Green hydrogen has the potential to wean India off fossil fuels | Daily News Byte

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JAPANESE CAR MANUFACTURER TOYOTA and the International Center for Automotive Technology started a pilot project a year ago to test the Mirai, a mid-size sedan powered by hydrogen fuel cells, for Indian roads and climate. The project was launched by Nitin Gadkari, Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways. Gadkari has been driving the car for some time and is convinced that “the hydrogen car is the future of this country”. Within a year, he believes, India will have cars, buses and trucks powered by green hydrogen.

Gadkari’s counterpart, Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnau, is also confident of getting hydrogen-powered trains to India by 2023. The Railways invited tenders a year ago for hydrogen fuel cell trains and, initially, two diesel-electric trains will be converted to run on green hydrogen fuel cells on the Jind-Sonipat section in Haryana.

India may have just started exploring green hydrogen-powered mobility, but the world has already bet big on it. Last year, in the German state of Lower Saxony, the route between Cuxhaven and Buxtehude became the first in the world to be connected by trains powered only by green hydrogen. According to the plan, 14 hydrogen-powered trains from the French company Alstom will replace 15 diesel trains.

These Alstom trains are emission-free in operation and have a range of 1,000 km. “Our Coradia iLint is the first passenger train in the world to use a hydrogen fuel cell that generates electricity for propulsion. Specially developed for use on non-electrified lines, this train emits only water vapor and condensation while maintaining high performance,” said Olivier Loison, Managing Director, Alstom India Cluster.

A hydrogen train costs 25-35 percent more than a diesel train. “But there will be maintenance savings, and fuel cell costs are expected to decrease,” Loison said.

The Toyota Mirai is already sold in Japan, the US and some European countries. It runs on a fuel cell system that produces electricity from the reaction between hydrogen and oxygen. No tailpipe emissions other than water. About 4 kg of hydrogen is consumed to travel 500 km. Some other car manufacturers are also on it.

About 15,500 hydrogen cars were sold worldwide in 2021. That’s only a small drop from the 66 million cars sold last year. But sales of hydrogen cars are growing; last year they were double their pre-pandemic levels, suggesting the technology may be poised to enter the mainstream.

Cars, however, are just one of the many use cases for green hydrogen. It can be used in the petrochemical industry; steelmakers see it as a means of producing green steel; hydrogen is used to produce ammonia, methanol and other chemicals; it could emerge as an alternative fuel to power the shipping industry; one day it could even be used to heat homes and power appliances, being transported through existing gas pipelines.

But where do you get green hydrogen? Hydrogen is mainly found in water (which is a compound of oxygen and hydrogen) or as hydrogen gas, which is flammable. Green hydrogen is produced by a method called electrolysis, which breaks down water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen using electricity. This is an energy intensive process. Currently, green hydrogen costs about $6 per kilogram.

To produce green hydrogen on a mass scale, you need large electrolyzers. They cost $600-$800 per kilowatt, according to a Siemens white paper. At this rate, producing green hydrogen is expensive. Also, if much of the electricity used to produce green hydrogen is not renewable, it negates the very purpose of adopting green hydrogen.

However, experts are pushing for green hydrogen because it could be very useful for developing economies like India that are heavily dependent on imported oil. “We import energy worth 160 billion dollars. We need to reduce that import bill. We are the third largest creator of carbon dioxide in the world, emitting about 3.6 gigatons of carbon dioxide. We have to knock it down. There is also an aspiration to create 450 gV of renewable energy by 2030. Green hydrogen will play a very critical role,” said scientist Raghunath Mashelkar.

Some of India’s biggest corporations seem to share the sentiment. Reliance Industries is investing Rs 75,000 crore in its new energy business. Part of the plan is the establishment of four giga-factories. One of them will be an electrolyzer factory for the production of green hydrogen and a fuel cell factory for converting hydrogen into energy.

The Adani Group entered into a partnership with TotalEnergies of France earlier this year to create what would be “the world’s largest green hydrogen ecosystem”. Adani New Industries Limited plans to invest $50 billion over 10 years in green hydrogen. In the initial phase, the company will develop a production capacity of one million tons per year before 2030. Green hydrogen is a natural neighborhood for the group, which is already a major player in the field of solar energy, as well as the generation and transmission of thermal energy.

India’s largest fuel seller Indian Oil, engineering and construction company Larsen & Toubro and renewable energy company ReNev Power also have big plans for green hydrogen. “Green hydrogen can not only help us decarbonize various industrial sectors but also ensure energy security, which is critical to support the country’s economic growth,” said Subramanian Sarma, Resident Director and Senior Executive Vice President (Energy) at L&T .

L&T recently commissioned a green hydrogen plant at its AM Naik Heavy Engineering Complex in Hazira, Gujarat. The plant is designed for an 800 kV electrolyzer. It currently produces 45 kilograms of green hydrogen per day, which will be used for consumption.

