The story so far: At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, a few days ago, Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas Hardeep Singh Puri said India will emerge as the leader of green hydrogen by taking advantage of the current energy crisis across the globe. His assertion came almost a month after Oil India Limited (OIL) commissioned India’s first 99.99% pure green hydrogen plant in eastern Assam’s Jorhat.
A colourless, odourless, tasteless, non-toxic and highly combustible gaseous substance, hydrogen is the lightest, simplest and most abundant member of the family of chemical elements in the universe. But a colour — green — prefixed to it makes hydrogen the “fuel of the future”. The ‘green’ depends on how the electricity is generated to obtain the hydrogen, which does not emit greenhouse gas when burned.
Green hydrogen is produced through electrolysis using renewable sources of energy such as solar, wind or hydel power. Hydrogen can be ‘grey’ and ‘blue’ too. Grey hydrogen is generated through fossil fuels such as coal and gas and currently accounts for 95% of the total production in South Asia. Blue hydrogen, too, is produced using electricity generated by burning fossil fuels but with technologies to prevent the carbon released in the process from entering the atmosphere.
Under the Paris Agreement (a legally binding international treaty on climate change with the goal of limiting global warming to below 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels) of 2015, India is committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 33-35% from the 2005 levels. At the 2021 Conference of Parties in Glasgow, India reiterated its commitment to move from a fossil and import-dependent economy to a net-zero economy by 2070. India’s average annual energy import bill is more than $100 billion and the increased consumption of fossil fuel has made the country a high carbon dioxide (CO2) emitter, accounting for nearly 7% of the global CO2 burden. In order to become energy independent by 2047, the government stressed the need to introduce green hydrogen as an alternative fuel that can make India the global hub and a major exporter of hydrogen.
The National Hydrogen Mission was launched on August 15, 2021, with a view to cutting down carbon emissions and increasing the use of renewable sources of energy.
India has just begun to generate green hydrogen with the objective of raising non-fossil energy capacity to 500 gigawatts by 2030.
It was on April 20, 2022 that the public sector OIL, which is headquartered in eastern Assam’s Duliajan, set up India’s first 99.99% pure green hydrogen pilot plant in keeping with the goal of “making the country ready for the pilot-scale production of hydrogen and its use in various applications” while “research and development efforts are ongoing for a reduction in the cost of production, storage and the transportation” of hydrogen.
The plant was set up at the petroleum exploration major’s Jorhat pump station, also in eastern Assam.
Powered by a 500 KW solar plant, the green hydrogen unit has an installed capacity to produce 10 kg of hydrogen per day and scale it up to 30 kg per day.
A specialised blender has also been installed for blending green hydrogen produced from the unit with the natural gas supplied by the Assam Gas Corporation Limited and supplying the blended gas to the Jorhat area for domestic and industrial use.
OIL has engaged experts from the Indian Institute of Technology-Guwahati to assess the impact of the blended gas on the existing facility.
The intermittent nature of renewable energy, especially wind, leads to grid instability. Green hydrogen can be stored for long periods of time. The stored hydrogen can be used to produce electricity using fuel cells. In a fuel cell, a device that converts the energy of a chemical into electricity, hydrogen gas reacts with oxygen to produce electricity and water vapour. Hydrogen, thus, can act as an energy storage device and contribute to grid stability. Experts say the oxygen, produced as a by-product (8 kg of oxygen is produced per 1 kg of hydrogen), can also be monetised by using it for industrial and medical applications or for enriching the environment. The possibilities of hydrogen have made many countries pledge investments with Portugal having unveiled a national hydrogen strategy worth $7.7 billion in May. Renewable developers see green hydrogen as an emerging market and some have targeted the transport sector, although electric vehicles have begun to catch the imagination of consumers today.