As the world transitions to clean sources of energy, hydrogen is being seen as more than just another fuel. Hydrogen-fueled economies could become energy independent, while potentially eliminating their carbon footprint, and many economies would have a fair shot at ‘just’ economic progress for all of their citizens. While this may sound eutopic, the energy independence and self-sufficiency it brings can enable nations to achieve at least some degree of such progress.
Here is everything that you ned to know about green hydrogen in India. This is a 2 part editorial, in this first part the author has tried to give an overview of what is green hydrogen. In the next part you will get to know about the policy and the market of the green hydrogen in India.
In the past decade, there has been a major push for a transition to clean and sustainable energy sources. While such decarbonization is good news for all habitants of Earth, it also translates into a more sustainable, relatively responsible, and profitable economy. And although most efforts and investments in this pursuit have been towards solar, wind, and now lithium-ion batteries, there is an urgent need for several other technologies to enable such a transition. One such technology is green hydrogen.
Hydrogen is one of the best-known fuels, with the highest known calorific value. Unfortunately, there are several challenges because of which we prefer fossil fuels over hydrogen. Being highly flammable and difficult to store, hydrogen is an extremely hazardous fuel to handle and transport (the sight of Hindenburg comes to mind!). Storing hydrogen has always been a roadblock to its adoption. But with the advanced technologies of today, handling hydrogen has become much easier. It can be stored as high-pressure gas, cryogenic liquid, or within metal hydrides, and can be transported like natural gas via road, rail, or pipelines.
But there is another problem. While hydrogen is a clean fuel, producing only water vapor as a byproduct, over 95% of all hydrogen produced today is through fossil fuels by a process called steam reforming. This is where green hydrogen comes into the picture.
We already produce over US$120 billion worth of hydrogen today, but for economies to transition to hydrogen, we need to shift from gray and brown hydrogen to green hydrogen. Hydrogen is often color-coded to differentiate between hydrogen produced through different methods and indicates the environmental impact associated with each production process. This helps classify hydrogen based on its carbon intensity, with green hydrogen being the most environmentally friendly. Grey hydrogen refers to hydrogen produced from fossil fuels, particularly natural gas, through a process called steam reforming of methane – this is the conventional method of hydrogen production and has high carbon emissions.
Brown hydrogen is produced through coal gasification which involves heating coal to produce synthetic gas that contains hydrogen and carbon monoxide. This process also has high carbon emissions.
Blue hydrogen is also produced through steam reforming of methane, but carbon emissions generated from this process are captured and stored or utilized through carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies. This process, although not entirely clean has reduced overall environmental impact compared to gray or brown hydrogen. Green hydrogen is produced through the electrolysis of water, wherein the electricity is generated completely from renewables like solar, wind, hydro, etc. It has a minimal carbon footprint and is considered the cleanest form of hydrogen production.
In today’s world, hydrogen can play a very important role in decarbonization for several reasons. While the world transitions towards solar and wind, they are unfortunately unpredictable and intermittent. Clean hydrogen can be generated using off-peak renewable electricity generated during periods when supply outstrips demand, instead of curtailing generation. This hydrogen can easily be stored at a very low cost and utilized to generate power in fuel cells or gas turbines when demand outstrips supply.
Hydrogen can also be the much-needed solution to decarbonize industries that are inherently difficult to decarbonize. In energy-intensive industries like cement, aviation, shipping, long haul trucks, steel, chemicals and many others, where large amounts of energy is required – often as heat – with a high degree of reliability, renewables prove to be significantly inadequate and expensive. Hydrogen, with its highest known calorific value, can be the perfect replacement for fossil fuels in these industries. Most types of engines in airplanes, trucks and ships can be modified to burn hydrogen instead of petrol, diesel, or natural gas. Industries and existing power plants can be upgraded to burn hydrogen for their thermal needs, which can be transported on-site via national pipelines much like how natural gas is transported from them today. Green hydrogen can also be used to produce green ammonia, which can be used to transport hydrogen with ease and safety, and can also help reduce the carbon footprint of the agriculture sector by being used as fertilizer. If the conditions are right, hydrogen can even replace lithium ion in EV’s and thus eliminating range anxiety. This shows the enormous potential of hydrogen to radically change human existence, just the way fossil fuels had done over a century ago.
Consistent efforts to bring down hydrogen’s cost and its implementation possibilities across high energy intense as well as carbon-emitting industries with a push for achieving ambitious net zero targets indicates a signal for good market share. It is estimated that hydrogen could meet up to 24% of the world’s energy needs by 2050 with a consumption capacity of 187 MMT(if a supportive but piecemeal policy is in place). (Source Hydrogen Economy Outlook, Bloomberg NEF, March 30, 2020)
Like all great opportunities, there are several challenges to the mass adoption of green hydrogen, its cost being one of the biggest. The cost of producing GH2 is usually around $3-7 per kg, while it was $1-2 per kg for gray hydrogen. This cost difference exists due to the price of renewable energy and expensive electrolyzers. But this gap should reduce as technology advances, economies of scale are realized, and the cost of renewable energy continues to decline. With the enormous benefits of GH2, there are enough incentives for all nations and global markets to take measures to reduce this gap in as little time as possible.
Supply chain, storage, and, H2 infrastructure are other major hurdles to mass adoption of the hydrogen economy. Being an extremely flammable fuel with high energy content, proper handling during production, transportation, and storage is very essential. Building codes and infrastructure to enable such a safe supply chain is critical, but will also need significant investment and time. Fortunately, several aspects of the hydrogen supply chain can be built in a similar manner as for natural gas. There’s even a possibility of modifying existing natural gas infrastructure to handle GH2. Hydrogen can already be stored and transported as pressurized gas or cryogenic liquid in trucks, trains, and ships. It can also be stored in metal hydrides and on a large scale in naturally occurring underground caverns. Pipelines can also be built across long distances for the mass transportation of hydrogen to industries.
Technology advancement in the generation of GH2 is a critical challenge to overcome. Advancing existing GH2 generation technology and developing newer technologies is key to cost reductions of GH2. Components like catalysts and membranes need to come down, and innovations in electrolysis processes, such as alkaline, proton exchange membrane (PEM), and solid oxide electrolyzers, will be needed to improve efficiency and lower capital costs.
Lastly, policy and regulatory hurdles need to be overcome. Clear and consistent policies and regulations are essential to build a sustainable market for GH2. Governments will need to provide long-term incentives and build support mechanisms like feed-in tariffs, tax credits, and capital for research, to encourage investment of private capital in GH2 infrastructure and technology. Public awareness can also help in this regard. Educating the public about the benefits of GH2 and addressing concerns related to its safety, will gain wider acceptance. Building public support and engagement can help overcome potential resistance to new infra and tech for GH2.
The content of this article is own by Megha Rawat and Vijay Prateik from deMITasse Energies