5 and Bill C-21 will be sitting on the table until September.

The end of the mining era in Flin Flon

One reader wrote in about last week’s photo of the week, which was of the smelter in Flin Flon, to share some articles about its closure in 2010 and the shuttering of the 777 mine this year:

Except for support services, and operations in Snow Lake, the 100-year mining history of Flin Flon has come to an end, the reader wrote.

Last week’s newsletter, which was on abortion, also brought in some letters that I’ll share in a future issue.

Thanks as always for your thoughts and feedback.  

Five stories from Manitoba you may have missed

  1. Red River experienced fourth-largest flood on record, province says
  2. Baby who bled for hours after circumcision was sent home from ER twice, suffered brain damage: lawsuit
  3. Best friends that met through Royal Winnipeg Ballet to appear on Amazing Race Canada
  4. Fewer kids off to Manitoba summer camps as staff shortages, COVID concerns affect numbers
  5. Costs soar in 2 Manitoba First Nations after barge explosion, delayed ferry service cut transport options

Five stories from Saskatchewan you may have missed

  1. Sask. man describes frustrating 35-hour, multi-cancellation trip from Ottawa to Saskatoon
  2. Regina couple injured in deck collapse wants builder, developer to take responsibility
  3. RCMP spied on activists in early days of universal medicare planning in Sask., documents show
  4. Saskatchewan premier taps former MLA, MP to lead ‘in-house’ meetings on provincial autonomy
  5. Sask. to fund up to 200 addiction spaces in rural, urban communities

Photo of the week

Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan. GETTY IMAGES.

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