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Insights into Editorial: Green hydrogen, a new ally for a zero carbon future

 

 

Context:

The forthcoming 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow from November 1-12, 2021 is to re-examine the coordinated action plans to mitigate greenhouse gases and climate adaptation measures.

Scientists and technocrats have for years been engaged in the quest of discovering alternative fuels to fossil fuels which are responsible for the production of over 830 million tons per annum of carbon dioxide, in turn catalysing human-induced global heating.

The latest studies by a battery of scientists representing about 195 countries have signalled the crucial issue of climate vulnerability, especially for the Asian countries.

 

More about Hydrogen:

Hydrogen is one of the most abundant elements on earth for a cleaner alternative fuel option. Type of hydrogen depend up on the process of its formation:

  1. Black hydrogen is produced by use of fossil fuel, whereas pink hydrogen is produced through electrolysis, but using energy from nuclear power sources.
  2. Brown hydrogen is produced using coal where the emissions are released to the air.
  3. Grey hydrogen is produced from natural gas where the associated emissions are released to the air.
  4. Blue hydrogen is produced from natural gas, where the emissions are captured using carbon capture and storage.
  5. Green hydrogen is produced by electrolysis of water using renewable energy (like Solar, Wind) and has a lower carbon footprint. Electricity splits water into hydrogen and oxygen. By Products: Water, Water Vapor.
  6. ‘Green hydrogen’, the emerging novel concept, is a zero-carbon fuel made by electrolysis using renewable power from wind and solar to split water into hydrogen and oxygen.
  7. India consumes about six million tonnes of hydrogen every year for the production of ammonia and methanol in industrial sectors, including fertilisers and refineries.
  8. This could increase to 28 million tonnes by 2050, principally due to the rising demand from the industry, but also due to the expansion of transport and power sectors.

 

‘Green hydrogen’: Energy-rich source:

  1. Hydrogen is the most abundant element on the planet, but rarely in its pure form which is how we need it.
  2. It has an energy density almost three times that of diesel. This phenomenon makes it a rich source of energy, but the challenge is to compress or liquify the LH2 (liquid hydrogen).
  3. It needs to be kept at a stable minus 253° C (far below the temperature of minus 163° C at which Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) is stored; entailing its ‘prior to use exorbitant cost’.
  4. The production techniques of this ‘Energy-Carrier’ vary depending upon its applications — designated with different colours such as black hydrogen, brown hydrogen, blue hydrogen, green hydrogen, etc.
  5. This ‘Green hydrogen’ can be utilised for the generation of power from natural sources, wind or solar systems and will be a major step forward in achieving the target of ‘net zero’ emission.
  6. Presently, less than 0.1% or say ~75 million tons/year of hydrogen capable of generating ~284GW of power, is produced.

 

A power hungry India can be resolved by Green Hydrogen as major fuel:

  1. India is the world’s fourth largest energy consuming country (behind China, the United States and the European Union), according to the IEA’s forecast, and will overtake the European Union to become the world’s third energy consumer by the year 2030.
  2. Realising the impending threats to economies, the Summit will see several innovative proposals from all over the world in order to reduce dependence on use of fossil fuels.
  3. The scale of interest for ‘plucking the low hanging fruit’ can be gauged by the fact that even oil-producing nations such as Saudi Arabia where the day temperature soars to over 50° C in summer, is prioritising plans to manufacture this source of energy by utilising ‘idle-land-banks’ for solar and wind energy generation.
  4. It is working to establish a mega $5 billion ‘Green hydrogen’ manufacturing unit covering a land-size as large as that of Belgium, in the northern-western part of the country.
  5. India is also gradually unveiling its plans. The Indian Railways have announced the country’s first experiment of a hydrogen-fuel cell technology-based train by retrofitting an existing diesel engine; this will run under Northern Railway on the 89 km stretch between Sonepat and Jind.
  6. The project will not only ensure diesel savings to the tune of several lakhs annually but will also prevent the emission of 0.72 kilo tons of particulate matter and 11.12 kilo tons of carbon per annum.

 

However, Green hydrogen: The obstacle of cost:

  1. The ‘production cost’ of ‘Green hydrogen’ has been considered to be a prime obstacle.
  2. According to studies by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IREA), the production cost of this ‘green source of energy’ is expected to be around $1.5 per kilogram (for nations having perpetual sunshine and vast unused land), by the year 2030; by adopting various conservative measures.
  3. The global population is growing at a rate of 1.1%, adding about 83 million human heads every year on the planet.
  4. As a result, the International Energy Agency (IEA) forecasts the additional power demand to be to the tune of 25%-30% by the year 2040.
  5. Thus, power generation by ‘net-zero’ emission will be the best solution to achieve the target of expert guidelines on global warming to remain under 1.5° C.
  6. This will also be a leap forward in minimising our dependence on conventional fossil fuel; in 2018, 8.7 million people died prematurely as result of air pollution from fossil fuels.
  7. India has made good progress in decarbonization growing the share of renewable energy, energy efficiency & fuel transition.
  8. There is growing interest and hype for using hydrogen in multiple applications such as Hydrogen-based Agro vehicles, Hydrogen-powered passenger trains, Hydrogen in aviation etc.

 

Way Forward:

As India is scaling up to the target of having 450 GW of renewable energy by 2030, aligning hydrogen production needs with broader electricity demand in the economy would be critical.

The industrial sectors like steel, refining, fertilizer & methanol sectors are attractive for Green Hydrogen adoption as Hydrogen is already being generated & consumed either as a chemical feedstock or a process input.

The public funding will have to lead the way in the development of green hydrogen, but the private sector has significant gains too to be made by securing its energy future.

India requires a manufacturing strategy that can leverage the existing strengths and mitigate threats by integrating with the global value chain.

The green hydrogen has been anointed the flag-bearer of India’s low-carbon transition as Hydrogen may be lighter than air, but it will take some heavy lifting to get the ecosystem in place.

 

Conclusion:

In order to achieve the goal of an alternative source of energy, governments are placing large bets in the hope of adopting a multi-faceted practical approach to utilise ‘Green hydrogen’ as a driving source to power our industries and light our homes with the ‘zero emission’ of carbon dioxide.

A phased manufacturing programme should be used to build a vibrant hydrogen products export industry in India such as green steel (commercial hydrogen steel plant).

It is high time to catch up with the rest of the world by going in for clean energy, decarbonising the economy and adopting ‘Green hydrogen’ as an environment-friendly and safe fuel for the next generations.