Updated June 2023
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The Alberta Energy Regulator’s (AER’s) mandate has expanded to include new areas of resource development, such as geothermal, helium, hydrogen, and lithium. This expansion is part of the Alberta government’s economic recovery plan to diversify the economy and accelerate growth in new and emerging resource sectors. We are working to understand the development and regulation of these resources and map the province’s resource potential.
Hydrogen is an energy carrier and one of the most abundant elements on earth that can be the fuel of the future. Hydrogen is a colourless, odourless, and flammable gas found almost everywhere on earth but only combined with other elements, such as carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen.
Hydrogen applications are diverse, including residential and commercial heating, power generation, energy storage, transportation, and industrial processes (e.g., fertilizers and bitumen upgrading).
Companies in Alberta produce two types of hydrogen known as grey and blue hydrogen:
- Grey hydrogen is derived from natural gas and fossil fuels; it produces carbon dioxide that is vented into the atmosphere.
- Blue hydrogen is produced using the same production method as grey hydrogen, but the carbon dioxide is captured and stored for future use.
Geothermal energy is the heat energy buried deep beneath the earth. It is a renewable energy resource with minimal environmental and carbon footprints. Geothermal can provide baseload power with fewer fluctuations in output than other forms of renewable energy because the heat from the earth’s core is always available.
As public policies target opportunities to reduce the carbon footprint, we expect geothermal energy to gain a larger share of the energy mix.
Companies produce geothermal energy using two basic methods: open- and closed-loop technology.
- Open-loop technology relies on hot or warm groundwater as the heat source. Once the heat is extracted, the cooled water is either reinjected into the geothermal reservoir for reheating or expelled from the system.
- Closed-loop technology relies on a working fluid circulated through a closed wellbore in a hot subsurface formation. The closed wellbore can be two to seven kilometres below the surface, possibly deeper. The heated fluid circulates to the surface where the heat is extracted. The cooled fluid is circulated back through the wellbore for reheating.
Helium is a colourless and odourless inert gas produced by nuclear fusion within a star or by the decay of uranium and thorium within the earth’s mantle and crust. It is a non-renewable resource. Because of its physical properties (low density), it can easily escape through the atmosphere.
Helium can be extracted from the atmosphere, but this process is costly. Alternatively, relatively high concentrations of helium can be extracted from natural gas reservoirs at a more cost-effective rate.
Helium has many uses, including magnetic resonance imaging, nuclear magnetic resonance, welding, rocket propulsion fuel, and laboratory research. Other gasses, such as hydrogen, can substitute for helium in some applications. However, there are many applications where helium cannot be substituted, indicating a strong and stable demand for this element over time.
Lithium is considered the lightest of all metals and the lightest solid element under standard conditions. It does not naturally occur as a pure element but in compounds, usually ionic compounds in mineral deposits, including underground brines or salts.
Historically, lithium was used for ceramics and glass, lubricating greases, polymer production, aluminum smelting, etc. Today, the production of lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles, electronics, and grid power storage is driving the capital expenditure in lithium.
Companies and research groups in Alberta are testing direct lithium extraction (DLE) technology. This technology allows access to Alberta’s lithium-brine potential in many existing oil and gas reservoirs.