Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the launch of the National Hydrogen Mission (NHM) on India’s 75th Independence Day, saying that the aim is to make the country a global hub for the production and export of green hydrogen. The potential of hydrogen as as a game changer in the energy arena has long been known — its versatility allows it to be utilised in transportation, power generation and industry — and increasing concerns around climate change are driving efforts by countries to quickly induct it into their energy mix to achieve the target of becoming a low-carbon economy.
What Is The National Hydrogen Mission?
The PM’s announcement takes forward the proposal, made in the 2021 Budget, for the launch of NHM that would enable the generation of hydrogen “from green power sources". In April this year, speaking at the Hydrogen Round Table on ‘Hydrogen Economy: New Delhi Dialogue-2021’, the then Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan had noted it was the goal of controlling emissions that makes hydrogen fuel so attractive to policy-makers.
“The enthusiasm about hydrogen has a simple reason: whether it’s used in a fuel cell or burned to create heat, wherever hydrogen replaces fossil fuels, it slows global warming," Pradhan had said. The added advantage of hydrogen is that, apart from transportation, it can be a “decarbonising agent" for industries like chemicals, iron, steel, fertiliser and refining, transport, heat and power.
While the details of the NHM are yet to emerge, India has taken several exploratory steps. “We are working on a pilot project on Blue Hydrogen, Hydrogen CNG (H-CNG) and Green Hydrogen… we are blending hydrogen with compressed natural gas for use as transportation fuel as well as an industrial input to refineries". The minister had said that 50 buses have been rolled out as part of a pilot project in Delhi that use blended hydrogen in compressed natural gas (CNG) with plans to scale it up in the coming months across the country.
How Does Hydrogen Fuel Help?
Hydrogen is the fuel of stars and packs awesome energy. It is also the most abundant element in the universe. But on Earth it is found in complex molecules such as water or hydrocarbons. Hydrogen is not a source of energy, like fossil fuels or renewable sources like sunlight and air, but an energy carrier, which means it has to be produced, or extracted, and stored before it can be used.
But no matter how it is used, the by-product the burning of hydrogen produces is water. The World Energy Council (WEC) says that “combusting one kilo of hydrogen releases three times more energy than a kilo of gasoline and produces only water". Then, there are hydrogen fuel cells, which is “an electrochemical cell that converts the chemical energy of hydrogen and oxygen into electricity", whose waste product, again, is water. “Fuel cells can produce electricity continuously for as long as hydrogen and oxygen are supplied," WEC says.
How Is Hydrogen Produced? What Is Grey, Blue, Green Of Hydrogen?
There are several ways of extracting hydrogen and, depending on the method, the hydrogen produced is classified as ‘grey’, ‘blue’, or ‘green’ hydrogen.
According to WEC, as of 2019, “96 per cent of hydrogen is produced from fossil fuels via carbon intensive processes". Hydrogen thus obtained is called ‘grey’ hydrogen as the process, though not as expensive as the other methods, releases a lot of carbon dioxide.
‘Grey’ hydrogen becomes ‘blue’ hydrogen when the CO2 given out during its production is locked up through carbon capture and storage (CCS) processes. But while the CO2 output is lowered, this process is quite expensive. ‘Grey’ and ‘blue’ hydrogen, thus, are both produced by the same processes, the only difference for ‘blue’ hydrogen being that the CO2 produced is sequestered.
But it is ‘green’ hydrogen what governments are aiming at. This is any hydrogen that is produced from clean energy sources like renewables. ‘Green’ hydrogen is released via electrolysis of energy from renewable sources. This process, though it gives rise to no CO2 emissions, is expensive and not commercially viable yet.
What Are The Challenges Towards Using Hydrogen Energy?
While the cost of developing technologies to produce ‘green’ hydrogen are cost intensive, “falling renewable energy and fuel cell prices [and] stringent climate change requirements" have provided an impetus for the investments in this area. Reports earlier this year said that the Centre is going to commit an outlay of Rs 800 crore between 2021 to 2024 for pilot projects and research, development and demonstration (RD&D) projects while investments from private players are also being counted on for a push towards a hydrogen future.
The government has told Parliament that the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy “has been supporting various projects in academic institutions, research and development organisations and industry for development of hydrogen
and fuel cells" and that 14 RD&D projects are currently being pursued. Also, in September 2020, 18 per cent blend of Hydrogen with CNG (HCNG) was notified as an automotive fuel.
In India, the IITs, IISc, Benaras Hindu University, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research laboratories etc. are exploring different aspects of hydrogen production, the government has said.
WEC says “recent government commitments for large-scale production and consumption of hydrogen are rapidly establishing deep foundations for a hydrogen economy", but notes that, “the single greatest challenge in realising the hydrogen and fuel cell potential is predictable and consistent energy policy".