Hydrogen mission: Long way to go

“The National Green Hydrogen Mission will facilitate the transition of the economy to low-carbon intensity and reduce dependence on fossil fuel imports," said finance minister Niramala Sitharaman.
Hydrogen molecules used for representational purpose only. (Photo | Pexels)
Hydrogen molecules used for representational purpose only. (Photo | Pexels)

NEW DELHI: In January 2023, the government approved a whopping Rs 19,744 crore for the implementation of the National Green Hydrogen mission in the country. Considered a future fuel, green hydrogen or ammonia is said to be a replacement for traditional fossil fuels. The government said the purpose of this mission is to reduce India’s oil imports and provide clean fuel to citizens. At the same time, to make India a global hub for using, producing and exporting green hydrogen.

“The National Green Hydrogen Mission will facilitate the transition of the economy to low-carbon intensity and reduce dependence on fossil fuel imports. It will make the country assume technology and market leadership in this sector,” said finance minister Niramala Sitharaman, while presenting the budget 2023-24.

The initial outlay for the scheme is Rs 19,744 crore. The power and renewable ministry will be the nodal point and will formulate guidelines related to the scheme.

Why hydrogen energy?

Hydrogen is the most abundant chemical element in the world. India has a favourable geographic location and an abundance of sunlight and wind for the production of green hydrogen. Therefore, the country targets to produce at least 5 MT (million tonnes) per annum with an associated renewable energy capacity of about 125 GW by 2030. Its production capacity is likely to invite investment of Rs 8 lakh crore and create over 6 lakh clean jobs. Hydrogen is light, can be stored, is energy dense and doesn’t generate direct polluting emissions. Therefore, it is considered as the substitute for fossil fuels in heavy transport sectors like maritime transport or the aviation sector, where it is hard to decarbonise the fuel.

How is it produced?

Hydrogen is the lightest element and most abundant element in the universe. It isn’t found in nature in its elemental form, thus it has to be extracted from other hydrogen-containing compounds. Based on the method of extracting, hydrogen is divided into three categories -- Grey, Blue and Green.  Green Hydrogen is produced using the electrolysis of water with electricity generated by renewable energy. The carbon intensity ultimately depends on the carbon neutrality of the source of electricity -- the more renewable energy in the electricity fuel mix, “greener” the hydrogen produced. Grey Hydrogen is produced via coal or lignite gasification (black or brown), or via a process called steam methane reformation (SMR) of natural gas or methane (grey) and  Blue Hydrogen is produced via natural gas or coal gasification combined with carbon capture storage (CCS) or carbon capture use (CCU) technologies to reduce carbon emissions. This is the most environmentally sustainable way to produce hydrogen.

Current status in India

As per an analysis by the Council for Energy, Environment and Water, Green hydrogen currently accounts for less than 1% of global hydrogen production due to it being expensive to produce. The government believes by 2030, hydrogen costs will be down by 50%. Hydrogen demand is expected to see a five-fold jump to 28 MT by 2050 where 80% of the demand is expected to be green in nature.

The opportunity in the sector gave private firms an opportunity to invest. Reliance Industries (RIL) plans to become a net-carbon zero firm by 2035 and invest nearly Rs 750 billion over the next three years in renewable energy. State-owned oil companies like Indian Oil (IOCL) are planning to set up India’s first green hydrogen unit in the Mathura refinery, which will be used to process crude oil.  Similarly, National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC), has recently issued a tender to establish a hydrogen refuelling station to be powered by renewables in Leh through a standalone 1.25 MW solar system. Two hydrogen refuelling stations have been established (one each at Indian Oil R&D Centre, Faridabad and the National Institute of Solar Energy, Gurugram).

India is also planning to export hydrogen to Japan, South Korea, and Europe. Meanwhile, various hydrogen-powered vehicles have been developed and demonstrated under projects supported by a government that includes 6 Cell buses by Tata Motors, 50 hydrogen-enriched CNG (H-CNG) buses in Delhi by IOCL in collaboration with the Government of NCT of Delhi, 2 hydrogen-fueled Internal combustion engine buses (by IIT Delhi in collaboration with Mahindra & Mahindra). With proactive collaboration among innovators, entrepreneurs and government, green hydrogen has the potential to reduce CO2 emissions, fight climate change, and put India on a path towards net-zero energy imports. As per the government, it will help India export high-value green products, making it one of the first major economies to industrialise without the need to ‘carbonise’.

What experts say?

Hydrogen and ammonia are envisaged to be the future fuels to replace fossil fuels but energy experts have some reservations about the scheme. They called the usage of green hydrogen a still nascent stage all over the world. India can take a lead in the green hydrogen, but as per them, the country doesn’t have the required infrastructure to execute it yet.

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