Green hydrogen as enabler to achieve the net zero goal

Green hydrogen as enabler to achieve the net zero goal

India has the potential to become a low-cost, zero-carbon manufacturing hub by implementing appropriate policies, encouraging industry action, generating and promoting markets, and increasing investor interest

  • By Mukul Gupta , Chief Manager (SD & Environment), Petrochemical Division, GAIL (India) Limited | June 03, 2023

Hydrogen is not only the most abundant element in the universe, it could also play an essential role in tomorrow’s energy mix - from fuelling cars, trains, trucks and ships to generating electricity and heating buildings. Green hydrogen has emerged as a promising solution for achieving the net-zero emissions target set by several countries worldwide.

Ministry of New and Renewable Energy launched the National Green Hydrogen Mission in January 2023 with an aim of making India a hub for the production and export of green hydrogen. This is geared to make India energy independent before the country completes 100 years of its independence in 2047. Currently, India spends over $160 billion of foreign exchange every year for energy imports (Source: Niti Aayog). These imports are likely to double in the next 15 years without remedial action. India has vast renewable energy potential. The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) and Climate Energy Finance (CEF) estimated that India, the third largest energy-consuming country in the world, will reach 405 GW of renewable energy capacity by 2030. The country has made significant progress towards achieving this target, with renewable energy accounting for over 42.5% of its total installed power capacity as of February 2023 (Source: Invest India). This puts India in a strong position to produce green hydrogen using renewable energy sources.

Emerging Importance of Hydrogen

Hydrogen (H) is the very first element on the periodic table. It is both the lightest and the most common substance in the universe. It is almost always found as part of another compound, such as water (H2O) or methane (CH4), and therefore needs to be separated into pure hydrogen (H2) before it can be fully utilized in its pure form. How well hydrogen contributes   decarbonization, depends on how clean and green the method of production is. It is the specifics               of the production process, and the energy source utilized, that determine whether the hydrogen will be labelled Green, Blue, Grey, or another colour.

The biggest value proposition of hydrogen is in decarbonizing the hard-to-abate sectors such as iron ore and steel, fertilizers, refining, methanol, and maritime shipping which emit major amounts of CO2. Historically, these sectors have been difficult to address because of a lack of technically and economically feasible technologies. Hydrogen can address many of these challenges and play a complementary role to effectively decarbonize these sectors. For other high-emitting sectors, such as heavy-duty trucking and aviation, hydrogen is among the main options being explored. 

Hydrogen’s specific energy (i.e., energy content per unit of mass) is higher than most hydrocarbon fuels. But its volumetric energy density is the lowest. That means pressurization or liquefaction is required for hydrogen to be useful as a fuel. These two properties drive the value as well as the applicability of hydrogen for the various possible end-use cases.

What is Green Hydrogen?

Hydrogen is a clean and versatile energy carrier that can be produced from a variety of renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and hydroelectric power. Green hydrogen is produced through the electrolysis of water using renewable electricity. The process involves splitting water molecules into their constituent elements, hydrogen and oxygen, using an electrolyser powered by renewable electricity. Green hydrogen has the potential to play a critical role in achieving a net-zero emissions economy. As countries transition to renewable energy sources such as solar and wind, green hydrogen can serve as a clean and flexible energy carrier. It can be used to store excess renewable energy generated during periods of low demand and supply the grid during times of high demand. This can help to balance the intermittency of renewable energy sources and ensure a steady and reliable supply of electricity. Central to the Green hydrogen production process is the electrolyser technology. Alkaline and polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) electrolysers are two commercially available technologies for green hydrogen production today. Advanced electrolyser technologies like solid oxide and anion exchange membrane are nearing commercial deployment as well.

Future of Green Hydrogen in India

India's efforts to move towards a low-carbon economy rely heavily on increasing the proportion of renewables in the electricity grid and electrifying end-use sectors such as transportation. Green hydrogen is crucial for achieving a truly low-carbon economy, as it can be produced anywhere with abundant renewable energy resources.

