All the hype surrounding the development of a green hydrogen industry in Newfoundland and Labrador has so far focused on export markets to places like Germany, but the owners of a renewable fuels refinery in Placentia Bay want to change the conversation.
The leadership at Braya Renewable Fuels believes the company can become the largest user of green hydrogen in Canada, and is seeking a partner to help make it happen.
"We are looking forward to a project that brings not just the lowest cost hydrogen to us, but the best opportunity for us to partner and really bring something special to the community," Braya CEO Frank Almaraz told CBC News Tuesday during a phone interview from Dallas, Texas.
An extensive conversion project is underway at the refinery, and the new company hopes to begin producing what's called second generation biofuels — renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel made from plant-based waste oils and animal fats — early next year.
These fuels are chemically identical to the petroleum products they replace, but are not blended with petroleum-based fuels and, as a result, have a lower carbon footprint.
The process will require large quantities of hydrogen — up to 35,000 metric tonnes annually.
Braya has a ready supply of what's known as "grey" hydrogen, which is created from butane gas and generates greenhouse gases.
But in order to lower emissions even further and be a more attractive option to environmentally conscious customers, Braya wants to use hydrogen derived from a renewable energy source, such as wind.
So Braya has issued a request for proposals for companies interested in developing a green hydrogen project adjacent to its Come By Chance refinery.
It's just the latest of many proposed wind energy projects in the province since a moratorium on such developments was lifted last spring. In early October, the provincial government announced it received 31 land nomination submissions for wind energy projects. A competitive call for bids for the use of Crown land is scheduled to launch on Dec. 15.
"We're working quickly in order to be cognizant of the Crown lands sale process," said Almaraz.
The company wants to entice a partner to develop a wind-to-hydrogen project by offering itself as a long-term, stable customer, with the option of scaling up the project in order to supply what is expected to be a massive export market for green hydrogen in the coming years. The company is also touting the availability of fresh water, port facilities and other infrastructure as a drawing card for potential partners.
"We want to buy 35,000 tonnes a year at the lowest cost possible, but we think the strategic opportunity for the region, for our company, for the province and for our partner, is much greater than that," said Almaraz.
Braya also has a "willingness and ability" to invest in the capital cost of the project, added Almaraz, "to scale green hydrogen and green ammonia production, storage, and handling to serve a larger market audience."
Braya is offering up 80 acres of refinery land on which a joint hydrogen and ammonia plant can be established. The successful proposal is also expected to include a large wind energy project, which would require large amounts of government-owned land.
"It is the most likely case that one of our partners, the selected partner, will participate in the Crown lands process," said Almaraz.
The refinery has a long and checkered history of refining oil into various fuels, but it closed in early 2020 after commodity markets cratered in response to the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A U.S. private equity firm called Cresta Fund Management bought a controlling stake in the refinery 11 months ago, and rebranded the company from North Atlantic Refining to Braya Renewable Fuels.
Construction was temporarily halted on Sept. 2 after a flash fire injured eight workers at the refinery. One of the workers, Clarenville resident Shawn Peddle, died from his injuries on Oct. 15.
Braya plans to market its products to the heavy transport and aviation sectors.
The deadline for proposals is Dec. 19.