Even as the country aims to reduce fossil fuel-based emissions by building renewable energy capacity and promoting the uptake of electric vehicles, the cost of such a transition remains unaffordable for many Indian consumers. Among the avenues being explored by the government to circumvent the problem and reduce dependence on imported products is the use of hydrogen technology to store electricity that can run vehicles and balance power systems, with such batteries being cheaper and more efficient than the lithium-ion batteries in use at present.
While the costs of lithium-ion battery packs have fallen by as much as 90% from the 2010 levels, to about $150/kWh in 2019, they are still prohibitively high for the Indian power sector. A cheaper battery storage system provided by hydrogen technology would make renewable energy-based power more reliable by reducing its dependence on the vagaries of nature. In the transport sector too, its use could result in a sea change.
While a majority of light passenger vehicles can be electrified through lithium-ion batteries, the technology is unviable for heavier goods carriers which take impractically long to charge. According to experts, as against the more than 90 minutes it takes a heavy battery electric vehicle to charge, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles can be charged in 5-15 minutes.
It is this comparative advantage that has made several state-owned and private companies chart long-term plans for the use of the technology. Also driving them is the exponential jump likely in the use of utility-scale battery storage in the coming years. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has estimated India becoming the largest market for utility-scale battery storage by 2040. According to IEA’s World Energy Outlook 2020, battery storage will gain huge ground as a source of power system flexibility, with global investment increasing six-fold to $25 billion by 2030.
Green hydrogen or hydrogen produced from renewable energy has been cited as the next ‘clean energy prize’ in a recent policy brief by The Energy and Resources Institute (Teri). According to a senior government official, the ultra-mega renewable energy parks being planned in the states of Gujarat and Rajasthan could produce green hydrogen through electrolysis, a process wherein electricity generated at such units is put in water to create hydrogen and oxygen. Driven by the transport, industry and power sectors, demand for hydrogen could increase by 3-10 times by 2050, Teri has said.
State-run power generator NTPC has already signed an MoU with Siemens for production of green hydrogen from the company’s renewable energy plants and its use in transportation. It has also planned pilot projects to run five hydrogen-cell electric buses and five cars in Delhi and Leh. In its laboratories, NTPC is designing a prototype for hard/sea water electrolysis and reactors for hydrogen production through the photo-electro-chemical process.
The Indian Oil Corporation too is targetting development of fuel cells for green mobility solutions and indigenous hydrogen storage solutions. The country’s largest refiner has also put into use hydrogen generation technologies from companies like Germany’s Linde, Denmark’s HaldorTopsoe and the Netherlands’ KTI across its refineries.
Planning to become ‘net carbon-zero’ by 2035, Reliance Industries has said it would build full stack electrolyser and fuel cell solutions, helping run hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles. “We will replace transportation fuels with clean electricity and hydrogen,” Mukesh Ambani, the company’s chairman, said in July, perhaps indicating where the future lies as far as green mobility is concerned.