“If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.”Loren Eiseley
Let us start with a quiz question: What is the energy source in the coming decade that is believed to end the era of fossil fuels such as coal/gas/petroleum and slow down our Earth’s warming?
The answer is ‘green hydrogen’.
Hydrogen is the most abundant element on Earth and locked up in huge quantities in water, rocks and minerals and most widely used in industrial applications such as refining petroleum and removing sulfur content in oils to produce cleaner fuels, producing fertilizers , providing heat and power , as rocket fuel and for processing foods among others . (Fun fact: Hydrogen is used to produce sweeteners that go into chewing-gum).
Different shades: Brown, Grey, Blue, and Green hydrogen
Depending on the energy sources and production processes, hydrogen is categorized by different colors.
Benefits of ‘Green’ Hydrogen:
‘Green’ hydrogen is the new mantra for a greener planet and most countries including India are all embracing green hydrogen to reduce their green-house gases (GHG) emissions.
Several industries such as in steelmaking, cement and fertilizers, shipping and aviation are reducing dependency on fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas as raw materials and adopting hydrogen as their high-quality fuel. Hydrogen fuel cells that power electric vehicles are transforming the automotive industry and are set to replace gas guzzling vehicles in the next few decades. These fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) combine hydrogen stored in a tank with oxygen from the air to produce electricity, with water vapor as the by-product.
Future aircrafts are looking at hydrogen to power their commercial aircraft operations and read this article around Airbus journey towards green hydrogen. The energy density of green hydrogen is three times that of traditional jet fuel, making it a promising zero-emissions technology for aircraft fuel.
Hydrogen cities – South Korea and Saudi Arabia lead the way:
South Korea has embarked on an ambitious mission to create 3 ‘hydrogen’ cities by next year. These cities will use hydrogen as the major fuel for their cooling, heating, electricity, and transportation. Seoul is focused on promoting hydrogen-powered passenger cars and commercial vehicles in partnerships with Hyundai Motor Group and other car manufacturers, while increasing the number of hydrogen charging stations and offering government subsidies for the purchase of hydrogen cars.
Saudi Arabia is building a new city on the edge of the Red sea called ‘Neom’ and it is touted as the world’s most livable destination. Home to a million people, Neom will have flying taxis and robots for domestic help among other services and guess what will power this city? Not oil. Instead, Neom will be powered using ‘green hydrogen’.
The advantage that Saudi Arabia has is the availability of abundant wind and solar power that can be used to produce green hydrogen , providing electricity to power homes and electric cars, run energy-intensive industries like concrete and steel manufacturing as well as the transportation industry.
What is India doing ?
Currently India’s energy mix is around 60% from coal, 14% from hydro, 8% from gas, 2% from nuclear, and renewable energy (solar/wind/biomass) is around 16%. India’s goal is to increase its energy source from renewables to 40% by 2030 and that includes ‘green hydrogen energy’ contributing to 4% of renewable energy.
In Budget 2021 , Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman has announced a focused hydrogen mission from renewable power sources that aims to reduce India’s carbon footprint with major emphasis on clean energy.
India’s top energy companies Reliance Industries, Adani Group, NTPC, Indian Oil Corp are increasingly looking at moving to carbon-free fuel such as green hydrogen and investing in technology to replace coal and crude oil with clean electricity and hydrogen. Heavy-duty, long-distance transportation, where electric vehicles would not be competitive is an area that green hydrogen fuel can make a huge difference.
What are the challenges today ?
Green hydrogen technology is still being fine-tuned, the process of electrolysis is expensive, and storage of hydrogen is complex as its weight and volume are high. It is also not easy to simply replace all existing infrastructure with hydrogen technology and hence transition to green power will take time.
Currently green hydrogen costs about three times as much as natural gas and it is anticipated that in 10 years’ time the costs will be comparable. As countries and corporations make huge investments towards a carbon free future, it may be sooner that we have this ‘miracle from water: green hydrogen’ a part of our daily lives.