India and Hydrogen Energy

MAY 11

Mains   > Industry and infrastructure   >   Infrastructure & Investment models   >   Energy security

IN NEWS:

  • Recently, Oil India Limited (OIL) has commissioned India's First 99.999% pure Green Hydrogen pilot plant, with an installed capacity of 10 kg per day at its Jorhat Pump Station in Assam.

MORE ON NEWS:

  • The plant produces Green Hydrogen from the electricity generated by the existing 500kW Solar plant using a 100 kW Anion Exchange Membrane (AEM) Electrolyser array.
  • The use of AEM technology is being used for the first time in India.

WHAT IS GREEN HYDROGEN?

  • Green hydrogen is hydrogen that is produced using renewable energy through electrolysis.
    • Electrolysis involves use of electrical current to separate hydrogen from oxygen in water.
    • If the electricity needed for electrolysis is generated from renewable sources such as solar or wind, the production of hydrogen in this way emits no greenhouse gasses.

Anion exchange membrane (AEM) electrolysis:

  • Anion exchange membrane (AEM) electrolysis is a promising solution for large-scale hydrogen production from renewable energy resources.
  • Typically, electrolyzers use proton exchange membranes (PEMs) to produce hydrogen. But the problem with this method is that it needs expensive metals like platinum, and ruthenium to remain in an acidic environment.
  • An alternative to this method is anion exchange membranes(AEMs).
  • This method can operate under alkaline conditions, so they don’t need expensive metals.
  • Hence, the materials involved are thus some 3,000 times less expensive.
  • However, AEMs have not found commercial success in hydrogen electrolysis because they don’t perform as well, and they don’t last as long.

 

 

HYDROGEN:

  • Hydrogen (H) is a colourless, odourless, tasteless, flammable gaseous substance. A molecule of hydrogen is the simplest possible molecule.
  • Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe.
  • It is found in great quantities on Earth combined with other elements, such as in water and hydrocarbons. But it is barely present in our atmosphere, at 0.00005%.
  • Elementary hydrogen finds its principal industrial application in the manufacture of ammonia (NH3).
  • Hydrogen is a clean fuel when burned with oxygen. It can be used in fuel cells or internal combustion engines. It is also used for spacecraft propulsion.
  • Based on the sources, hydrogen is categorized into:
    • White hydrogen is the naturally-occurring geological hydrogen found in underground deposits and created through fracking.
    • Grey hydrogen is hydrogen created from fossil fuels without capturing the greenhouse gases made in the process. Depending on the hydrocarbon used and how much carbon dioxide it releases, it can also be known as brown hydrogen or black hydrogen
    • Blue hydrogen is produced mainly from natural gas using a process called steam reforming, which brings together natural gas and heated water in the form of steam.
    • Green hydrogen is the hydrogen made with renewable electricity via electrolysis.

 

INITIATIVES:

  • Ministry of New and Renewable Energy has been supporting a broad-based Research Development and Demonstration (R&D) programme on Hydrogen Energy and Fuel.
  • Projects are supported in industrial, academic and research institutions to address challenges in production, storage and utilization of hydrogen from renewable energy sources.
  • Similarly, NTPC Vidyut Vvyapar Nigam Limited is planning to provide ten hydrogen fuel cell-based buses and cars in Leh and Delhi.
  • Further, Indian Oil has floated a tender to purchase fifteen hydrogen fuel cell fitted buses that produce their own electricity
  • National Hydrogen Mission:
    • The mission was announced in the Union Budget 2021. However, it did not specify the details of the scheme and what India’s ambitions were towards it.
    • However, there will be five key areas the government will focus on. These include R&D, demand creation, finding uses in industry, creating an eco-system including policies for this and integrating industry with international partnerships.
    • The government may come out with a draft on the mission in the next two months.

Green Hydrogen/ Green Ammonia Policy:

 

  • The Centre recently notified the green hydrogen and green ammonia policy aimed at boosting the domestic production of green hydrogen to 5 million tonnes by 2030 and making India an export hub for the clean fuel.
  • Incentives under the policy:
    • The new policy offers 25 years of free power transmission for any new renewable energy plants set up to supply power for green hydrogen production before July 2025.
      • This means that a green hydrogen producer will be able to set up a solar power plant in Rajasthan to supply renewable energy to a green hydrogen plant in Assam and would not be required to pay any inter-state transmission charges.
      • The move is likely going to make it more economical for key users of hydrogen and ammonia such as the oil refining, fertiliser and steel sectors to produce green hydrogen for their own use.
      • These sectors currently use grey hydrogen or grey ammonia produced using natural gas or naphtha.
    • The government is set to provide a single portal for all clearances required for setting up green hydrogen production.
    • There will be a facility for producers to bank any surplus renewable energy generated with discoms for upto 30 days and use it as required.
    • Power distribution companies may also procure renewable energy to supply green hydrogen producers but will be required to do so at a concessional rate which will only include the cost of procurement, wheeling charges and a small margin as determined by the state commission, under the new policy.
    • Such procurement would also count towards a state’s Renewable Purchase Obligation (RPO) under which it is required to procure a certain proportion of its requirements from renewable energy sources.
    • Connectivity to the grid:
      • Energy plants set up to produce green hydrogen/ammonia would be given connectivity to the grid on a priority basis.
    • Facilities to boost export of green hydrogen and ammonia:
      • Under the policy port authorities will also provide land at applicable charges to green hydrogen and green ammonia producers to set up bunkers near ports for storage prior to export.

