In March 2022, Nitin Gadkari (Minister for Road Transport & Highways, GoI) went viral on Twitter when he arrived at the parliament in a green hydrogen-powered car – the Toyota Mirai. In Japanese, the word Mirai means future; it is one of the few cars developed that run on hydrogen-powered fuel cells. The minister’s drive to the parliament was to raise awareness about India’s vision to replace coal and petrol with green hydrogen.
India is highly dependent on coal and oil to run its three major industries- steel, transportation, and chemicals. And these industries are also the ones that add the most pollutants to the environment. According to the Paris Pact, India has decided to cut down its emissions by 33% by the end of 2030. Green Hydrogen promises the most hopeful solution, as hydrogen can create a vast amount of energy without emissions. All hydrogen-powered fuel cells release water vapor as emissions.
Green hydrogen is hydrogen produced by using renewable energy as a source. Hydrogen is a very reactive element and is rarely found in its ionic state in nature. The word hydrogen fuel creates a misconception that hydrogen is an energy source, but in reality, hydrogen is only an energy carrier. Hydrogen is produced by electrolysis; an electric current is passed through water to disassociate the compound into hydrogen and oxygen. The electricity needed for this process can be sourced via different methods. The term grey hydrogen is used when electricity needed for the purpose is sourced by coal or methane. Blue Hydrogen uses the same processes as grey hydrogen, but the carbon emissions in the process are captured and reused. Green Hydrogen sources the electricity from renewable sources such as wind turbines, hydroelectric plants and solar plants, and hence creating the least environmental impact.
Transportation is one major carbon-emitting industries. In India, it constitutes 11% of the total carbon emissions. With companies like Tesla mass-producing electric vehicles (EVs), the emissions through transportation are expected to reduce. But many experts are skeptical about EV’s success in developing countries. Given the ever-increasing population of India and the large expansive geography of India, it would be a major bottleneck to establish an efficient network of charging stations.
Electric vehicles need to be charged, unlike petrol or diesel where you can fill up your tank within minutes. On average, an electric car runs 180kms on a 1-hour charge; the charging times would seriously affect the distribution system and disrupt other major and essential services which depend on large goods vehicles such as trucks. Electric vehicles can be used for personal travel, but they are not viable for commercial use in heavy vehicles at their current efficiency and charging times. Hydrogen fueled vehicles don’t face this problem. A hydrogen fuel vehicle can be refueled by simply attaching a nozzle just like a gas tank. They can be refueled in as little as 5 minutes, compared to hours of charging needed for EVs. Green Hydrogen gives the same advantages as petrol or diesel but without releasing any pollutants. Hydrogen-powered buses and trucks can take a payload upto 100 tons of weight and give a range between 500kms to 900 kms. Another disadvantage of EVs is the energy density of Lithium-ion batteries. Currently, their energy density is 1% of that of petrol/diesel fueled cars. Hence, as the size of the vehicle increases, the size of the battery increases proportionally, which in turn reduces the space available for storage in freight carrying vehicles. On the other hand, hydrogen is light and takes up less space.
The road to hydrogen-fueled cars is not exactly a bed of roses. The biggest hurdle in its path is energy efficiency. When hydrogen is made via electrolysis it is only 75% efficient, it is then compressed and stored in a cylinder, it loses another 10% in the process. Again, when hydrogen is converted into electricity in the fuel cell, it is only 55% efficient. The total efficiency of the entire process comes to a meager 32% which is very low compared to EVs, whose efficiency is 80%.
But as technology moves forward, governments across the world including India are investing heavily in the research and development of green hydrogen. Recent investments have seen development of hydrogen-powered technologies for cargo-ships and trains. Once the technology is developed, it has the potential to completely disrupt the transportation sector.
Leave A Comment