State-owned power producer NTPC is setting up a green hydrogen mobility project in Leh Ladakh. They will see five fuel cell buses driving in and around Leh. NTPC’s renewable energy arm also has a pact with Gujarat Gas where green hydrogen will be produced and blended with piped natural gas and used for cooking in NTPC’s Kawas town.

Tata Motors, India’s largest commercial vehicle manufacturer, has been developing and testing hydrogen fuel cells for several years. It has received an order from Indian Oil to supply 15 hydrogen fuel cell buses under development. Testing of the second phase prototypes is expected soon.

Indian Oil will produce green hydrogen in phases. As a first step, a 5 KTA (40 mV) green hydrogen plant will be implemented at the Mathura refinery and a 2 KTA (16 mV) plant at the Panipat refinery. “The company is venturing into green hydrogen and is targeting 5 percent of the hydrogen it produces as green hydrogen by 2027-28 and 10 percent by 2029-30,” he told shareholders some time ago.

Tata Motors believes that green hydrogen will be an important stepping stone in achieving its net-zero ambitions. “The availability of hydrogen and the cost of hydrogen are important barriers to overcome,” said Rajendra Petkar, president and chief technology officer. He said that reducing the cost of producing green hydrogen will determine the growth and success of the industry.

“It is clear that the cost of green hydrogen must come down significantly to make it affordable and realize its full potential,” L&T’s Sarma said. “Various industry players, including L&T, are working on various initiatives to bring cost competitiveness. Green energy production and storage costs, technological advances in electrolyser manufacturing, and the application of materials science to indigenize supply chain components are areas of work.”

Price is the key. Mashelkar, who is the chairman of the Reliance Innovation Council, said the cost of green hydrogen would have to come down to $1 to $2 per kilogram from the current $5 to $6 per kilogram to make it affordable. He believes this is possible through research, innovation and policy changes. “Look at the electrolyser that splits the water. As the size of the electrolyzer increases, the costs decrease. So with volume, costs come down,” he said. He also pointed out that after splitting water, we get medical oxygen as a by-product, which could be sold separately.

Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani believes India can produce green hydrogen at $1 per kilogram within a decade. “Although the cost of hydrogen from electrolysis is high today, it is expected to drop significantly in the coming years.” “New technologies are emerging to store and transport hydrogen, which will dramatically reduce distribution costs,” he said earlier at a climate conference.

Reliance New Energy Solar has signed a pact with the Danish company Stiesdal to manufacture hydrogen electrolysers in India. The partnership would “accelerate cost reduction and commercialization of their pressurized alkaline electrolyzer technology,” Ambani told Reliance shareholders some time ago.

It’s not just the cost of production. Transporting green hydrogen is not easy and needs infrastructure development, said TV Narendran, managing director of Tata Steel. “Why is coal so popular in India?” Because it moves easily. You can move it by rail, you can move it by ship, the ports can handle it. If you want to switch from coal to gas, you need pipelines and LNG terminals. And then if you want to switch to hydrogen then you need it. We need to think about the cost and complexity of this transition,” he said.

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IREA) has identified that the transition to green hydrogen-based heavy industry would require a major technological shift in their core industrial processes. “Change must be led by policymakers who, through policy and regulation, can accelerate change and encourage investments in this direction,” the statement said.

The World Bank says that hydrogen demand was 87 million metric tons in 2020, and is expected to rise to 500–680 million metric tons by 2050. However, 95 percent of current hydrogen production is based on fossil fuels. So it’s hardly green. The production of green hydrogen will have to obtain a large part of its required energy from renewable sources.

The green hydrogen policy announced by the government this year offers exemption from interstate transfer fees for 25 years to producers of green hydrogen and green ammonia from projects commissioned before June 30, 2025. So a company producing green hydrogen in one state could have renewable energy facilities in any other state. Green hydrogen and green ammonia plants will also receive open access to renewable energy sources within 15 days of receiving the application. The government plans to establish production zones for green hydrogen and green ammonia plants.

Storing hydrogen is a bit tricky, as its small molecule is difficult to contain and leakage will increase greenhouse gases. “Hydrogen itself does not emit carbon dioxide when burned or used in a fuel cell. But when emitted into the atmosphere, hydrogen contributes to climate change by increasing the amount of other greenhouse gases such as methane, ozone and water vapor, leading to indirect warming,” said Steven Hamburg, chief scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). . and Ilissa Ocko, Senior Climate Scientist at EDF.

Clearly, there is a long way to go before green hydrogen becomes mainstream. Cost reduction would be a key factor. While companies around the world are making great strides in the technology and use of green hydrogen, there are many concerns and challenges that will need to be addressed to make it truly green.

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