Hydrogen Economy…Next Clean Energy Horizon!

Hi everyone,

MNRE has been supporting Research Development and Demonstration (R&D) program on Hydrogen Energy and Fuel. MNRE supports projects in industrial, academic, and research institutions to address challenges in the production of hydrogen from renewable energy sources, its safe and efficient storage, and its utilization for energy and transport applications through combustion or fuel cells. Indian Oil Corporation Limited (IOCL) has been proactive in pushing for the adoption of hydrogen technologies in India. Banaras Hindu University, IIT Delhi, and Mahindra & Mahindra are the key players. Have we missed something else?

The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) is focusing on hydrogen energy as a crucial strategy moving ahead. Since 2006 there was a lot of emphasis given to building roadmaps, comprehensive plan for increasing R&D activity, but are there any roadblocks?

2006 to 2020 is a significant period, but the order of magnitude of the implementation remained low. I am not an expert in the industry, but the question remains unanswered, WHY? 

It was my pleasure to get in touch with Prof. Dr. G. D. Yadav. He is the Padma Shri Award Winner and a man behind ONGC’s technology pursuit for hydrogen energy. In the recent November 2020 survey of Stanford University, where Indian scientists in the top 2% of those in the world are honored, Professor Yadav is number one in India in physical chemistry. 

Here are five questions that I emphasized, while discussing the topic with him.

Question- Why journey towards the hydrogen economy is slow in India?

“For many years the country depends on its energy on carbon-based fuels derived from petroleum, coal, and natural gas, which are well-established with proper infrastructure and distribution networks; the planner will not look at it with any seriousness. However, with emphasis on non-carbon renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind and geothermal, and tidal, where the government is encouraging investment in that sector, the importance of the hydrogen economy has become obscure or is relegated to the back burner. The real potential of the hydrogen economy and its significance in reducing climate change is not realized by the government. Research is going on in different institutes and oil PSUs. Besides, the general perception about hydrogen as a hazardous, flammable gas, not safe in comparison with petrol or diesel, hinders the acceptance. Hydrogen as a fuel to store is equally challenging. I have been campaigning for the cause of the hydrogen economy for 15 years through my research. Refer to my recent article if you want to know the perspective of crude oil vs. biomass vs. hydrogen.” Prof. G. D. Yadav answered.

Question- Do you think the current technologies need further innovation?

“Any hydrocarbon and water splitting generates hydrogen. Over 95% of hydrogen production across the world is mainly for the refinery and chemical and allied industries accomplished by steam reforming or partial oxidation of fossil fuels such as natural gas or naphtha. Steam reforming is a mature process technology used for natural gas, and other sources include methanol, LPG, jet fuel, and diesel. Biomass-derived alcohols are fascinating sources for hydrogen production since they are carbon-neutral. Steam reforming of bio-alcohols such as ethanol, 1-propanol, 2-propanol, 1,2-propanediol, n-butanol, ethylene glycol, and glycerol has been and studied for the development of robust catalytic processes. We can prioritize the selection of the best cost-effective candidate based on the global economy of the process.” He further added.

Question -What is your POV regarding the large scale implementation and the hurdles?

“The Paris Agreement of 2015 is about the intimate relationship between energy and the environment. The carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere must be reduced from today’s 410 ppm to limit the temperature rise to less than 2 o C or better to 1.5 o C. From the current emissions of 35 giga tons of carbon dioxide, it has to come down to about 10 Giga tons. Otherwise, it will be catastrophic. Even in the recently concluded Presidential election in the US, the issue of net-zero or net-carbon zero economies by 2050 was brought to the fore by the President-elect Joe Biden. In other words, the world faces a dual challenge- more energy but less carbon. Hydrogen is the cleanest fuel which can be produced from hydrocarbons or water and can be used to convert CO2 into useful products, and treatment of (waste) biomass into hydrocarbons with the help of novel catalysts. The agricultural waste biomass, plastic waste can be valorized by hydrogenation.”

“The hydrogen economy is emerging as a sunrise industry that would contribute to reducing energy consumption and emissions, and stimulating economic growth, and bringing about new jobs. Carbon dioxide gets converted into syngas, methanol, dimethyl ether (as a substitute for LPG), formic acid, which will be the so-called CO2 refineries of the future. Hydrogen will be useful for fuel cells, hydrogen vehicles, ammonia production, electricity generation that will be possible if we promote hydrogen production from water splitting, which is required for carbon dioxide conversion and to achieve a C-negative scenario. However, it faces challenges including technical blockage, competition with optional technologies, and interrelation with technology policies. Whether the carbon coming from fossil fuels or biofuels, there is a need to convert CO2 into fuels, chemicals, and materials. Carbon monoxide and/or CO2 are other alternatives.”

Question- What are the challenges and opportunities for India?

“Hydrogen generation from water splitting has many technological challenges. It is a subject of a separate article I have been working on hydrogen from water splitting since 2006, which is supported by the ONGC Energy Center. We have several patents and are working on the pilot-scale of 10 TPA. Solar Energy couples with this. We also indulged in material development. The government needs to identify the opportunities and challenges toward a hydrogen economy and encourage in terms of economic and environmental initiatives of developing a hydrogen economy to pinpoint the stages and direction of technology innovation. The US DOE talks about bringing down the cost of hydrogen production to about USD 2 per kg by 2030. Our technology, called ICT-OEC Technology, can produce hydrogen at 0.95 USD per kg without valorization of oxygen. India needs to study the national strategies and related policies of other countries like Japan, the United States, the European Union, and China to compare the differences between main markets in the world.” He mentioned.

Question- According to you, what will be your essential suggestions to Government, MSMEs, corporate companies, and innovators?

“National Hydrogen Energy Road Map (NHERM) program was started by the National Hydrogen Energy Board (NHEB) in 2003 and approved in 2006 for bridging the technological gaps in different areas of hydrogen energy, including its production, storage, transportation and delivery, applications, safety, codes and standards and capacity building for the period up to 2020. I do not know if it is being extended or changed. I hope so. The program is with the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE). I think it is high time that it will strengthen as a future source of energy and materials. Of course, part of the energy needs will be met by the non-carbon sources- solar, wind, geothermal, tidal, and, above all, nuclear. The Fraunhofer model is ideal for funding and technology development.” He said.

“To end, I believe that the Govt. of India will not wait but take immediate steps on the hydrogen economy, to reduce the import of crude oil, etc., and promote it to have a 5 trillion dollar economy. It has a lion’s share in it.” He further added.

Here are some facts and figures related to the Indian Market Scenario.

Use of clean hydrogen can help address the toughest third of global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, but only if net-zero emission goals and policies are set.

Hydrogen Economy Outlook, a new and independent global study from research firm BloombergNEF (BNEF), finds that that a carbon price of $50/tCO2 would be enough to switch from coal to clean hydrogen in steel making by 2050, $60/tCO2 to use hydrogen for heat in cement production, $78/tCO2 for making chemicals like ammonia, and $145/tCO2 to power ships with clean fuel, if hydrogen costs reach $1/kg. It could also reduce the cost for heavy truck transport by 2030!

I hope to see new innovations in this field which will secure India’s future.

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Stay Safe!

Amaraja

PS:- Here are some reading resources for those interested individuals!

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