What is green hydrogen and why it is important for India’s climate goals
Bombay: A new green method of producing hydrogen could reduce greenhouse gas emissions responsible for global warming and help countries meet their climate goals.
“Green” hydrogen is produced using renewable energy to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen. In contrast, the conventional process of manufacturing hydrogen uses fossil fuels.
Hydrogen is a key input in fertilizers and refineries, so green hydrogen would help these industries reduce overall emissions. It could also be used in steelmaking to reduce emissions by replacing the use of coal as an energy source and as a reducing agent.
“So far we have focused on renewable energy sources for clean electricity, but for industries and the transportation sector to go to net zero emissions, we need clean fuel; green hydrogen can play a vital role in this regard, ”Amit Kumar, a former senior director of social transformation at The Institute of Energy and Resources (TERI), says IndiaSpend.
As extreme weather events around the world raise awareness of the urgency of climate action, countries strive to cut emissions – many have already announced “net zero” objectives – limit global warming to 1.5-2 degrees Celsius (° C). Green hydrogen is seen as a key element in a global, economic and systemic transition towards a lower carbon footprint for humanity.
In India, the central government and several states are launching programs to support the production and use of green hydrogen. In September 2021, Kerala talks started with energy companies to produce green hydrogen from a solar power plant at Cochin airport. In August, the Prime Minister announcement the National Hydrogen Mission to support India’s energy transition goals. Our explanation explains what green hydrogen is and why it is important for India.
The different kinds of hydrogen
India’s demand for gray hydrogen– produced from fossil fuels – was around six million tonnes in 2020, according to a report by TERI.
“Hydrogen is basically a colorless gas; the colors – green, blue, turquoise and gray – indicate how it is produced, ”said Ashish Guhan Bhaskar, an energy engineer affiliated with the Energy, Environment and Water Council (CEEW), “Green hydrogen is the only clean type that uses renewable energy.”
By 2050, India will experience a five-fold increase in gray demand for hydrogen, the TERI report predicted. But it is only by 2030 that green hydrogen will become competitive with hydrogen from fossil fuels, when its cost is expected to drop by more than 50%, which is below $ 2 (Rs 147 / kg). Its current cost is between $ 3 / kg (Rs 221 / kg) and $ 10 / kg (Rs 737 / kg).
Areas where green hydrogen can be used
Green hydrogen can help decarbonize sectors such as shipping and transportation, where it can be used as a fuel, as well as in manufacturing industries such as steel and chemicals, where it can be an important feedstock as well as a fuel. It could to replace fossil fuels in the production of electricity and be used to store renewable energy. In addition, green hydrogen could be used in gas turbines, as well as ammonia, to manage fluctuations in electricity demand and supply.
Take the example of steel and iron, among the most polluting sectors in the world which represent 7% global greenhouse gas emissions. Steel – used in everything from bridges to cars – should help 35% of India’s carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion and industry by 2050, according to a TERI report.
Hydrogen has two uses in steel production – as reducing agent and as fuel. Radical changes are needed in iron and steel production technology to make the process sustainable and carbon neutral, the International Energy Agency said in a 2020 report report. Green hydrogen could be one of those breakthroughs.
The countries of the world, including Australia and members of European Union, are experimenting with hydrogen-based green steel. Some of the world’s largest steelmakers, including ArcelorMittal and Thyssenkrupp, are in various stages of transition to a green steel made from green hydrogen. Steel tata piloted green steel in Europe in 2020, but would always be looking for ways at the commercial scale of the plant.
Hydrogen-based green steel would help India avoid carbon taxes at borders. It is the second in the world largest steel producer, having exported 10.15 million tonnes in 2020-21. “Countries, especially in the European Union, are starting to tax the carbon footprint, so our steel industry is going to take a hit if it doesn’t plan for decarbonization,” Hemant Mallya, senior program manager at Energy, Environment and Water Council, a New Delhi-based think tank, said IndiaSpend.
Steelmakers would need new equipment because “the majority of existing steel is produced using a blast furnace – a giant cylinder where you dump your coal, iron ore and other aggregates,” said Mallya. “For hydrogen-based green steel, you need a shaft furnace which is a different technology”
The main challenge in the transition to green hydrogen is to make it economically competitive and commercially viable. Steel made from green hydrogen costs 50-127% more than steel made from conventional coal, a report by CEEW estimated in 2021.
“India needs to put in place some sort of regulatory mechanism or incentives to switch to green hydrogen and green steel,” TERI’s Kumar said. But so far, the government has yet to release the policy framework for the deployment of green hydrogen.
The deployment of green hydrogen is still in the pilot stage and although many countries, including India, have announced national hydrogen programs, they have yet to plan how it will be marketed on a large scale, according to a CEEW from September 2021. report. The report proposes a multi-country alliance to financially and technologically support and develop green hydrogen technologies. Business and government should proactively collaborate to go green, suggested a 2021 TERI report. In India, companies including Reliance Industries and JSW Steel, as well as think tank experts, have formed a coalition, called the Hydrogen Alliance in India, to plan India’s green hydrogen roadmap.
India also needs more research on how to use green hydrogen in green steel. Currently, the focus is only on deploying green steel and not on finding innovative ways to use green hydrogen, Kumar said, suggesting that India is using its Recent US-India Partnership for the 2030 Climate and Energy Agenda encourage collaboration on such research.
In addition, India is expected to gradually switch to green steel, first mixing green hydrogen with gray hydrogen, a recent CEEW report suggested. “An overnight transition to a steel industry without fossil fuels will be very expensive,” Mallya said. By 2030, the lowest green steel production cost would still be 22% higher than coal-based steel, according to the CEEW report.
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