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Proposed North Vancouver hydrogen plant goes to public hearing

If approved by council, the hydrogen plant could have the greenhouse gas impact of taking 30,000 gasoline-burning vehicles off the road.

The public will soon have their say on a proposal to capture waste hydrogen from a North Vancouver chemical plant and make it available as clean fuel.

North Vancouver-based hydrogen research and development firm HTEC announced plans last year to purchase the ERCO Worldwide sodium chlorate plant at the foot of Forester Street in the Maplewood area.

Under the proposal, ERCO will continue producing chemicals used by the pulp and paper industry, and HTEC will install a system to capture about 15 tonnes of byproduct hydrogen per day – enough to power about 30,000 vehicles.

If that hydrogen were used to replace existing gasoline and diesel engines, as opposed to dissipating into the atmosphere as it currently does, the plant will have the capacity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 140,000 tonnes per year, district staff estimate.

The plan requires approvals from numerous levels of government and safety agencies, including a rezoning by the District of North Vancouver. District council members voted 5-1 Monday to send that rezoning to a public hearing.

Much of the discussion focused on safety issues raised by adding liquid hydrogen onto the industrial waterfront. A quantitative risk assessment, which was peer reviewed, found HTEC’s designs meet federal standards – a one-in-one-million risk of death, annually, due to the release of liquid hydrogen.

For all but one of the council members present, concerns were assuaged.

“We have a very active industrialized community down there and, as has been pointed out … I will say an exemplary safety record in the area,” said Coun. Lisa Muri. “I think, over the years, the industries have been very responsible to move forward proactively and making sure that their plants and facilities are some of the best in in the country. I will also say I’ve always been supportive of the industrial activity in the district. Certainly the North Shore was built on blue collar workers.”

Coun. Herman Mah also highlighted the financial benefits that would flow if HTEC’s proposal comes to fruition – about 50 jobs in the building and running of the new plant, while keeping the current 40 jobs in ERCO’s facility.

“I make note that this is good for both economic development and employment,” he said.

District staff estimate the total capital investment in the project will be $140 million.

Coun. Betty Forbes was the lone nay vote on advancing HTEC’s project. Forbes said past conversations she’s had about ERCO’s plant left her feeling “too nervous about the risk” of having hydrogen processed on site as well.

“The fact that they’re right next to each other really scares me,” she said.

The public hearing is tentatively scheduled for June 13.

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