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Insights into Editorial: The pros and cons of hydrogen as an alternative fuel

hydrogen_as_an_energy_source

Context:

In Union Budget address, Finance Minister announced that India will launch its National Hydrogen Energy Mission (NHEM) in 2021-22.

The proposal in the Budget will be followed up with a mission draft and after, a roadmap for using hydrogen as an energy source, with a specific focus on green hydrogen, dovetailing India’s growing renewable capacity with the hydrogen economy, government officials indicated.

 

Need of using hydrogen as an energy source:

India with a population of approx. 1.3 billion is the second most populous country and the third largest economy (measured by purchasing power parity) in the world.

With significant decrease in poverty level, increased energy access for citizens, availability of cleaner cooking fuel and growing penetration of renewables, the country is advancing on a faster growth path.

And while proposed end-use sectors include steel and chemicals, the major industry that hydrogen has the potential of transforming is transportation which contributes a third of all greenhouse gas emissions, and where hydrogen is being seen as a direct replacement of fossil fuels, with specific advantages over traditional EVs.

Despite its promise, hydrogen technology is yet to be scaled up.

 

Hydrogen as an energy source will play a key role in transforming climate-neutral systems:

  1. Hydrogen has high energy content per unit mass, which is three times higher than gasoline.
  2. Hydrogen is being used for energy applications with suitable fuel cells.
  3. Hydrogen has a potential to contribute towards decarbonised, sustainable, secure energy future.
  4. The need is to introduce it into both existing proven set of applications with more diverse set of energy sources of its production and then move on to green hydrogen or introduce it to the new set of applications.
  5. The transition pathways which make use of existing infrastructure and skills will be both economically feasible and easier to adapt.

 

Hydrogen can help tackle various critical energy challenges:

  • Decarbonise a range of sectors including intensive and long-haul transport, chemicals.
  • Iron and steel, where it is proving difficult to meaningfully reduce emissions and also help improve air quality and strengthen energy security.
  • In addition, it increases flexibility in power systems.
  • It is one of the best options for storing energy from renewables and looks poised to become the lowest-cost option for storing large quantities of electricity over days, weeks, or even months.
  • The current status is that the clean hydrogen technologies are available, costs are coming down, efficiency and performance are improving.

 

Key challenges that need to be addressed:

  1. In order to make renewable hydrogen a viable option, several key challenges related to materials, including new material development, electrolytes, storage, safety, and standards, need to be addressed.
  2. Since hydrogen technologies can help to reduce global warming, further acceleration of efforts is critical to ensuring a significant share of hydrogen in the energy system in the coming decades.
  3. Two key developments have contributed to the growth of hydrogen in recent years:
    1. The cost of hydrogen supply from renewables has come down and continues to fall,
    2. While the urgency of greenhouse gas emission mitigation has increased, and many countries have begun to take action to decarbonise their economies.

One of the colossal challenges faced by the industry for using hydrogen commercially is the economic sustainability of extracting green or blue hydrogen.

  1. The technology used in production and use of hydrogen like carbon capture and storage (CCS) and hydrogen fuel cell technology are at nascent stage and is expensive which in turn increases the cost of production of hydrogen.
  2. The maintenance costs for fuel cells post-completion of a plant can be costly, like in South Korea.
  3. 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.

 

Conclusion:

The immediate need here is to identify the key long-term goals and the step to achieve those goals.

The building up of policies, infrastructure and skills will help in wider acceptance, reducing perceived risks, enhancing confidence, increased investments, lowering costs.

Thus, the major challenges we need to finally meet is scaling up, cost reduction, increased adoption and sustainable growth of hydrogen-based technologies.

The role that Government can play is towards creating a long-term policy framework which could build up confidence in private investment, create market demand with policy interventions, develop standards and regulations which should not hurdle the growth, provide enhanced R & D support.