Hydrogen is being extensively looked upon to power the future of mobility be it – land, air or sea, its potential is huge. This technology seems to address most of the shortcomings of the existing battery chemistries and could play a key role in India’s electrification journey.
At present, the electric vehicle market is mostly dominated by lithium-ion battery technology, which has found acceptance in two-, three- and four-wheeler space. But it comes with its own set of challenges. For instance, each battery chemistry has a different energy density, peak power output and charging time. While, two- and three-wheeler segments have found innovative solutions like battery swapping or detachable batteries that can be charged anywhere, the technology is not suitable for passenger vehicles and commercial vehicle segments.
The lithium-ion batteries also need efficient cooling when in use, be it when the vehicle is on the move or charging, the amount of heat produced if not dissipated properly could lead to thermal runaway. Moreover, its availability is concentrated in select regions globally.
On the other hand, hydrogen, unlike lithium is available in abundance globally. Given its potential,India has announced a Green Hydrogen Policy, experimenting with hydrogen-CNG, and companies like Reliance Industries, GAIL India, NTPC, Indian Oil and Larsen & Toubro have each announced their ambitious plans to produce hydrogen, appropriate for mobility, in the country. As per estimates, India is going to attract investments of up to $150 billion (Rs 12,35,850 crore) in the field of hydrogen.
Even in terms of refuelling time, hydrogen has a definitive advantage. It takes just a couple of minutes for a hydrogen vehicle to be refuelled irrespective of size compared to hours in the case of electric vehicles. To put into perspective, Japanese auto major Toyota Motor Corporation which recently launched the Toyota Mirai in India can travel 650km on a full tank of hydrogen and then be refilled in 2-3 minutes. Compared this with Tesla, which promises the fastest charging for its vehicles using the Tesla Supercharger to charge a car up to 200 miles (327km) in 15 minutes.
However, the cost of refuelling a hydrogen car does not come cheap as this technology and infrastructure are still being developed. As per estimates, refuelling a Toyota Mirai costs around Rs 2,500 and the cost of green hydrogen ranges from around Rs 400-500/per kg. Then there is the challenge of hydrogen storage, as it leaks easily and is highly flammable.
The world over the debate of what fuel offers the best cost-to-benefit ratio is easily scalable will be dependent on each country’s focus, demographic demand and infrastructure capabilities. India is amongst the countries which is exploring lithium-ion batteries for light commercial vehicles, and CNG, hydrogen, H-CNG, and LNG too for the automotive industry.
Despite what one feels, the automotive industry in India has often come up with scalable disruptive technology at an optimum level of cost.
Unlike the Western and European markets, India will need to find its own journey, a simple copy-paste solution is no longer an option.
But despite its challenges, India could possibly become one of the early countries to deploy hydrogen as a fuel at scale, especially in the commercial vehicle segment, where long-distance travel and heavier fuel tanks could easily be the key drivers for the adoption of hydrogen as a fuel.
Representational image courtesy: Toyota USA