A private sector alliance led by country’s biggest company is drawing a blueprint for India’s nascent hydrogen economy which can potentially offer a windfall in its fight against climate change.
When India’s largest company, Reliance Industries does anything it creates waves. Yet, when it formed an alliance with US-based Chart Industries to begin work on country’s hydrogen economy, it went largely ignored.
It could partly be due to the intense second wave of pandemic - the biggest healthcare challenge the country has ever faced, which has dwarfed everything else in comparison. Or it could also be that the sector is new, awareness is limited and the journey has just begun. Either way, its importance in fighting global climate change and in India’s meeting and possibly exceeding its commitments in this war, cannot be undermined.
The India H2 Alliance (“IH2A”), will majorly be focussed on commercializing hydrogen technologies and systems to build net-zero carbon pathways in India. Chart Industries is a NASDAQ listed global manufacturer of high-end engineering equipment and with the muscle power of Reliance Industries will work to build the hydrogen economy and supply chain in India while helping to develop blue and green hydrogen production and storage.
The alliance would also build hydrogen-use industrial clusters in sectors like steel, refineries, fertilizer, cement, ports and logistics, and transport use-cases with hydrogen-powered fuel cells, which would include establishment of standards for storage and transport hydrogen in pressurized and liquified form.
Alongside the current thrust towards electrification, the potential for hydrogen to reduce carbon emissions in a country like India is immense. According to TERI, use of hydrogen can potentially increase by 3 to 10 times by 2050. It will also help in solving many tricky questions. For example, in the area of transport while a majority of passenger vehicles and two wheelers can be relatively easily electrified, converting heavy transport vehicles will remain a challenge. It is largely due to limiting factors of batteries energy-to weight ratios and the speed at which such large batteries could be recharged. While a hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCEV) can be recharged in 5-15 minutes, for a battery EV truck it would take well over 90 minutes.
“We believe EVs and FCEVs will co-exist with EVs being preferred for short runs in the cities while FCEVs will be used for long haulage transportation purposes,” said Vikram Gulati, country head and senior VP, Toyota Kirloskar Motor Ltd. “The price of FCEVs is high right now but as manufacturing of scale is attained it will come down and become viable even for markets like India over the course of this decade.”
On the industrial side, hydrogen would be needed in large manufacturing units like steel plants and in power generation for the grid. Primary steel production needs chemical feedstocks like iron ore direct reduction which direct electrification does not provide. Similarly, batteries for solar power do not provide cost effective storage solution consistently for weeks and months making hydrogen a more suitable option.
Unlike electrification, where India is behind the curve especially with China that has cornered most of the resources, hydrogen also gives it the opportunity to be among the first movers worldwide. In an uncertain world where globalisation, as it was perceived earlier, is being revised this is of much significance. Plus, the fact that Reliance has taken the lead makes it that much more serious.
The Alliance made a 6 point submission to the government that talked about among other things an aim to create a national electrolyser installed capacity of 15-20 GigaWatt and a national hydrogen themed energy transition fund with an aim to raise $ 1 billion by 2030 for deployment of projects of a certain scale. It also calls for setting up a public private task force, globally harmonised and interoperable hydrogen standards, pre feasibility studies of at least 10 hydrogen valleys or hubs and an industrial group that can look into specifics of using hydrogen as a decarbonization tool in various sectors.
It is just a start but as the transition to renewable energy gathers further steam, IH2A could be a gamechanger for India later this decade.