- The Union Cabinet has recently approved the National Hydrogen Mission to make the country a production and export hub of green hydrogen with an initial outlay of Rs 19,744 crore ($2.3 billion) over the next five years.
- It aims at producing 5 MMT (million metric tonne) per annum of green hydrogen with an associated renewable energy capacity addition of about 125 GW (giga watt) by 2030.
- While the green hydrogen dream seems appealing, critical challenges must be examined to help design appropriate pathways to realise this vision.
- Green hydrogen is defined as hydrogen produced by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen using renewable electricity.
- Green hydrogen could be a critical enabler of the global transition to sustainable energy and net zero emissions economies.
- The challenges to produce and use green hydrogen can be classified into 4Es — electrolyser, energy source, end use and endogenous resources.
- India to achieve its 2030 target, it would need 12 times the current global electrolyser production capacity.
- The factors that could hinder scaling up electrolyser manufacturing capability in India are:
- Negligible number of projects to manufacture electrolysers;
- Limited access to critical minerals such as nickel, platinum group metals and rare earth metals such as lanthanum, yttrium and zirconium which are concentrated in countries such as China, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Australia, Indonesia, South Africa, Chile and Peru;
- Limited processing capabilities in these minerals.
Energy source challenge:
- As per current estimates a completely efficient electrolysis system would require 39 kWh of electricity to produce 1 kg of hydrogen.
- Green hydrogen requires renewable energy as a source of electricity, however India has only achieved 119 GW of the 175 GW targeted capacity using solar, wind, bio-power and small hydro so far.
End use challenge:
- Currently, most of the demand for hydrogen comes from the chemical industry to produce ammonia for fertilizers, followed by refining for hydrocracking and the desulphurisation of fuels.
- It can be a source of heat for industry, especially in sectors such as steel, cement and aluminum production.
- In the transport sector, it can be used as fuel for heavy duty vehicles, aviation and shipping.
- The conversion efficiency from one form of energy carrier to another in the end use application will determine the scale of green hydrogen’s applicability.
- Hydrogen is a highly combustible and volatile element and its potency in other forms such as ammonia or methanol is only relatively reduced.
Endogenous resources challenge:
- It has been estimated that the production of one kg of hydrogen by electrolysis requires around nine litres of water.
- Several parts of India are already severely water-stressed.
- While desalination has been suggested, this will not only increase the physical footprint of the required infrastructure, but also potentially add to competition for land use, impact biodiversity and create challenges and limitations in the location of electrolysers.
How to address these challenges?
- India should set up large scale electrolyser manufacturing, secure geo-political partnerships for procurement of critical minerals and improve overall technical and economic viability of electrolysers year-over-year while competing with other global players.
- India should add close to 100 GW of overall renewable energy capacity per year over the next seven years and make available dispatch corridors and mechanisms.
- It is critical to establish safety standards for storage and transportation if green hydrogen has to be produced and stored in different forms for later use.
- The proposed green hydrogen hubs have to strike a fine balance between being renewable energy rich, water resource rich and being close to hydrogen demand (end-use) centers for them to be economically feasible.
- The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) estimates that hydrogen and its derivatives will account for 12 percent of global final energy consumption by 2050 with two-thirds coming from green hydrogen.
- India aims to produce green hydrogen in the range of Rs 100-150/kg by 2030 which is much below the currently global levelised cost of producing it. (Rs 250-650/kg).
- This would mean India will have to address all the challenges listed above as well as coordinate across multiple institutional bodies both public and private in record time.