Evidence of meeting #37 for Transport, Infrastructure and Communities in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was gas.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Jonathan Burke  Vice-President, Global Market Development, Westport Innovations Inc.

May 15th, 2012 / 9:55 a.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin Trois-Rivières, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you for being here with us this morning, Mr. Burke. I would like to take advantage of your expertise for the few minutes I have.

A little earlier, in your presentation, you said that your group is a leader in alternative fuels. You mentioned electricity, natural gas and hydrogen. The discussion has focused on natural gas, obviously.

Could you enlighten me a little about hydrogen? Some people claim that hydrogen is really the energy of the future. My information is that you have even developed a technology that would make it possible for a motor to run on hydrogen.

Is my information correct? If so, when would the hydrogen motor be ready? Could you give me an estimate? Are we talking about 10 years, 20 years?

9:55 a.m.

Vice-President, Global Market Development, Westport Innovations Inc.

Jonathan Burke

Merci.

We have worked on hydrogen a considerable amount. We've done hydrogen-natural gas blends on buses in Vancouver, British Columbia. We've blended a certain amount of hydrogen into the natural gas to get improved combustion of the engine, but on a spark-ignited engine. We've also run hydrogen, in collaboration with BMW and Ford, in internal combustion engines—these are internal combustion engines, not fuel cells—with great success.

Our challenge with hydrogen has been infrastructure, supply of the fuel, and cost of the product. Today, it's not economically feasible, other than with hydrogen coming from waste or fugitive sources, to deploy hydrogen vehicles in significant numbers. That's what our evaluation tells us. But we think hydrogen has a bright future once we know how to produce it in sufficient quantities to support the automotive sector.

The benefit of natural gas today is that it is being produced in sufficient quantities to offset petroleum consumption. Hydrogen, in many instances, just doesn't have that advantage today, until we find economical and energy efficient ways to produce hydrogen. Today, hydrogen comes from two sources. It's either from the electrolysis of water or from basically splitting natural gas molecules, which is called “reforming”. Those two processes are quite energy intensive, and they come at a high cost.

We don't work on fuel cells. We work only on internal combustion engines. But we've had great success making injectors that can inject hydrogen effectively into an internal combustion engine, with great emissions results and great performance results.

10 a.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin Trois-Rivières, QC

You have not answered my question about the timeline. Could you tell me whether natural gas technology is the necessary interim step between the oil combustion we currently have and the production of hydrogen vehicles?

10 a.m.

Vice-President, Global Market Development, Westport Innovations Inc.

Jonathan Burke

It could be, but as far as the time, I'm not about to speculate. Hydrogen has been around for a considerable amount of time already. Yet it can't seem to get its market legs, so to speak, its ability to prove itself beyond small deployment projects. However, there could be a discovery, potentially at a Canadian university, of some better way of getting hydrogen to the marketplace and making it more cost-effective.

Certainly there have been tremendous inroads made by Canadian companies, such as Ballard Power and Hydrogenics, on getting the cost of fuel cells down and getting them to be very cost-competitive. The challenge now becomes putting it all together onto a vehicle such that the vehicle isn't so outrageously priced that it wouldn't be viable for a consumer.

10 a.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin Trois-Rivières, QC

In a future with a fleet of natural gas vehicles for the average person, how long do you think our natural gas reserves will last? Are we talking about conventional source natural gas, or do we also have to extract shale gas?

10 a.m.

Vice-President, Global Market Development, Westport Innovations Inc.

Jonathan Burke

We think natural gas will come in over the next several decades from a variety of sources in Canada. We have conventional gas resources. We have what's known as tight gas or coal bed methane, for example, in the border between Alberta and British Columbia in what's called the Montney area. Then we have shale gas as well. There is also a tremendous resource in Canada of renewable natural gas, called biogas in many cases, and that's gas that comes from waste material like landfills, dairy farms, and other renewable sources. So there's a whole range of sources of natural gas for transportation. It's not any one source, such as shale gas. It's going to come from a whole range of sources.

We already have facilities in Canada that are generating biogas, which comes from waste sources such as a waste water treatment plant, for the purpose of re-injecting it into the pipeline grid and selling it to consumers.

In the United States we actually have dairy farms that are collecting the methane from sources you can imagine and then they are trapping it, they're cleaning it a small amount, and they're fueling their vehicles with that methane. So it's a virtuous life cycle.

Waste Management operates a fleet just outside of San Francisco where they take garbage up to a landfill. The landfill then produces methane. They collect all that methane, they clean it, and they fuel all their garbage trucks. There's no fossil-based natural gas used in that life stream.

So there is a whole variety of alternatives. It's been done in Scandinavia for over a decade, where biogas is being extracted from a whole number of waste streams. There's already very proven commercial technology around deriving biogas, or renewable natural gas, from things like farm waste, forestry residue, other waste materials, organic waste.

10 a.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin Trois-Rivières, QC

Merci beaucoup.

10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Merv Tweed

We have a bus in Brandon that runs on French fry cooking oil. When it drives by you can smell the French fries. I can't imagine what the methane vehicle might smell like.

Monsieur Poilievre.

10 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

Thank you for the introduction; I appreciate that very much.

The question I have relates to regulation. We've heard from a number of natural gas proponents that there are inconsistent regulations across provincial and Canada-U.S. borders that make it difficult for the seamless flow of commerce with respect to these vehicles. First, is that the case? Second, can you provide us with a summary of what we need to do to fix that?

10 a.m.

Vice-President, Global Market Development, Westport Innovations Inc.

Jonathan Burke

Sure. I don't know the specific issues; I can't identify any one specific issue. But there are requirements for crash testing here in Canada that are different from what are in the United States, as an example that I understand. For example, Honda Motor Company in the United States manufactures a car—running on natural gas—that for the past seven years has been rated the cleanest car in North America by a very well recognized standards organization.

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

Is it the Honda Civic?

10:05 a.m.

Vice-President, Global Market Development, Westport Innovations Inc.

Jonathan Burke

It's a Honda Civic manufactured at the factory as a natural gas vehicle; it's called the Honda Civic GX

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

Is it available in Canada?

10:05 a.m.

Vice-President, Global Market Development, Westport Innovations Inc.

Jonathan Burke

It is not available in Canada.

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

Why?