19 Mar 2023  |   05:58am IST

Green Hydrogen: An Idea whose time has come?

Budget 2023 provided a new direction for India’s transition to clean energy. The government is targeting around 5 million tonnes (MT) of green hydrogen production by 2030, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced in her budget speech last month. For starters, what is green hydrogen, and why are countries keen on promoting its usage?

   Hydrogen is an odourless, invisible gas. Highly inflammable at standard temperature and pressure, it is the most abundant chemical element in the universe. However, it is rarely available in pure form. It mostly exists with oxygen to form water (H2O). Hydrogen can be produced from various resources such as natural gas, solar energy, nuclear power, and wind. Hydrogen is an indispensable industrial fuel that has a variety of uses from producing ammonia, making cement and steel, to powering fuel cells that can run cars and buses. Its intrinsic chemical characteristics, multiple end-uses, and harmony with other fuel and energy carriers make it one of the strongest contenders for the clean energy transition apart from electrification, battery storage systems, bio energy, carbon, capture, utilisation, and storage (CCUS).  

   But what is green hydrogen? Hydrogen produced by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen, using power from renewable energy sources such as solar or wind is referred to as ‘green hydrogen’. The hydrogen thus produced can be used as a clean and renewable fuel for transportation, electricity generation, and other purposes. It has increasingly found relevance in today’s energy policy ecosystem, given its ability to decarbonise ‘hard-to-abate’ industries. Countries with net-zero emission targets have been exploring ways to increase the usage of green hydrogen in their economy for decades.

   The problem of climate change cannot be resolved unless we cut carbon emissions. Considered an alternative fuel, green hydrogen can change our dependency on polluting fossil fuels. It is also referred to as the fuel of the future as it does not emit harmful, polluting gases during production or use. This means there are no carbon emissions, hence it is eco-friendly and sustainable. This fuel alternative can be used in industrial applications and can be easily stored as a gas or liquid. It can be used to power household appliances and carried by tankers to hydrogen filling stations.

   Countries worldwide are working on building green hydrogen capacity as it can ensure energy security and help cut emissions to a great extent. Green hydrogen, which is highly expensive to produce, currently accounts for less than 1% of global hydrogen production. With the goal of making the country an energy-independent nation and decarbonising critical sectors, the Centre in January approved an INR 19,744-crore National Green Hydrogen Mission. Set to give a new direction to India, the mission’s aim is to encourage commercial production of green hydrogen and facilitate demand creation, utilisation, and export of the fuel. Under the programme, States and regions capable of supporting large-scale production or utilisation of hydrogen will be identified and developed as Green Hydrogen Hubs.

   Green hydrogen is an important element of energy transition. We need to first further accelerate the deployment of renewable electricity to decarbonise existing power systems, accelerate the electrification of the energy sector to leverage low-cost renewable electricity before finally decarbonising sectors that are difficult to electrify- for example shipping, heavy industry and aviation- through green hydrogen. This goal of decarbonisation of industries by replacing the use of fossil fuels with green hydrogen will undoubtedly require a great deal of support from the government since the sector is still in its nascent stages. It is important to note that today we produce a significant amount of grey hydrogen, with extremely high CO2 (and methane) emissions: the immediate priority would be to begin decarbonising existing hydrogen demand, for example by replacing ammonia from natural gas with green ammonia.  

   Although green hydrogen is now considered a viable way to cut carbon emissions, major challenges remain in scaling up the technology and making it more cost-effective. Today, high technology costs, lack of adequate international supply chain, and lack of awareness impact the commercialisation, infrastructure development, and demand creation of hydrogen. However, the recent policy developments portray India’s serious intentions in transitioning towards green hydrogen in the long term.

   India is in a great position with good sunshine as well as low renewable energy rates. For India, there is no better way to reduce global warming and its carbon footprint than by becoming a major producer of green hydrogen.


Iddhar Udhar