National Hydrogen Mission: An alternative to battery electric mobility

India’s hydrogen mission can be a game-changer for the automotive industry, especially for heavy-duty commercial vehicles. Lower refuelling times and the possibility of being produced entirely in India gives hydrogen an edge over any other form of electric mobility.

By:Updated: Sep 18, 2021 7:29 AM
Hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicles

The future of automobiles is electric. By 2030, electric vehicles (EVs) are expected to comprise almost 30% of the total new vehicle sales in India. Two-wheelers will lead India’s push towards electrification, with EVs in this segment comprising almost 50% of total sales by the end of the decade. Commercial transportation, i.e. light and heavy-duty trucks and buses, will also make significant progress in reducing their emissions and adopting a zero-emission ecosystem.

So, where does hydrogen fit into this picture?

Hydrogen-powered fuel cell EVs are zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs). Hydrogen as a fuel has several advantages over lithium-ion or any other types of battery-powered EVs; hydrogen has a high energy density, which means that for a lower weight more fuel can be carried by the vehicle, thereby increasing the distance travelled by the vehicle on a single refuelling. Lower refuelling times, lesser number of hydrogen stations, and the possibility of being produced entirely in India gives hydrogen an edge over any other form of electric mobility.

The government has launched the National Hydrogen Mission (NHM) that aims to boost the green hydrogen (hydrogen produced using renewable energy sources) infrastructure in the country and transform India to a global green hydrogen hub for production and export of the fuel. In May 2021, the Delhi High Court had directed the government to consider including hydrogen EVs and refuelling infrastructure within the ambit of the FAME scheme, reported the Fuel Cell India magazine. In September, the government has proposed $8 billion scheme for the auto sector for incentivising companies to build electric and hydrogen fuel powered vehicles to meet its clean mobility targets for 2030 and build a robust base for manufacturing of ZEVs in India.

The NHM has a budget of Rs 800 crore for FY22. In its first year, the NHM will focus primarily on funding of pilot projects and experimental initiatives in the hydrogen sector. Indian PSUs such as Indian Oil and NTPC are leading the charge in bringing fuel cell buses on Indian roads. Indian Oil has already invited bids and awarded a tender for procuring 15 fuel cell buses from the Tata Group, which will be launched by the end of 2021 and ply between New Delhi and Agra on the Yamuna Expressway, while NTPC is preparing to launch a similar fuel cell bus service between New Delhi and Leh. Another fuel cell bus route has been identified in Gujarat between Ahmedabad and the Statue of Unity, and plans are under way to make these routes operational on a pilot basis within this financial year. These projects are partly funded under the NHM and by the PSUs.

The NHM will be implemented along with the government’s production-linked scheme (PLI), which would apply on domestic sales and on exports. Lack of investments and a weak demand have kept the EV ecosystem from flourishing in India. This is set to change drastically with the NHM, especially for the hydrogen mobility sector, as the government will not only look at pure hydrogen driven vehicles but also vehicles running on alternative fuels such as methanol. Methanol can be produced using green hydrogen and existing diesel buses and trucks can be converted to use methanol by utilising a conversion kit at a fraction of the cost of a new ZEV. Major bus fleets across the country will significantly benefit from the low cost of methanol and save huge capital expenditure in converting polluting diesel buses to run on methanol.

Combining government schemes like FAME India, NHM, PLI, etc, will give a big boost to EV manufacturing in India and create conducive environment for foreign investments in this sector. The ultimate goal of Net Zero emissions declared by various companies around the world includes making their supply chains emission-free. Transport is a major part of this supply chain, and the transport sector contributes almost 17% to the global emissions of carbon dioxide. The government’s initiatives to promote clean transportation will not only help India reduce its carbon footprint but also make India a hub for global manufacturing of clean automobiles.

 

Author: Ashwini Kumar

Disclaimer: The author is a green hydrogen expert and view are personal.

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