Hydrogen as an alternative fuel

GS 3 Science and Technology Developments and their applications and effects in everyday life.

Introduction

         Hydrogen fuel cells produce electricity by combining hydrogen and oxygen atoms ; reacts with oxygen across an electrochemical cell similar to that of a battery to produce electricity, water, and small amounts of heat.

Current Scenario:

  • In Union Budget address, Finance Minister announced that India will launch its National Hydrogen Energy Mission (NHEM) in 2021-22.
  • The proposal in the Budget will be followed up with a mission –
    • a roadmap for using hydrogen as an energy source,
    • with a specific focus on green hydrogen,
    • dovetailing India’s growing renewable capacity with the hydrogen economy.

Need of using hydrogen as an energy source:

  • India with a population of 1.3 billion is the second most populous country and the third largest economy (measured by purchasing power parity) in the world.
  • The country is advancing on a faster growth path:
    • decrease in poverty level,
    • increased energy access for citizens,
    • availability of cleaner cooking fuel
    • growing penetration of renewables,
  • Proposed end-use sectors include steel and chemicals, the major industry that hydrogen has the potential of transforming is transportation
    • which contributes a third of all greenhouse gas emissions,
    • where hydrogen is being seen as a direct replacement of fossil fuels,
    • with specific advantages over traditional EVs.

Key Role in transforming climate-neutral systems:

  • Has high energy content per unit mass, three times higher than gasoline.
  • Used for energy applications with suitable fuel cells.
  • Potential to contribute towards decarbonised, sustainable, secure energy future.
  • The need is to introduce it into more diverse set of energy sources of its production and then move on to green hydrogen.
  • The transition pathways which make use of existing infrastructure and skills will be both economically feasible and easier to adapt.

Tackle various critical energy challenges:

  • Decarbonise a range of sectors including intensive and long-haul transport, chemicals.
  • Iron and steel, proving difficult to meaningfully reduce emissions and help to improve air quality and strengthen energy security.
  • It increases flexibility in power systems.
  • Storing energy from renewables
    • become the lowest-cost option for storing large quantities of electricity.

Key challenges:

  • In order to make it a viable option,
    • new material development, electrolytes, storage, safety, and standards, need to be addressed.
  • Can help to reduce global warming,
    • acceleration of efforts is critical to ensuring a significant share of hydrogen in the energy system.
  • Using hydrogen commercially is a challenge on  economic sustainability of extracting green or blue hydrogen.
  • The technology used in production and use of hydrogen like carbon capture and storage (CCS) and hydrogen fuel cell technology are at nascent stage and is expensive
    • which in turn increases the cost of production of hydrogen.
  • The maintenance costs for fuel cells post-completion of a plant can be costly, like in South Korea.
  • The commercial usage of hydrogen as a fuel and in industries requires mammoth investment in R&D of such technology and infrastructure for production, storage, transportation and demand creation for hydrogen.

Current Status:

  • The clean hydrogen technologies are available, costs are coming down, efficiency and performance are improving.
  • Two key developments contributed to the growth:
    • The cost of hydrogen supply from renewables has come down and continues to fall,
    • While the urgency of greenhouse gas emission mitigation has increased, and many countries have begun to take action to decarbonise their economies.

Way Forward

  • Identify the key long-term goals and the step to achieve those goals.
  • The building up of policies, infrastructure and skills will help in
    • wider acceptance,
    • reducing perceived risks,
    • enhancing confidence,
    • increased investments,
    • lowering costs.
  • Thus, the major challenges we need to finally meet is
    • scaling up,
    • cost reduction,
    • increased adoption
    • sustainable growth of hydrogen-based technologies.

Conclusion:

          The role that Government can play is towards creating a long-term policy framework which could build up confidence in private investment, create market demand with policy interventions, develop standards and regulations which should not hurdle the growth, provide enhanced R & D support.

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