Canada Unveils Hydrogen Strategy to Kick-Start Clean Fuel Industry

CALGARY, Alberta, Dec 16 (Reuters) - Canada unveiled a long-discussed hydrogen strategy on Wednesday, calling on investors to spur growth in a clean fuel sector that the government says could be worth C$50 billion ($39.2 billion), create 350,000 jobs and help the country achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

Natural Resources Minister Seamus O'Regan said Canada will need C$5 billion to C$7 billion in near-term investments to grow its hydrogen industry, but he pledged no new federal money.

However, the government announced a C$1.5 billion investment fund for low-carbon fuels, including hydrogen, last week.

Canada is the world's fourth-largest oil producer and its energy sector has been hammered by plummeting demand as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Energy is our family business in Canada, and this strategy shows us how to grow that business," O'Regan said at a news conference. "Our first job is to let industry know we are serious."

So-called "blue" hydrogen derived from natural gas, with the resulting carbon emissions captured and stored, is a potentially useful pivot for companies in the struggling oil patch.

The western province of Alberta, home to the bulk of Canada's energy industry, welcomed the national strategy. However, critics say "blue" hydrogen amounts to a fossil-fuel subsidy.

Environmental groups want "green" hydrogen, which uses renewable sources of electricity, to be prioritized.

Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said even "blue" hydrogen would lower emissions and was not a fossil fuel subsidy.

Countries globally are using hydrogen to replace traditional fossil fuels. In Canada, it could be used as transportation fuel and to power industries including cement, steel, resource extraction and mining, O'Regan said.

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