This will reduce the country's dependence on imported energy commodities like natural gas and petroleum. To make hydrogen cost-competitive, the cost of electrolysers must decline. India can benefit from domestic electrolyser manufacturing, improving its technical capabilities, and participating in an emerging global market while capturing more of the economic gains.

Although the cost of hydrogen from electrolysis is currently high, India has one of the most competitive Levelized Costs of Electricity (LCOE) from solar and wind. Therefore, expanding green hydrogen production in India is more beneficial than increasing grey or blue hydrogen production. Companies like GAIL (India) Limited and Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) have already announced plans to set up a green hydrogen production facility in the country. These facilities will use renewable energy sources like wind and solar power to produce green hydrogen.

Challenges and Opportunities

Despite its potential benefits, the widespread adoption of green hydrogen faces several challenges. One of the main challenges is the cost of production, which is currently higher than that of fossil fuels. However, as the demand for green hydrogen increases, economies of scale and technological advancements are expected to drive down the cost of production, making it more competitive with fossil fuels.

Another challenge is the lack of infrastructure for the production, storage, and transport of green hydrogen. To enable the widespread adoption of green hydrogen, significant investments in infrastructure are needed to build a comprehensive supply chain. This presents an opportunity to invest in the development of green hydrogen infrastructure, creating new jobs and driving economic growth.

In addition, while hydrogen fuel cell technology has advanced significantly in recent years, there are still technological challenges associated with the adoption of green hydrogen. For example, the durability and reliability of fuel cells need to be improved to ensure their widespread adoption. There are also issues regarding safety concerns related to hydrogen since it is highly flammable and requires special handling and safety precautions.

Moreover, there is currently no comprehensive regulatory framework for the production, transportation, and storage of green hydrogen. The development of a regulatory framework is essential to ensure the safety and reliability of green hydrogen infrastructure. Overcoming these challenges will require a concerted effort from governments, private sector companies, and research institutions.

Results and Conclusions

Major countries around the world are placing big bets and investing in hydrogen-based technologies, and India can play a leadership role at the global level in moving forward the hydrogen economy. Apart from fulfilling national goals around reducing emissions and enhancing domestic manufacturing, hydrogen paves a way for India to become a global power house of zero-carbon embedded export products. Products such as green steel and green ammonia present an early mover opportunity for India, given India’s capability and resources to produce them at a cheaper rate than peer nations such as China and Australia. Significant challenges need to be addressed to enable this hydrogen transition. India can also leverage its partnerships with international players to advance the development and adoption of green hydrogen. In addition, India can collaborate with other countries in the region, such as Japan and South Korea, who are already investing heavily in green hydrogen technologies. These partnerships can help to establish supply chains for green hydrogen and create new markets for renewable energy sources.

Increased funding for research and development (R&D) focused on hydrogen production and its various applications can lead to technological advancements and cost reductions. To drive the adoption of hydrogen technology, policies are needed to encourage both demand and supply. Incentives for demand can help overcome the initial high cost barriers and stimulate market growth. As the market matures, these incentives can be gradually phased out. On the supply side, there should be a concerted effort to develop infrastructure and ensure the availability of green hydrogen on a large scale.

India has the potential to become a low-cost, zero-carbon manufacturing hub by implementing appropriate policies, encouraging industry action, generating and promoting markets, and increasing investor interest. We should aim for the 1-1-1 vision, that is, to bring down the cost of hydrogen to under 1 USD per 1 kg in 1 decade. Achieving this would not only fulfil India's goals of economic development, job creation, and public health improvement but also contribute towards its recently announced climate targets and net-zero vision.

The time is ripe for India to explore hydrogen's potential to create a clean, secure, and affordable energy future. Through collaborative efforts between innovators, entrepreneurs, and the government, the use of green hydrogen could significantly reduce CO2 emissions, combat climate change, and lead India towards achieving net-zero energy imports.

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