Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday formally announced the launch of a National Hydrogen Mission to expedite plans to generate carbon-free fuel from renewables as he set a target of 2047 for India to achieve self-reliance in energy.
Addressing the nation on the 75th Independence Day from the ramparts of the Red Fort, Prime Minister Modi announced the National Hydrogen Mission in a push for India’s energy security. Stressing on the need for energy independence, PM Modi announced that the government intends to make India a global hub for Green Hydrogen production and exports.
“Green hydrogen will give India a quantum jump in achieving its targets,” he asserted.
Today, I am announcing the National Hydrogen Mission in view of climate change. We have to make India a hub for production and export of Green Hydrogen: Prime Minister Narendra Modi pic.twitter.com/jWcaSdEW3G— ANI (@ANI) August 15, 2021
In his speech, the Prime Minister also noted that India could achieve self-reliance in energy through a mix of a gas-based economy, adding sugarcane extracted ethanol in petrol and electric mobility. “For India to progress, for Atmanirbhar Bharat, energy independence is necessary,” he said. “India has to take a pledge that it will be energy independent by the year we celebrate the 100th year of Independence,” he noted.
Prime Minister Modi’s statements on the need for self-sufficiency in energy comes against the backdrop of India spending Rs.12 trillion annually to meet the energy needs. With mounting import bills on securing India’s energy needs, the announcement of a National Hydrogen Mission to put greater emphasis on Hydrogen-based energy is significant.
The Modi government first announced the National Hydrogen Mission in the Union Budget for 2021-22 in February this year. The Union Budget for 2021-22 had announced a National Hydrogen Energy Mission (NHM) that will draw up a road map for using hydrogen as an energy source.
What is Hydrogen-based energy?
As we know, Hydrogen is the lightest and first element on the periodic table. Hydrogen is also the simplest element on earth as it consists of only one proton and one electron. At standard temperature and pressure, Hydrogen is a nontoxic, nonmetallic, odourless, tasteless, colourless, and highly combustible gas.
The gaseous element is an energy carrier, not an energy source, but can be used to store, move, and deliver energy produced from other sources. Hydrogen weighs less than air, hence it rises in the atmosphere and is therefore rarely found in its pure form, i.e. H2.
However, it does not typically exist by itself in nature and must be produced from compounds that contain it. Hence, the gaseous element must be converted into Hydrogen fuel to be used as a clean energy source.
The production of Hydrogen Fuel
Even though Hydrogen fuel is a source of clean energy, the manufacturing of Hydrogen fuel, however, is energy-intensive and has carbon byproducts. Hydrogen fuel can be produced through several methods. The most common methods today are natural gas reforming through a thermal process and electrolysis. Other methods include solar-driven and biological processes.
In Thermal processes, Hydrogen fuel production typically involves steam reforming at high temperatures, in which steam is made to react with a hydrocarbon fuel to produce Hydrogen. Many hydrocarbon fuels can be reformed to produce hydrogen, including natural gas, diesel, renewable liquid fuels, gasified coal, or gasified biomass.
Today, about 95% of all hydrogen is produced from steam reforming of natural gas. However, Hydrogen fuel is extracted from hydrocarbons, leaving a large carbon footprint. The Hydrogen fuel produced in this process is known as Grey Hydrocarbon. This process constitutes India’s bulk production. Similarly, the Hydrogen fuel formed from burning coal is referred to as Brown Hydrogen.
But thanks to innovation, scientists have come up with Blue Hydrogen, a fuel that leaves less carbon footprint. Blue hydrogen is often considered a low-carbon fuel for generating electricity and storing energy. Blue hydrogen is produced using the same reforming process that is used to create Grey and Brown hydrogen, however, the Carbon emissions so produced in the process would be captured and stored underground.
However, there is a catch. Scientists now believe that Blue Hydrogen may be no better solution and potentially a fair bit worse than continuing to use fossil fuels. As Carbon capture and storage equipment are expensive, it only raises the price of the fuel. The process of making blue hydrogen also requires a lot of energy.
As per scientists, for every unit of heat in the natural gas at the start of the process, only 70-75% of that potential heat remains in the hydrogen product. So, to put it simply, if Hydrogen is used to heat a building, one would need to use 25% more natural gas to make Blue Hydrogen than if it was used directly for heat, hence making it unviable.
Hydrogen fuel can also be produced through an electrolytic process. Electrolysis is the process of using electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. Therefore, electrolysis offers a promising option for carbon-free Hydrogen production from renewable and nuclear resources.
Electrolysis processes take place in an electrolyser, in which H2O or water is decomposed into Oxygen and Hydrogen gas. The Hydrogen gas so obtained is considered clean and carbon-free, and it is referred to as Green Hydrogen. As it leaves Oxygen as a byproduct, it is beneficial for nature and does not cause any harm.
Not just Electrolysis, there are other ways to produce Green Hydrogen. For example, scientists have successfully used solar energy and wind energy technologies to split Hydrogen from the water molecule.
Research is underway to develop other ways to produce Green Hydrogen, such as using microbes that use light to make Hydrogen or converting biomass into gas or liquids and separating the Hydrogen.
Another efficient way of producing Hydrogen fuel is through Biological processes. In this process, microbes such as bacteria and microalgae are used to produce Hydrogen through biological reactions.
In microbial biomass conversion, the microbes tear down organic matter such as biomass or wastewater to produce Hydrogen. In photobiological processes, the microbes use sunlight as the energy source and use the natural photosynthetic activity of bacteria and green algae to produce Hydrogen.
This is another source of Green Hydrogen.
Currently, almost all Hydrogen fuel in India comes from fossil fuels, i.e., Grey, Brown or Blue Hydrogen. However, Prime Minister Modi intends to create an enabling environment to produce Green Hydrogen in the country. The announcement of the National Hydrogen Mission by Prime Minister Modi from the ramparts of Red Fort has now given a significant impetus to the clean energy sector in the country.
India puts its weight on Hydrogen as a source of clean energy
Through the National Hydrogen Mission, India must now capitalise on one of the most abundant elements on earth – Hydrogen for a cleaner alternative fuel option. India has a massive edge in Green Hydrogen production due to its favourable geographic conditions and abundant natural resources.
The focus on producing clean energy through Green Hydrogen is also in line with the Modi government’s ambitious goal of producing 175 GW of renewable energy by 2022. In addition, the usage of Hydrogen fuels, especially Green Hydrogen, will help India achieve its emission goals under the Paris Agreement and reduce import dependency on fossil fuels.
As mentioned in PM Modi’s Independence Day speech, India needs to augment its capacity in the production and storage of Green Hydrogen, a source of clean energy that in the future guarantees not only energy security but also ensures self-sufficiency.