Baba’s Explainer – Green Hydrogen

  • IASbaba
  • May 28, 2022
  • 0
Economics, Environment & Ecology, Governance
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  • GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
  • GS-3: Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization, of resources, growth, development and employment; Government Budgeting

Context: At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, India stated that it will emerge as the leader of green hydrogen by taking advantage of the current energy crisis across the globe.

  • The assertion came almost a month after Oil India Limited (OIL) commissioned India’s first 99% pure green hydrogen plant in eastern Assam’s Jorhat.
  • It was on April 20, 2022 that the public sector OIL set up India’s first 99.99% pure green hydrogen pilot plant in Assam.
  • Powered by a 500 KW solar plant, the green hydrogen unit has an installed capacity to produce 10 kg of hydrogen per day and scale it up to 30 kg per day.

What is Hydrogen fuel?
  • A colourless, odourless, tasteless, non-toxic and highly combustible gaseous substance, hydrogen is the lightest, simplest and most abundant member of the family of chemical elements in the universe.
  • Hydrogen does not occur freelyin nature in useful quantities. It can be made from natural gas or it can be made by electrolysis of water—using electricity to split water into its constituent components of hydrogen and oxygen.
  • When hydrogen is burned, it only emits water vapour and carbon dioxide (CO2) is not produced.
  • It is more efficient than internal combustion engine.
  • Although hydrogen is a clean molecule, the process of extracting it is energy-intensive. Also, manufacturing hydrogen fuel based vehicle is expensive.
What is Green Hydrogen?

The sources and processes by which hydrogen is derived, are categorised by colour tabs.

  • Hydrogen produced from fossil fuels is called grey hydrogen; this constitutes the bulk of the hydrogen produced today.
  • Brown hydrogen is produced using coal where the emissions are released to the air.
  • Hydrogen generated from fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage options is called blue hydrogen.
  • Hydrogen generated entirely from renewable power sources is called green hydrogen. In the last process, electricity generated from renewable energy is used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen.
What are the advantages of Green Hydrogen?
  • Environment Friendly: Green Hydrogen as energy source is seen as the next big thing as its usage would lead to zero emissions
  • Potential to Decarbonise “hard to abate” sectors: It is a clean burning molecule, which can decarbonise a range of sectors including iron and steel, chemicals, and transportation. It is also a suitable fuel for shipping and other heavy road freight vehicles because its energy density is 3X of diesel and 3.5X of heavy fuel oil.
  • Efficient utilization of Renewable Energy: Renewable energy that cannot be stored or used by the grid can be channelled to produce hydrogen. The stored hydrogen can be used to produce electricity using fuel cells.
  • Usable By-products: Oxygen, produced as a by-product (8 kg of oxygen is produced per 1 kg of hydrogen), can also be monetised by using it for industrial and medical applications or for enriching the environment.
  • Reduced Dependence on Rare Minerals: Green Hydrogen also holds the key to clean electric mobility that doesn’t depend on rare minerals. Green Hydrogen helps achieve long-term vision of reduced dependency on minerals and rare-earth element-based battery as energy storage.
  • Reduces Import Bill: India’s average annual energy import bill is more than $100 billion. Due to the availability of cheaper renewable energy, India is in a unique position to produce hydrogen for its own needs & thus reduce its import bill.
  • Helps Achieve Paris Goal: Green hydrogen energy is vital for India to meet its Nationally Determined Contributions and ensure regional and national energy security, access and availability.
    • Under the Paris Agreement of 2015, India is committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 33-35% from the 2005 levels. However, the commitments were updated in Glasgow Climate Summit of 2021.
    • New Glasgow Commitments include Net Zero by 2070, and by 2030, take cumulative non fossil fuel generation capacity to 500 GW, meet 50 percent of energy needs from renewable energy, reduce the energy intensity of the economy by 45 percent, and reduce carbon emissions by 1 billion tons.
How Hydrogen based vehicles are better than Battery based Electric Vehicles?
  • EV still has dependence on Coal: India’s electricity grid is predominantly coal-based and will continue to be so, thus negating collateral benefits from a large-scale EV push — as coal will have to be burnt to generate the electricity that will power these vehicles
    • In several countries that have gone in for an EV push, much of the electricity is generated from renewables — in Norway for example, it is 99 per cent from hydroelectric power.
  • Applicable to multiple sectors: Experts believe hydrogen vehicles can be especially effective in long-haul trucking and other hard-to-electrify sectors such as shipping and long-haul air travel. Using heavy batteries in these applications would be counterproductive, especially for countries such as India, where the electricity grid is predominantly coal-fired. Thus, Hydrogen based fuel offers a greener alternative.
  • Efficiency: Hydrogen based vehicles enables a refuelling time of just five minutes, compared to 30-45 minutes charging for a Battery based EV. Also, consumers get about five times better energy storage per unit volume and weight
What is National Hydrogen Policy?

