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[Burning Issue] National Hydrogen Mission: A step toward developing a Hydrogen Economy

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India recently announced the launch of the National Hydrogen Mission (NHM) with an aim to cut down carbon emissions and increase the use of renewable sources of energy. The broad objective of the mission is to scale up Green Hydrogen production and utilization and to align India’s efforts with global best practices in technology, policy and regulation. Accordingly, the Government of India has allotted Rs 25 crore in the Union Budget 2021–22 for the research and development in hydrogen energy.

The NHM aims to leverage the country’s landmass and low solar and wind tariffs to produce low-cost green hydrogen and ammonia for export to Japan, South Korea, and Europe. In this regard, there are immense possibilities for India to collaborate with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries that have also invested significantly in developing hydrogen as a future source of energy.

What is National Hydrogen Energy Mission?

  • Focus: The main aim of the mission is on generation of hydrogen from green power resources and to link India’s growing renewable capacity with the hydrogen economy.
  • Goal: India’s ambitious goal of 175 GW by 2022 got an impetus in the 2021-22 budget which allocated Rs. 1500 crore for renewable energy development and NHM.
  • Sustainable energy and help in reduce import: The usage of hydrogen will not only help India in achieving its emission goals under the Paris Agreement, but will also reduce import dependency on fossil fuels.
  • The mission will include all aspects including research and exploration of areas where hydrogen can be used.

Green Hydrogen Mission is not only essential to decarbonise heavy industries like steel and cement but it will equally clean electric mobility that doesn’t depend on rare minerals to be explored.

What is Hydrogen Energy?

  • Hydrogen is an important source of energy since it has zero carbon content and is a non-polluting source of energy in contrast to hydrocarbons that have net carbon content in the range of 75–85 per cent.
  • Hydrogen energy is expected to reduce carbon emissions that are set to jump by 1.5 billion tons in 2021.
  • It has the highest energy content by weight and lowest energy content by volume.
  • As per International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), Hydrogen shall make up 6 per cent of total energy consumption by 2050.
  • Hydrogen energy is currently at a nascent stage of development, but has considerable potential for aiding the process of energy transition from hydrocarbons to renewable.

Hydrogen as an energy source:

  • Hydrogen is the lightest (travels up in the atmosphere and rarely found in purity) and first element on the periodic table.
  • Most hydrogen on Earth is bonded to oxygen in water and to carbon in live or dead and/or fossilized biomass. It can be created by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen.
  • At standard temperature and pressure, hydrogen is a nontoxic, nonmetallic, odorless, tasteless, colorless, and highly combustible diatomic gas.
  • Hydrogen fuel is a zero-emission fuel when burned with oxygen. It can be used in fuel cells or internal combustion engines. It is also used as a fuel for spacecraft propulsion.
  • Hydrogen can be sourced from natural gas, nuclear power, biomass, and renewable power like solar and wind.

Why is India focusing on Hydrogen to fulfill its energy demands?

  • 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.
  • Inclusion of “Hydrogen” as an energy carrier in the future energy portfolio presents a unique opportunity to address emerging energy vectors, including power to gas, power to power, and power to mobility and even vehicle to grid applications.
  • India remains committed to environmental and climate causes with a massive thrust on deploying renewable energy and energy efficiency measures. 
  • In the past six years, India has increased its renewable power portfolio from 32 GW to almost 100 GW and is well on track to achieve 450 GW target of renewable energy generating capacity by 2030.
  • Diversification of our energy basket would be the key lever enabling this transition. That’s why the emergence of hydrogen at the centre stage is a welcome development.

How Hydrogen can be produced?

  • Commercially viable Hydrogen can be produced from –

1. Hydrocarbons including natural gas, oil and coal through processes like steam methane reforming, partial oxidation and coal gasification

2. Renewables like water, sunlight and wind through electrolysis and photolysis and other thermo-chemical processes.

  • The current global demand for hydrogen is 70 million metric tons per year, more than 76 per cent of which is being produced from natural gas, 23 per cent comes from coal and the remaining is produced from electrolysis of water.
  • Storage: Hydrogen can be stored in cryo-compressed tanks in gaseous form apart from being kept in liquefied and solid state.

Primarily uses

  • Presently, Hydrogen is mostly used in industry sector including those dealing with oil refining, ammonia production, methanol production and steel production.
  • It has huge potential in transportation sector as a direct replacement to fossil fuels.
  • Shipping and aviation have limited low-carbon fuel options available and represent an opportunity for hydrogen-based fuels.

What Is Grey, Blue, And Green Of Hydrogen?

  • Hydrogen has been color-coded based on the source of production and the emphasis is on the use of Green Hydrogen as it helps in reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases and increases the share of renewables in total energy consumption.

Grey Hydrogen

  • The most common form of hydrogen, it’s created from fossil fuels and the process releases carbon dioxide which is not captured.
  • There is also a gasification process which uses coal as a feedstock, creating brown hydrogen, which also releases carbon dioxide and can be put in the same category as grey.

Blue Hydrogen

  • Blue hydrogen uses the same process as grey, except this time the carbon is captured and stored. This makes it much more environmentally friendly, but comes with added technical challenges and a big increase in cost.
  • Carbon capture and storage (CCS) has been around a while, with the technology being used by heavy industry and power generation companies burning fossil fuels.
  • The technology can capture up to 90% of the CO2 produced, so it isn’t perfect but clearly a massive improvement.

Green Hydrogen

Green hydrogen will be a unique energy vector that can enable deep decarbonization of many sectors such as transportation, industry, and power. One of the most common methods of generating green hydrogen is by electrolysis of pure water through electrolyzers.

We will discuss it in detail as it is very important for today’s world to rely on such a source of energy which can redefine the GHGs emission and sustainable use of energy resources while keeping global warming in check.

