India’s National Hydrogen Mission to develop a green hydrogen ecosystem


India is taking various initiatives towards greater use of hydrogen in its energy mix and for the development of the country’s green hydrogen ecosystem. Addressing a roundtable titled “Hydrogen Economy: New Delhi Dialogue—2021” in the national capital earlier this month, the Indian Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan noted that the government had recently announced the National Hydrogen Mission earlier this year in the Union Budget.

“We are working on a pilot project on blue hydrogen, hydrogen-compressed natural gas (H-CNG) and green hydrogen. Through technological advancements, we are blending hydrogen with compressed natural gas for use as transportation fuel, as well as an industrial input to refineries. Fifty buses in Delhi are plying on hydrogen blended in CNG on a pilot basis. We plan to scale it up in the coming months across the major cities of India”, Pradhan said. The roundtable was also attended by UAE’s industry and advanced technology minister Sultan bin Ahmad Sultan Al Jaber, the Australian minister for energy and emissions reduction Angus Taylor, Denmark’s climate, energy and utilities minister Dan Jørgensen and US deputy energy secretary David M. Turk.

Currently, most of the hydrogen globally is generated from fossil fuels, resulting in an adverse impact on the environment. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has estimated that hydrogen production is responsible for the emission of around 830 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year. Instead, “blue hydrogen” refers to hydrogen produced using fossil fuels — usually natural gas — with the associated emissions captured and stored. “Green hydrogen”, which is expensive to produce, accounted for just 0.1 percent of worldwide hydrogen production in 2020. If the electricity used in the process comes from a renewable source such as wind or solar then it’s termed “green” or “renewable” hydrogen.

The Minister also said that the government is making efforts to leverage the country’s vast CNG pipeline infrastructure to reduce the transportation cost of hydrogen, which has a diverse range of applications, including in sectors such as industry and transport. It can be used to power trains, airplanes, cars and buses using hydrogen fuel-cells. Hydrogen can be produced in a number of ways. One method includes using electrolysis, with an electric current splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen.

The Minister noted that the utility of hydrogen is not going to be limited only to the transport sector. The maturity of the ecosystem can be accelerated through its usage as a decarbonizing agent for a range of sectors, including industry covering chemicals, iron, steel, fertilizer and refining, transport, heat and power. “The enthusiasm about hydrogen has a simple reason: whether it is 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”, he said.

While, hydrogen is the fuel of the future, it is not the production of hydrogen per se which is the challenge, but the production of green hydrogen. The usage of hydrogen will not only help India in achieving its emissions goals under the Paris Agreement, but will also reduce the country’s import dependency on fossil fuels.

Hydrogen in India is primarily used in the petrochemicals and fertiliser industry and is produced largely from natural gas, thereby emitting huge amounts of carbon dioxide. There is growing focus on increasing production of green and blue hydrogen on account of their zero carbon emission and use of carbon offset technology, respectively. Moreover, several organisations in the country are exploring technologies which can convert bio and plastic waste into hydrogen, providing a huge scope for investment in a technology that can combat India’s twin problems of waste management and energy security.

Taking a wider perspective, several countries in the Asia-Pacific region, including Japan and South Korea, have been proactive in the area of hydrogen policy making. In 2017, Japan formulated its Basic Hydrogen Strategy which sets out the country’s action plan till 2030, including the establishment of an international supply chain. It has also entered into cooperation agreements with countries such as New Zealand on exchange of information and personnel and developing hydrogen technology. South Korea is operating hydrogen projects and hydrogen fuel cell production units under its Hydrogen Economy Development and Safe Management of Hydrogen Act, 2020.

According to a report titled “The Potential Role of Hydrogen in India,” by the New Delhi-based The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) “as of today, essentially all of the hydrogen consumed in India comes from fossil fuels. However, by 2050, nearly 80 percent of India’s hydrogen is projected to be ‘green’ – produced by renewable electricity and electrolysis.” The report also said that in the mid-term, the cost of hydrogen from renewables would drop by over 50 percent by 2030, enabling it to “start to compete with hydrogen produced from fossil fuels.”

Indian industry has already kick-started its hydrogen project with state-run Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) announcing that it is setting up pilot hydrogen production units. Besides, the government-owned NTPC is also considering setting up a green hydrogen production facility in the state of Andhra Pradesh, while private sector major Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) has said that it intends to gradually replace conventional transportation fuels with hydrogen and clean electricity.

Earlier this month, a coalition of energy and industrial firms named India H2 Alliance (IH2A) joined together for commercialising hydrogen technologies and creating a hydrogen economy. “The India H2 Alliance will work together to build the hydrogen economy and supply chain in India and help develop blue and green hydrogen production and storage as well as build hydrogen-use industrial clusters and transport use-cases with hydrogen-powered fuel cells”, an IH2A statement said.

“The India H2 Alliance will focus on industrial clusters, specifically steel, refineries, fertilizer, cement, ports and logistics; as well as heavy-duty transport use cases and the establishment of standards for storage and transport hydrogen in pressurized and liquefied form”, it said.

“IH2A intends to collaborate with private sector partners, the government and the public to ensure that costs of hydrogen production are brought down, a local supply chain for hydrogen and related applications grows and India is able to achieve its net-zero carbon ambitions by developing a hydrogen economy that complements its national renewable energy and EV (electric vehicle)/battery-technology plans”, the statement added.

Indian private companies such as Adani Group, Acme Solar, Greenko and state-run firms such as Indian Oil and NTPC have been tying up with technology providers. While state-owned Solar Energy Corporation of India is considering floating bids to build green hydrogen plants, multinationals like Toyota, Hyundai, Tata Motors, Ashok Leyland and KPIT Technologies have expressed interest in the initiative to run hydrogen-powered fuel cell-based electric cars and buses.