The 2023 Women of the Year Awards: Innovator – Winner

The winner of the Innovator category of The 2023 Women of the Year Awards is Sabina Russell, vice president of clean at HTEC.

Sabina Russell
Vice president of clean fuels, HTEC

It was learning about the effect of China’s poor air quality on children’s lifespans that sparked Sabina Russell’s interest in cleantech and hydrogen. She started working in the sector soon after graduating from UBC with a degree in mechanical engineering in 1996 and ended up staying for 27 years.

“I’ve seen the narrative changing so, so much,” she says of technologies, policies and trends during that time.

Russell joined cleantech manufacturer Ballard Power Systems in 1997, a time when conversations around climate change were still new. During outreach activities, Russell regularly encountered people struggling to understand the greenhouse effect.

But now governments are committed to net zero emissions and how fast we get there matters, she notes, crediting a collective recognition of the fact that not only do we have to cut emissions, we must also try to reverse them.

“Build back better” policies promoting cleantech investment are becoming more and more prevalent, and Russell is happy about it. In 2020, she worked closely with the federal government’s natural resources department to develop a hydrogen strategy for Canada. It assessed hydrogen’s role in combatting climate change and a lot of the paper’s recommendations were directly tied to government policy. As its lead author, Russell calls it a “standout project” in her career.

But the rise of electrification and other biofuels is challenging the efficacy of hydrogen. “I’ve always believed that we’re going to need every tool in the toolbox and every technical option behind us to tackle this huge problem…and hydrogen is a big piece of it,” the Vancouverite contends.

Around 2015, Russell left Ballard to take the entrepreneurial route. She co-founded a consulting firm called Zen & the Art of Clean Energy Solutions with business partner Jeff Grant. HTEC, a Vancouver-based leader in clean hydrogen production and distribution, jumped on board as the firm’s second client before acquiring Zen last year. Russell now serves as the company’s VP of clean fuels.

In the role, Russell oversees the company’s production of hydrogen as a low carbon fuel. HTEC has built the first network of hydrogen fuelling stations in Canada and in British Columbia,” Russell says with a sense of pride