Paul MacLean, Chief Operating Officer for Bear Head Energy, suggested 99 per cent of people attending the open houses are interested in the project and what kind of an opportunity it will create for the area.

PORT HAWKESBURY: Paul MacLean says he didn’t realize when he and his business partner made the decision to move into green hydrogen they wouldn’t be starting a project, but starting an industry in the Strait area and the province.

The proponents that are developing a green hydrogen and ammonia production, storage and loading facility, located at the former Bear Head LNG site in Point Tupper, hosted a number of open houses last week, giving the public a first look and opportunity to discuss the project.

During a well-attended open house on Jan. 11, at the Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre, MacLean, Bear Head Energy’s Chief Operating Officer, advised that once they build out the project’s full two-gigawatt capacity, they would produce about 350,000 tonnes of hydrogen and about 2,000,000 tonnes of ammonia per year.

“It’s going to be constructed in phases; we think the initial phase will be 500 megawatts, but we’re just going through the project concept definition right now that will refine that in the next couple of weeks,” MacLean told The Reporter. “Ammonia and hydrogen have been produced all over the world for years, but what makes it green is that you need to produce it using renewable energy; either wind, tidal or hydro power; you can’t use fossil fuels.”

While open houses in Arichat and St. Peter’s were cancelled due to weather on Jan. 10, approximately 40 people attended the open house in Mulgrave on Jan. 9, MacLean reported.

Explaining the process, MacLean suggested water is run through electrolyzers, then renewable electricity splits the hydrogen and the oxygen from the water, and the hydrogen is compressed and stored.

“You capture the hydrogen, and then you take the hydrogen and combine it with nitrogen and make anhydrous ammonia, and once you’ve got that ammonia, you can put it on tankers and ship it all over the world,” he said. “The cool thing about the project is when you burn the ammonia, the only by-product is water; there are no real emissions.”

Cryogenic air separation units will withdraw nitrogen from the air that will be combined with hydrogen to produce liquid ammonia, said MacLean.

Bear Head’s primary focus is on European markets, as their location in Point Tupper provides a strategic shipping advantage to get the product to market, and they need to utilize the European markets, where there is great demand for green hydrogen and green ammonia, said MacLean.

“We think about 90 per cent of the hydrogen will be converted to ammonia and shipped abroad,” he said. “But long-term, we would like to see that flipped and more hydrogen being used in Atlantic Canada rather than shipping everything across the world.”

For the full build out to the 2 gigawatts, MacLean said Bear Head Energy would require a maximum of four million gallons of water per day, and they already have a Memorandum of Understanding in place with the Landrie Lake Water Utility for that water supply.

“We were fully permitted as an LNG export facility back in 2015,” he said. “And we’ve been grandfathered with some of our permits for that facility.”

MacLean advised they have already invested $150 million on civil engineering and construction work and the project is shovel-ready, after suspending construction on the former LNG site in 2007. He noted this would be a “re-start” of the construction.

Speaking on the timeline of the project, MacLean indicated along with the company’s CEO John Godbold, they purchased the project in 2021 from LNG Limited and the duo decided right away to move away from fossil fuels and join the fight against climate change.

And in July 2022, MacLean said a deal was officially reached to sell Bear Head to their now parent company, Buckeye Partners, which owns 135 different terminals across the United States and the Caribbean and operates 5,500 miles of pipeline. He said Buckeye Partners wants to transition their assets over to green fuels and are using the project as their cornerstone piece for Canada.

Amendments were filed with Nova Scotia’s Department of Environment and Climate Change and federal regulators in the third quarter of 2022, and recently, representatives with Bear Head met with the Strait Area Campus of the NSCC as they want to run any ship simulations at the Nautical Institute in Port Hawkesbury, said MacLean.

A benefits agreement was signed with the Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq back in 2019 for the LNG project, and MacLean said the company is currently re-working that to reflect the move from fossil fuels to green hydrogen and green ammonia. He noted that Mi’kmaq communities are anxious to see a green project like theirs move forward.

