Renewable Energy

Role of hydrogen as a clean fuel for sustainable mobility

Clean form of the natural gas is required for transition to a decarbonised nation

By Maitreyi Karthik
Published: Thursday 18 August 2022
Storing hydrogen is challenging as it is flammable, low in density and dispersive. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Storing hydrogen is challenging as it is flammable, low in density and dispersive. Photo: Wikimedia Commons Storing hydrogen is challenging as it is flammable, low in density and dispersive. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Hydrogen-operated vehicles are being encouraged as a transportation option due to their inherent zero-pollution nature. But the transportation sector also needs to switch to clean hydrogen and not just bolster the growth in the market share of hydrogen fuel. 

The production of hydrogen from fossil fuels is a big impediment to the reduction of emissions despite it burning as a clean fuel. 

Production-based coding of hydrogen

India needs to adopt renewable energy and electrify its transportation sector to transition to a decarbonised nation.

Embracing green hydrogen will allow India to reduce 3.6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions cumulatively through 2050, according to a NITI Aayog report. NITI Aayog is the central government’s public policy thinktank. 

The country will require 115 gigawatt of power generation capacity from renewable sources along with 50 billion litres of demineralised water to generate 5 million tonnes of green hydrogen by 2030, according to Ernst & Young India-SED fund. EY is an international professional services network. 

The low cost of renewable energy generation makes green hydrogen a cost-competitive form of fuel energy source in the distant future in India. This will allow the use of domestic energy sources, ultimately reducing the burden on importing oil and gas.

Green hydrogen from renewable sources

Source: Niti Aayog

Green hydrogen would help reduce 3.6 gigatonnes of cumulative carbon dioxide emissions between 2020 and 2050. There would be savings of $246 billion to $358 billion from the energy import of green hydrogen for the same period. 

The possibility of domestic demand and export of green hydrogen is encouraging. Still, it is necessary to accomplish the required reduction in price, according to a NITI Aayog report on harnessing green hydrogen.

Sustainable mobility goes hand in hand with sustainable development. Sustainable development was defined as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” in 1987 by the World Commission on Environment and Development.

Read more: Hydrogen costs to fall over 95% by 2050, predicts report

The needs that have been mentioned are “economic development, social and human development, and environmental and ecological health”, according to a 2006 paper Sustainable urban transport: Four innovative directions. 

Mobility as a sector does not have a Sustainable Development Goal of its own. However, it is crucial to achieve the SDGs it is already associated with to achieve sustained growth and development.

The Clean Energy Ministerial, through its Hydrogen Initiative, was launched in 2019 to facilitate policy, programmes and projects across multi-governments. This was done to enhance the commercial aspects and hydrogen and fuel cell engineering across economies of scale.

The Prime Minister of India launched the National Hydrogen Energy Mission of India August 15, 2021. It provides a roadmap for using hydrogen as a source of energy.

During the 2021-22 budget, Rs 1,500 crore was allocated towards developing renewable energy and the National Hydrogen Mission. The government of India conceptualised a Green Hydrogen Policy for compliance by the stakeholders in continuation to the National Hydrogen Mission.

The foundation stone for the country’s first green mobility project was laid by the PM in Leh July 30, 2022. The project is expected to be established in a year. The objective of the pilot project is to deploy five fuel cell buses running around Leh.

This would be the first use of fuel cells for public purposes. Another pilot project of green hydrogen blending at National Thermal Power Corporation Ltd in Kawas would be the first such project in the country, reducing the burden on natural gas.

Read more: Green hydrogen can drive India’s transition to clean energy, combat climate change

Adani Group and TotalEnergies have plans to jointly invest over $50 billion in the next decade in green hydrogen, including its complete ecosystem.

Storing hydrogen has been challenging due to its inherent nature of being flammable, low in density and dispersive. It can be stored in three ways, which come with their challenges:

  • Tanks: They provide a simple and economical means for storage and transporting hydrogen in compressed form.
  • Chemical: Storage in the form of compounds like methanol and toluene comes with chemical conversion costs and qualities that require delicate handling. 
  • Underground: Storage in caverns and domes is inexpensive and can accommodate huge volumes, but their natural availability locally is a problem.

Transportation of hydrogen can be done in the following ways:

  • Pipelines: They are economical for the transportation of hydrogen. Repurposing the existing natural gas pipelines after meeting the minimum technical criteria to avoid risks would allow accelerated demand for consumers. 
  • Trucks: They are used for transportation in smaller quantities over long and small distances. 
  • Ships: This mode of transportation is used to transport large quantities for longer distances, mainly liquid hydrogen and ammonia. But it is not economical due to the energy conversion cost and the need for a structural design to reduce risks.

Challenges like policy and regulations, supply chain management, and higher costs also plague the hydrogen economy. 

The generation of green hydrogen involves much higher costs than its generation using fossil fuels. Falling prices of renewable energy and the lowering economy make it a viable option, but there is still a long way to go.

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