Vikaasa Leaders Inspire series: Future of Green Hydrogen in India

Since Jacques Charles made the first flight with a hot-air balloon in 1783, hydrogen has been a mainstay in transportation and heavy industry. Hydrogen is not new - From being a rocket fuel to being a critical component to the modern refining industry, hydrogen has transcended through the energy evolution since the 1960s. Hydrogen is also critical to production of oil, methanol, ammonia, and steel. But the traditional “grey” and “blue” hydrogen still comes from fossil fuels and meets the current captive demand of industries. There is a need to create more sustainable versions, which can further help in energy transition and creating new demand for hydrogen as fuel.

“Green” hydrogen. Made from wind, solar, and other renewable sources, green hydrogen has the potential to supply around 25% of the world’s energy needs by 2050. And since green hydrogen does not emit any greenhouse gases, it can help global economies achieve their net-zero emissions targets — and hopefully limit global temperature rises to 1.5OC.

To understand the long-term value that hydrogen can bring to the climate debate, Prashanth Varanasi from the Vikaasa Energise Impact track hosted a virtual session with Mr. Maruthi Ethakota, Head of Process & Technology for Technip Energies – India Business Unit. Together with 60 participants from across Vikaasa coalition partners, Mr. Maruthi Ethakota shared his perspective on the future of hydrogen in India and its implication for the Indian industries.

Nearly 80% of India’sGHG emissions come from the country’s power, iron and steel, transportation and cement industries. Given that each of these have different energy footprints, there is a need to explore multiple pathways to decarbonisation, as a one-size-fits-all approach may not be viable and sustainable. 

India’s over-dependence on coal for power generation and scarcity of renewable energy capacity severely limits our ability to produce enough green hydrogen to achieve decarbonisation across industries. The green hydrogen transition requires different approaches for each renewable energy source.

That means different approaches for the battery-operated electric vehicles (BEVs) used for urban mobility; the fuel cell-based electric vehicles (FCEVs) used in heavy-duty transport; the low-carbon biofuels for aviation; and the dihydrogen-rich, natural gas-based reduction process in steel and carbon-capture technologies. This approach can make adoption of green hydrogen easier and faster.

“The green hydrogen economy will help industries create a pathway to reduce emissions in the long term, and we should focus on all forms of hydrogen – grey, blue, green – with a clear line of sight for making green hydrogen technically and commercially viable”, he said.

Why Hydrogen?

Mr. Maruthi Ethakota also discussed the technical viability of hydrogen compressed natural gas (H-CNG) — a blend of compressed natural gas with 2% of hydrogen — for industries in India, considering the safety implications and suitability of industrial equipment. The share of hydrogen, however, can be increased up to 20% with a better and more reliable infrastructure for storage and transportation. Mobility can be another commercial application, which can make blending viable for up to 18% H-CNG. These applications can create a path for increased demand for hydrogen in short term.

Mr. Maruthi Ethakota shared six keys to tackling the decarbonisation challenge and scaling the adoption of green hydrogen in India:

  1. Behavioral change is one of the critical barriers to adopting clean fuels, including green hydrogen. Consumers need to choose low-carbon options, such as switching to cleaner fuel-based transportation and reducing their energy consumption. Industries must also increase their efforts to recycle, reuse, and repurpose materials beyond low-carbon emissions and energy efficiency measures.
  2. Inclusive policy support can further help define regulations to support the adoption and use of cleaner fuels.
  3. Energy efficiency is the most cost-effective path towards decarbonisation. It shows immediate results in commercial savings - one watt less of consumption means a savings of 1.5 watts in generation.
  4. Electrification of mobility and industrial processes helps with the rapid integration of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind, enabling the ecosystem for commercial production of green hydrogen.
  5. India should fast track the establishment of a hydrogen infrastructure. This includes hydrogen pipeline networks connecting the generation and consumption demand in the value chain, and the creation of more storage systems and refilling stations. Initially, blue hydrogen — made from natural gas — can be used while the ecosystem for commercial production of green hydrogen is built.
  6. Economies of scale can help develop the value chain and lower the costs for green hydrogen and its use across chemical, fertilisers, steel, power, and mobility industries by adopting a cluster-based approach.

This hydrogen transition is possible, as we have seen in the last two decades from liquid fuels to CNG, or even the recent response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We must apply this mindset and sense of urgency to take on India’s clean energy transition.

“The need of the hour is to focus on increasing the renewable energy production which can help achieve economies of scale for green hydrogen in India”.

Participants were actively engaged with questions, seeking insights from Mr. Maruti Ethakota on safety standards, biomass-based hydrogen production, scale and capacity for hydrogen plants, and the viability of biogas to green hydrogen conversion. This discussion triggered further ideas to action in enabling the hydrogen economy.

To learn more about the Leaders Inspire series, connect with Vipul Kumar, director of Xynteo’s Vikaasa partnership.