How is green hydrogen produced?

  • In a world struggling to address the issue of climate change and growing carbon footprint, green hydrogen is being heralded as the future of energy.
  • Unlike gray hydrogen, green hydrogen is fully renewable in both its source material and its energy supply. 
  • For source material, green hydrogen today is typically generated from water through a process known as electrolysis, which uses an electric current to split water into its component molecules of hydrogen and oxygen. 
  • This is done using a device called an electrolyzer, which utilizes a cathode and an anode (positively and negatively charged electrodes). 
  • This process produces only oxygen – or steam – as a byproduct. 
  • As for energy supply, to qualify as “green hydrogen,” the source of electricity used for electrolysis must derive from renewable power, such as wind or solar energy.
  • Currently the production of green hydrogen is two or three times more expensive than blue hydrogen.

How can green hydrogen be used?

Hydrogen can be used in broadly two ways. It can be burnt to produce heat or fed into a fuel cell to make electricity.

  • fuel-cell hydrogen electric cars and trucks
  • container ships powered by liquid ammonia made from hydrogen
  • “green steel” refineries burning hydrogen as a heat source rather than coal
  • hydrogen-powered electricity turbines that can generate electricity at times of peak demand to help firm the electricity grid
  • H-CNG can be used as a as a substitute for natural gas for cooking and heating in homes and automotive.

What makes Hydrogen one of the best options in disguise?

1. Its availability

2. Its efficiency: The energy in 2.2 pounds (1 kilogram) of hydrogen gas contains about the same as the energy in 1 gallon (6.2 pounds, 2.8 kilograms) of gasoline.

3. Its characteristics of a clean fuel: The only byproduct or emission that results from the usage of hydrogen fuel is water.

2H2 (g) + O2 (g) → 2H2O (g) + energy

With a wide range of methods to produce and use Hydrogen as a fuel, it thereby allows the impetus to a circular economy.

What are the challenges in producing Green Hydrogen?

India’s transition towards a green hydrogen economy (GHE) can only happen once certain key issues are addressed.

  1. Supply chain issues: GHE hinges upon the creation of a supply chain, starting from the manufacture of electrolysers to the production of green hydrogen, using electricity from a renewable energy source.
  2. Technology: Green hydrogen needs electrolysers to be built on a scale larger than we’ve yet seen.
  3. Transportation and Storage: Either very high pressures or very high temperatures are required, both with their own technical difficulties. It is hazardous because of its low ignition energy and high combustion energy.
  4. Risk to use as a fuel: Automotive fuels are highly inflammable, but a vehicle laden with hydrogen is likely to be more vulnerable in case of a major accident.
  5. Cost: To become competitive, the price per kilogram of green hydrogen has to reduce to a benchmark of $2/kg. At these prices, green hydrogen can compete with natural gas.
  6. Electricity: Creating green hydrogen needs a huge amount of electricity, which means an enormous increase in the amount of wind and solar power to meet global targets.
  7. Lack of proper infrastructure, only 500 Hydrogen stations exist globally.
  8. Only countable manufacturers are involved as market players in this technology.
  9. Integration with other energy vectors using information and communication infrastructure.
  10. Low user acceptance and social awareness.
  11. Developing after-sales service for hydrogen technology.

Hydrogen Energy in India

  • At present, bulk of the global energy consumption comes from hydrocarbons.
  • Government as well as non-government funding agencies are engaged in R&D projects pertaining to hydrogen production, storage, utilisation, power generation and for transport applications.
  • National Hydrogen Energy Board formed in 2003and in 2006 the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy laid out the National Hydrogen Energy Road Map identifying transport and power generation as two major green energy initiatives.
  • By 2050 India intends to produce three-fourths of its hydrogen from renewable resources.
  • R&D projects in India focus on improving the efficiency of water-splitting reaction, and finding newer materials, catalysts and electrodes to accelerate the reaction. 

What are the policy challenges?

  • Economic sustainability: One of the biggest challenges faced by the industry for using hydrogen commercially is the economic sustainability of extracting green or blue hydrogen.
  • Technological challenges: The technology used in production and use of hydrogen like Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and hydrogen fuel cell technology are at nascent stage.
  • Cost Factor: These technologies are expensive which in turn increases the cost of production of hydrogen and will require a lot of investment which in turn add fiscal pressure on government.
  • Higher Maintenance costs: Maintenance costs for fuel cells post-completion of a plant can be costly.
  • Commercial sector’s role is crucial: The commercial usage of hydrogen as a fuel and in industries requires mammoth investment in R&D of such technology and infrastructure for production, storage, transportation and demand creation for hydrogen.
  • Need for legal and administrative adherence, certification mechanisms, recommendations, and regulations for different components of the system.

Way forward

  • India’s National Hydrogen Mission is a futuristic vision that can help the country not only cut down its carbon emissions but also diversify its energy basket and reduce external reliance.
  • Hydrogen energy is at a nascent stage of development but has significant potential for realizing the energy transition in India.
  • Having missed out on many technology-led innovations in the past, hydrogen presents India with the opportunity to lead the change. The parts of the puzzle just need to be put together.
  • Green hydrogen has the potential to decarbonise the sectors, which currently have the largest carbon footprint in the world.
  • With the capability to provide a zero-emission fuel, green hydrogen is well placed to be integrated into the transport sector and replace the use of coal and coke in the industrial sector.
  • India’s transition towards a green hydrogen economy can be a testament to the world on the achievement of energy security, without compromising the goal of sustainable development.
  • The GoI, therefore, must strongly pursue the objective of creating a GHE to make India a global manufacturing hub of green hydrogen and place itself at the top of the green hydrogen export market.

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