India is doing its part in the race to reduce global carbon emissions by exploring technologies and processes that will help lead to steady progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. India aims to become energy independent by 2047 and achieve net zero status for carbon emissions by 2070.
Both government and the private sector are ramping up efforts to find energy sources that will enable India to transition away from conventional hydrocarbon-based fuels towards fuels like green hydrogen as a promising and viable energy resource. Green hydrogen (GH2) is emerging as the pillar of decarbonization.
Green Hydrogen Potential
Hydrogen has long been critical to oil refining, fertilizer production and general industrial uses. Although hydrogen itself is a carbon-free energy resource, it is mostly produced through steam methane reforming (SMR) of natural gas, a method that emits significant volumes of carbon dioxide (CO2).
Though SMR is widely utilized today, there are a number of other methods that can be employed to produce hydrogen with minimal environmental impacts. One such method, utilizing electrolysis powered by renewable energy, has come to be called green hydrogen due to its potential as a zero-emissions energy resource.
Green hydrogen is produced through electrolysis of water in an electrochemical process that splits the water molecule into its constituent elements of hydrogen and oxygen. The electrolyzers are paired with renewable power assets such as wind or solar, a process that can achieve multiple benefits as the renewable power assets can remain online during periods when they may be curtailed otherwise, due to low demand on the grid.
India’s Refineries Looking at Green Hydrogen
Capturing CO2 emissions produced by SMR — a process called blue hydrogen — is an option that could help bridge the gap forward for refiners but is increasingly posing concerns over high costs of infrastructure required for CO2 absorption.
Though green hydrogen production also incurs significant costs due to high energy demand, it is generally considered a more attractive option for India than other methods. This is mainly because per capita energy consumption in India is eight to 10 times lower than in developed countries, creating greater flexibility to develop green hydrogen with less economic impact.
Three Indian refineries currently are piloting green hydrogen production utilizing electrolysis powered by 20 megawatts (MW) of renewable power. Soon, another 66 MW of renewable power will be made available for green hydrogen.
Several feasibility studies have been completed or are underway by both government agencies and private sector entities. This is a good indicator of widespread momentum among multiple companies and the public sector in developing advanced technology to improve efficiency and bring down costs.
Current pilot projects are investigating both anion exchange membrane (AEM) and proton exchange membrane (PEM) electrolyzer technologies for the relative costs and benefits of each. AEM is the oldest electrolysis technology but has limitations related to low production rates and pressures. PEM is a more advanced technology that allows more capacity and energy density during production but is burdened by the high cost of metal catalysts such as iridium, platinum and titanium. These metals are rare in India and generally must be imported from China for assembly within India.
However, there are supply chain issues related to sourcing from China. Hence, developing a low-cost electrolyzer and reducing dependency on China for critical components is the need of the hour.
Outlook for the Future
Green hydrogen has great potential as an alternative clean fuel of the future in India. Currently, 500 MW of power is being generated through green hydrogen and efforts are underway to boost this production to 5 GW by 2030.
India intends to be a partner with the rest of the world in researching and developing the most economical clean fuels of the future. Though many challenges stand in the way — ranging from cost of renewable power generation and cost of storing and transporting hydrogen to the need to master electrolyzer technology and complexity of electric fuel cells — rapid advances are likely to come. Progress on these issues will make it possible for green hydrogen to take its place as a viable path forward to a sustainable future.
As India moves toward a clean energy portfolio, safety in the process industries becomes even more important, requiring diligence in safe work standards and rigorous safety training.