On August 15, 2021, Prime Minister Modi announced a National Hydrogen Mission to make India a Global Hub for Green Hydrogen Production and Export.

  • Government is targeting production of 5 million tonnes of green hydrogen by 2030.
  • The policy allows free inter-state wheeling of renewable energy used in the production of green hydrogen and ammonia as it seeks to boost usage of the carbon-free fuel, and make India an export hub.
    • It offers 25 years of free power transmission for any new renewable energy plants set up to supply power for green hydrogen production before July 2025.
    • This means that a green hydrogen producer will be able to set up a solar power plant in Rajasthan to supply renewable energy to a green hydrogen plant in Assam and would not be required to pay any inter-state transmission charges.
  • There will also be a single portal for all clearances required for setting up green hydrogen production as well as a facility for producers to bank any surplus renewable energy generated with discoms for upto 30 days and use it as required.
  • Energy plants set up to produce green hydrogen/ammonia would be given connectivity to the grid on a priority basis.
  • Power distribution companies may also procure renewable energy to supply green hydrogen producers but will be required to do so at a concessional rate.
    • Such procurement would also count towards a state’s Renewable Purchase Obligation (RPO) under which it is required to procure a certain proportion of its requirements from renewable energy sources.
  • Under the policy, port authorities will also provide land at applicable charges to green hydrogen and green ammonia producers to set up bunkers near ports for storage prior to export.
    • Germany and Japan could be key markets for green hydrogen produced in India
  • The move is likely going to make it more economical for key users of hydrogen and ammonia such as the oil refining, fertiliser and steel sectors to produce green hydrogen for their own use. These sectors currently use grey hydrogen or grey ammonia produced using natural gas or naphtha.
What are the challenges with regard to Hydrogen Fuel?
  • Fuelling Infrastructure: A big barrier to the adoption of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles has been a lack of fuelling station infrastructure — fuel cell cars refuel in a similar way to conventional cars, but can’t use the same station (only 500 in the world & that too in Europe, Japan, South Korea)
  • Safety is seen as a concern: Hydrogen is pressurised and stored in a cryogenic tank, from there it is fed to a lower-pressure cell and put through an electro-chemical reaction to generate electricity. Therefore, safety is a big concerns which can push the cost of adoption of this energy base.
  • Scaling up the technology and achieving critical mass remains the big challenge. More vehicles on the road and more supporting infrastructure can lower costs.
  • Role of Universities: As Indian businesses invest in research and development across the entire green hydrogen value chain, the lack of a homegrown research workforce will become a bottleneck.
What is the way ahead?
  • India needs to invest heavily in research, development and demonstration to drive down the cost of electrolysis, and to complement, and capitalize on, its status as one of the world’s lowest-cost producers of solar power.
  • There should also be serious investment in universities to scale up their research and research training programs and also collaboration between academia, corporate labs and public research institutions.
    • When universities are an integral part of the national research enterprise, they produce human capital aligned with national economic needs which has a long-term multiplier effect in sustaining innovation.
  • Private companies, aspiring to be hydrogen producers, should be free to choose electrolyser technology, import of which should be at minimum rates of import duty.

Mains Practice Question – The government has unveiled the first part of the much-awaited National Hydrogen Policy. In this context, critically analyse the utility of anchoring our energy security with Green Hydrogen.

Note: Write answers to this question in the comment section.


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