“We are about to file our Class 1 Project Registration document, we think at the end of the month, the first week of February,” he said. “And then start our long-term procurement for some of the long-lead items in late 2023 to mid-2024; with a targeted FID to begin construction and procurement would be in Q4 20224, which is really not that far away.”

Touching briefly on an item they’re not going to be filing for anytime soon, however is important to the project overall, MacLean said onshore and offshore wind farms will have to be created to support the hydrogen project.

As for the common uses of green hydrogen and green ammonia, MacLean advised that the hydrogen itself can be used for fuel in gas turbine engines and fuel cells; for heating, to generate high-temperature heat; for steel production; and can be used to replace gasoline and diesel.

Ammonia, MacLean explained, has a multitude of uses. He said they could use the anhydrous ammonia they will be producing as a key component of fertilizer, it can also be used as a fuel replacement to reduce carbon footprints, and it can be used in the mass production of a lot of essential chemicals.

“Initially, to be honest, coming out of the energy space, we were looking at the energy side of things,” he said. “But as we’ve developed the project, there are so many different uses for what we plan to produce; it’s really turned into a great opportunity.”

Photos by Drake Lowthers
Bear Head Energy Project Director Darshi Jain (right) discusses the green hydrogen and green ammonia project during an open house at the Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre on Jan. 11.

Growing up in Port Hawkesbury, MacLean suggested the last thing he wants is to have any issues with a plant like theirs, and he said they went the extra mile making sure they’re addressing every risk and consequence possible.

“We submitted the project description to Nova Scotia Environment and Climate Change and they came back and asked us to go through Class 1 environmental assessment,” he said. “And we are finalizing the registration document to submit that, but we’re lucky we’ve done so much field work from the LNG export project that we have so much data on the site that it was fairly easy to bring together a fairly comprehensive document.”

MacLean said they commissioned an eel grass survey in September; an aquatic habitat survey in November; they’ve had biologists doing preliminary walkouts for surveys for mammals, reptiles, wetlands and general habitats; and they’re anticipating to complete winter track surveys in 2023.

MacLean suggested once they submit the proposal, they expect to hear from the minister within 50 days, whether it’s a yes, no, or a request for more information.

“The milestones are defined,” he said. “Where in other jurisdictions, you put your document in and you cross your fingers, and just hope.”

Bear Head is anticipating that this will diversify the local economy as it’s establishing a new industry and there will be regional economic benefits, from construction and the long-term operation, MacLean said, noting that during the construction phase, they feel there will be upwards of 700 jobs over three years.

“Our long-term goal is to be in construction for a 10 year period. We want to build a hydrogen hub in the Strait,” MacLean said. “As far as the ongoing operations and maintenance, we’re probably looking at 75 permanent jobs at the site.”

The greatest opportunity that he sees with the project is the creation of jobs for people who either want to stay at home or return home.

“John and I agreed early on, we weren’t going to sacrifice safety for scheduling,” MacLean said. “We want to make sure we’re putting all the pieces in place. There is an opportunity to get to market, but we’re not going to rush the project to get there.”

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Drake Lowthers has been a community journalist for The Reporter since July, 2018. His coverage of the suspicious death of Cassidy Bernard garnered him a 2018 Atlantic Journalism Award and a 2019 Better Newspaper Competition Award; while his extensive coverage of the Lionel Desmond Fatality Inquiry received a second place finish nationally in the 2020 Canadian Community Newspaper Awards for Best Feature Series. A Nova Scotia native, who has called Antigonish home for the past decade, Lowthers has a strong passion in telling people’s stories in a creative, yet thought-provoking way. He graduated from the journalism program at Holland College in 2016, where he played varsity football with the Hurricanes. His simple pleasures in life include his two children, photography, live music and the local sports scene.