The Use And Challenges Of Hydrogen In India

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Hydrogen is one of the cleanest fuels which only releases water as a by-product when burning in the air and hence have zero vehicles bon emissions produced in the process. It can be manufactured from natural gas or other renewable resources. Catalytic steam reformation, coal gasification and water electrolysis are currently the industrial hydrogen processing technology that is used. Experts claim however that the production of hydrogen from fossil fuels does result in emissions, thereby losing it’s very basis of being a clean fuel. Hydrogen can be used as a fuel in vehicles, in both fuel cells and internal combustion engines with slight modifications. Fuel cell systems have proved over the years that they are more efficient as compared to combustion engines but they require more development in terms of infrastructure.

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Hydrogen, as compared to other fuels such as petrol, has a high density of energy and thus provides more energy with a lower weight, making it a feasible choice for the future’s long-haul heavy vehicles. The amount of time required to refuel a hydrogen fuel cell is quite less compared to electric or traditional fuel vehicles. A fuel cell is a device that generates electricity by an electrochemical reaction. Hydrogen and oxygen are mixed in a fuel cell to produce energy, heat, and water. Today’s fuel cells are used in a wide array of applications, ranging from supplying electricity for households and companies, maintaining vital infrastructure, such as hospitals, food stores, data centres and a range of different types of vehicles. Clean, powerful, stable and silent power sources are fuel cell systems. Fuel cells don’t need to be recharged periodically like batteries, but produce electricity while a source of fuel is being supplied.

A cell consists of an anode, cathode, and an electrolyte membrane. A typical cell works by passing hydrogen through the anode of a cell and oxygen through the cathode. At the anode site, a catalyst splits the hydrogen molecules into electrons and protons. The protons go through the porous electrolyte membrane, while the electrons are forced through a circuit, generating an electrical current and excess heat. At the cathode, the protons, electrons, and oxygen combine to supply water molecules. As there are not any moving parts, fuel cells operate silently and with extremely high reliability.

Cryogenic liquid hydrogen vehicles, pipes and pipelines can transport hydrogen. The transport by tube trailer of compressed hydrogen requires high costs of service and repair. However, cryogenic liquid trucks will supply more hydrogen in volume than compressed trailers, thereby reducing the expense of liquefying hydrogen. . It has been observed that the supply of hydrogen by pipelines is cheaper than other available distribution systems. Serious precautions must be taken while shipping, storing and transporting hydrogen as it is highly flammable and has a low ignition point. Hydrogen is also lightweight, raising the risk of its leakage. Consequently it is important to adhere to safety requirements and recommendations in the hydrogen business.

Use of hydrogen in other countries

Hydrogen has gained traction globally as an automotive fuel alternative. In the United States, Japan, South Korea, China and Germany, hydrogen-fuelled vehicles and buses are already in operation. In order to encourage the use of hydrogen, Japan had announced that it will run hydrogen fuel cell buses and vehicles for the Tokyo 2021 Olympics. The countries mentioned above have made investments in cleaner manufacturing technologies and develop hydrogen refuelling infrastructure. Canada has started to retrofit all their diesel and electrified locomotives with hydrogen and many companies have taken keen interest in developing semi-trucks based on the fuel cell technology in the country too.

Retrofitting trains is a change that has been seen in several places across the world. Portugal, France, Germany have tied up with companies like Cummins and Alstom to produce hydrogen fuel cell based trains for them.

Cummins has also produced a hydrogen powered plane which was unveiled at the Stuttgart airport in Germany in late December 2020.

Hydrogen enriched CNG (H-CNG)

IOCL has started a pilot project which aims at using hydrogen enriched compressed natural gas (H-CNG) in various transportation vehicles. This hydrogen enriched gas has lower emissions as compared to traditional CNG. The corporation has produced a single step process to blend the two which will reduce emissions and be cost effective too. The Supreme Court ordered IOCL to complete this pilot project by February 2020 so that the blend could be launched in buses. NITI Aayog, a policy making think tank has proposed the use of the H-CNG in the existing piped gas network system in Delhi. It has also proposed to have H-CNG fall under automobile fuel so that a standard can be set by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS). Through this clearance would be achieved for H-CNG storage cylinders on vehicles which would be issued by the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO).

Challenges in India

The development and distribution of hydrogen through a compatible transportation and storage network is a very capital intensive affair. While hydrogen research and development is underway in India, it is essential to make sure that hydrogen is economically viable to be able to compete with traditional fuels and electric vehicles. Hydrogen is primarily generated from use of fossil fuels today and it is therefore critical that the government gives priority to generating hydrogen from renewable energy sources. Hydrogen is currently restricted to research, demonstrations, and testing in automobiles in India. The technology of fuel cells remains expensive in India and hence, the Government must build a cost efficient strategy for large-scale production. They must also invest heavily in the construction of the facilities needed for the supply of hydrogen, storage and transport systems and the refuelling stations. This calls for an active and time-bound approach in the marketing of hydrogen as a transport fuel in India.

On top of all that, India will have to make necessary amendments to the current regulatory structure. The Central Motor vehicle Act of 1989 would need to be updated to include hydrogen as an automobile fuel, as illustrated in the Recommendations of the Steering Committee on Hydrogen energy and fuel cells appointed by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy. The Ministry of Road Transport did notify Standards for safety evaluation of vehicles for the amendment in September 2020. In addition, the 2004 Gas Cylinder Rules would include revisions to include hydrogen-storage cylinders requirements and specifications.

In order to guarantee protection it is also necessary for PESO to create certification standards and regulations for the storage equipment of hydrogen and refuelling systems. The BIS shall also be required to issue hydrogen quality specifications according to standards notified by the International Organisation of Standards. Finding a license and a permit system for these buses is also required by the Ministry of Road, Transportation and Highway as India develops fuel cell busses.

Unlike thermal generators, the production of green hydrogen and fuel cell systems have comparatively fewer moving parts. But these few moveable parts are sensitive system components and could cause system failure, unless they are properly operated and maintained (with respect to refuelling stations). The fans driving the flow of gasses, compressor valves and water-moving components are amongst the most vulnerable components. They are not necessarily expensive but can be particularly destructive. Many companies have partly alleviated this exposure by designing integrated solutions, ensuring that the whole structure is not disabled by a defect of one component. Where large multi-stacked systems are being used, this can be very useful. But it is not typical to see this for remote or distributed systems that are likely smaller and harder for technicians to access.

Constructing a hydrogen refuelling station network across the country would also pose as an issue considering the high cost associated with it. A good network will be absolutely essential to ensure convenience for the consumers. The cost intensive project along with subsidies and incentives will be necessary for hydrogen to pose as an alternative fuel in the country.

The management of hydrogen fuels is another difficult issue. While the use of hydrogen canisters is common and healthy for use in developed countries, hydrogen fuels such as ammonia or methanol are more likely to be used in rural regions in developing countries. The compromise, though, is that the storage of ammonia, which is volatile and can be highly problematic if it is leaked, thereby making it more risky.

As energy demand for the automotive and manufacturing industry continues to surge across the globe, traditional fuels can no longer fulfil the increasing demand for clean energy. Hydrogen has emerged as a multi sector alternative globally thereby making it a sustainable option for heavy duty vehicles and power intensive industries. Given the energy crisis that exists, this is a safe and wise step for the developing nation.

24 May 2022

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