India has recently presented its Hydrogen Strategy. Hydrogen is to play a greater role in the Indian energy mix. Politicians and industry see potential applications above all in the transport sector.
India’s energy mix is dominated by fossil fuels. Of the total 370 gigawatts of installed power generation capacity, 56 percent is coal and 7 percent gas. However, the share of renewable energies is set to grow: whereas at the end of the 2019/20 financial year (1 April to 31 March) the figure was 87 gigawatts, the Indian government plans to expand the capacity of wind, solar, biomass and small hydroelectric power plants to 175 gigawatts by 2022 and to 455 gigawatts by 2030.
Hydrogen as part of the energy strategy
However, the expansion of renewable energies had already slowed down before the corona crisis due to the economic situation and is now being further slowed down in the wake of the pandemic. Although this means that capacity targets are being postponed, in the long term India is holding its course in expanding wind, solar and bioenergy. India also wants to examine the use of hydrogen as an energy carrier or storage medium. The country is still at the very beginning in this respect, but sees the technology as an important piece in the mosaic of its energy strategy.
The Indian government had already given the starting signal for the hydrogen economy in 2008 with its National Hydrogen Energy Roadmap and set itself ambitious targets. Among other things, decentralized power generation capacities from hydrogen with a capacity of 1,000 megawatts and 1 million hydrogen-powered vehicles should be on India’s roads by 2020. However, despite initial support from industry – the driving forces were the conglomerates Tata and Mahindra – the topic was not advanced any further.
Blending of hydrogen with CNG
In 2018, the state think tank NITI Aayog prepared a study on the use of clean fuels (Clean Fuel) and recommended the use of hydrogen in the transport sector. The main focus is on the blending of hydrogen with the widely used Compressed Natural Gas (CNG). There are 3.5 million CNG vehicles registered in India. However, the country has to import the majority of its natural gas and its consumption is expected to quadruple to 200 million tons per year by 2030, according to estimates by the regulatory authority for the gas and oil industry.
The hydrogen-CNG mixture could reduce CO2 emissions from road traffic and reduce dependence on natural gas imports, according to NITI Aayog. The state-owned oil company Indian Oil Corporation (IOCL) has conducted studies in 2017 with the automotive association SIAM and the commercial vehicle divisions of carmakers Tata Motors and Ashok Leyland. When blended with CNG at 18 percent, CO2 emissions were reduced, but nitrogen oxide emissions increased. In addition, the mixture is significantly more expensive than pure CNG.
Price of green hydrogen to fall
IOCL is interested in hydrogen production by electrolysis with favourable excess coal flow. Green hydrogen is also considered an option, at least in the long term. However, India is still a long way from economic production of hydrogen, according to BloombergNEF. For example, the production costs for green hydrogen from renewable energies should be 1.17 US dollars (US$) per kilogram in 2030 and fall to 0.76 US$ by 2050 – the price of natural gas was 0.77 US$ per kilogram in 2019. Since India is one of the world’s largest emitters of methane, the production of turquoise hydrogen would also be conceivable.
The National Hydrogen Mission should clarify which path India will take in the hydrogen economy. This is currently being prepared by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) and is to be presented in 2020.
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Another problem is the cost of the fuel cell, which is still far too high. The available hydrogen cars all cost around 70,000 Euro. However, this is also due to the low production figures, which pushes up the price. Nevertheless VW boss Herbert Diess does not believe that hydrogen will play a role in car traffic at some point. The few small projects at Audi, Daimler and BMW are more or less discontinued.
Pioneers from Berlin without support
The reason for this is the high development costs for electric mobility. Manufacturers do not want or cannot afford to develop two drive technologies simultaneously. Does this mean that the idea of a fuel cell car is no longer viable? Not quite. Because some start-ups have made it their business to make the production of hydrogen sustainable.
One of them is Enapter from Berlin, for example. This young company produces hydrogen electrolysers. This technology makes it possible to produce hydrogen from water using solar power in a relatively simple way. Enapter has profited massively from the hydrogen boom in recent years and is using the technology it developed itself worldwide. The start-up was founded by Vaitea Cownan and Sebastian Justus Schmidt. The latter made his money by selling a software company to the Russian company Yandex.
Graforce is another company from Berlin that is dedicated to the sustainable production of hydrogen. They also rely on a specially developed technology called plasmalysis. In principle, something similar to electrolysis happens here. However, the Graforce device does not require clean water, but can also produce hydrogen from dirty water and plastic waste. If the technology were to be industrialized, this would be a huge step forward.
The hydrogen market leadership is already deciding
It is questionable why both companies, like many others, do not receive support from established car manufacturers. Recently, Volkswagen boss Herbert Diess again complained that there is no German supplier who has entered the battery cell production. At the same time Tesla proves that it is important for the future of a manufacturer to control all aspects of the new mobility from their own hands. From the production of the battery cells to the development of the charging infrastructure.
In the case of battery-powered vehicles, manufacturers and the EU have already more or less missed the boat. But the situation is still different for hydrogen. And so the question arises why the manufacturers do not support the hydrogen technologies developed in Germany in order to keep further options open for the future.
Hydrogen and the fuel cell are currently about ten years behind the solar and battery industry in terms of technology. But as with batteries, market leadership is decided early on. Now the patents are being developed and in the future the companies that now invest in this technology will benefit massively. Car manufacturers would be well advised not to miss another revolution in mobility.