 

Green ammonia:

  • Green ammonia production is where the process of making ammonia is 100% renewable and carbon-free.
  • One way of making green ammonia is by using hydrogen from water electrolysis and nitrogen separated from the air.
  • So the green hydrogen produced can be combined with nitrogen to make green ammonia, avoiding hydrocarbons in the production process.
  • Green ammonia is used to store energy and in fertilizer manufacturing.
  • Few ways in which ammonia can be used as a fuel:
    • By "cracking" ammonia back into H2 and N2 gases, and then using the hydrogen, either as a combustion fuel or to produce electricity via a fuel cell.
    • Burn the ammonia directly as a combustion fuel, but this process is not simple as ammonia doesn't burn at lower temperatures.
    • Use ammonia directly as a fuel for a high-temperature solid oxide fuel cell , creating electricity with nitrogen and water as by-products.

 

 

 

 

 

WHY HYDROGEN?

  • Clean fuel: With a briskly growing population and economic development in India, the country is facing significant environmental concerns. Hydrogen is a clean fuel that, when consumed in a fuel cell, produces only water, electricity, and heat.
  • Diverse sources: Hydrogen can be produced from diverse, domestic resources like natural gas, biological processes and renewable energy. Hence, it can reduce India’s dependency on imports to meet its demands. 
  • Rapid R&D growth: Researches in hydrogen as a fuel is gaining momentum worldwide. For eg: USA has announced an investment of up to $100 million in hydrogen production and fuel cell technologies. As new technologies create cheaper production methods, hydrogen can become cost competitive.
  • Energy density: Hydrogen has a strong octane rating and hence can deliver a tremendous amount of energy.
  • Diverse applicability: Today, hydrogen is most commonly used in petroleum refining and fertilizer production, while transportation and utilities are emerging markets. In the future, hydrogen-based fuel cells may be the primary source of energy for mankind.
  • Accessibility: Electricity can be difficult to store and convey over long distances. But by using electricity to extract hydrogen, both storage and transport become simple.
  • Independence: Hydrogen can be locally produced, meaning countries can power themselves independently without having to rely on external energy suppliers. This can save India from potential geopolitics-led energy crises like oil blockades.

CHALLENGES:

  • Production Cost: For transportation fuel cells, hydrogen must be cost-competitive with conventional fuels and technologies. But current production technologies are expensive.
  • Storage:
    • Weight and Volume: The weight and volume of hydrogen storage systems are presently too high, resulting in inadequate vehicle range compared to conventional petroleum fueled vehicles.
    • Safety concerns: because of its high flammability, high diffusivity and very low density as a gas, hydrogen needs bulky storage facilities and safety systems. This makes it unattractive for public use.
  • Regulatory regime: Applicable codes and standards for hydrogen-based systems have not been established in India.
  • It is not easy to replace existing infrastructure:
    • Creating infrastructure that can support hydrogen as fuel requires huge investment.
    • This is why it becomes highly expensive to replace gasoline.

WAY FORWARD:

  • A national ‘Fuel Cell Institute’ can be created to:
    • Bring all the concerned stakeholders such as Ministries, Departments, academicians, researchers and industry under one umbrella to work together in a systematic manner
    • Develop a mechanism to incentivize the individuals and the institutions involved in the development of fuel cell
  • Safety:
    • Development of regulations and standards as one of the key requirements for commercialization of Hydrogen-fuelled vehicles.
    • Regulations and standards will help to overcome technological barriers to commercialization, facilitate manufacturers’ investment in building Hydrogen fuelled vehicles and facilitate public acceptance by providing a systematic and accurate means of assessing and communicating the risk associated with the use of Hydrogen vehicles, be it to the general public, consumer, emergency response personnel or the insurance industry
  • Developing standards:
    • India must engage with international hydrogen industry for identifying standards for commercialization of hydrogen energy systems, and we must participate with Standards Development Organizations to develop Hydrogen standards
  • Human Resource Development:
    • Human resource development is the key to sustained R&D program on Hydrogen.
    • Hydrogen production process and Fuel cell technology requires expertise from various fields such as electrical, mechanical, chemistry, physics, biotechnology, management etc.
    • In order to produce skilled manpower resource training needs have to be identified.
    • It is recommended to constitute Hydrogen chair faculty positions in IITs for professors working on Hydrogen technologies
  • Awareness:
    • The most important factor for fostering support and decreasing opposition to the introduction of Hydrogen technologies is increased knowledge.
    • The general public must be given further education, along with decision-makers within government and industry, regulators and policy developers, academics etc.
    • Therefore, information as well as an active demonstration projects for use of Hydrogen is necessary.
  • Public Private Partnership
    • Coordination between industry and government can facilitate smooth commercialization of Hydrogen and fuel cell systems.

PRACTICE QUESTION:

Q. “Hydrogen has often been touted as a fuel of the future”. In this context, discuss the prospects and challenges for India to switch to a hydrogen-based economy.