Indian Oil Corporation's research and development (R&D) centre has been working since the early 2000s to explore the use of hydrogen as a fuel. The use of this gas as a fuel has recently been tested by mixing it with compressed natural gas (CNG) to make H-CNG.
This is the next logical step for adopting hydrogen as a fuel, according to officials at the R&D facility of Indian Oil.
The R&D division is also in the process of closing a tender to generate clean hydrogen and demonstrate running of vehicles with this fuel.
The end-to-end tender involves a demonstration of manufacturing hydrogen from four different technological routes and having car manufacturers running vehicles on gas. This demonstration project is expected to be completed by 2022.
“Broadly speaking, if hydrogen is available at less than Rs 700 per kilogramme (kg) at the point of use, it will be comparable to a petrol-run vehicle at present market prices. This can be possible in another decade with more technological investments in the hydrogen ecosystem,” an official from Indian Oil’s R&D division told Business Standard.
“The first step for adoption of hydrogen will be through H-CNG. Indian Oil R&D has found that by mixing hydrogen with CNG, up to around 18 per cent by volume, it will not have any adverse effect on the vehicle. Further, efficiency of the vehicle will improve and emissions will come down. We have set up a 4 tonne per day plant for this at Rajghat in Delhi and are servicing 50 H-CNG compatible buses from it,” the Indian Oil official added.
In October 2020, Indian Oil’s R&D centre had announced that it developed a patented compact reforming process for H-CNG production directly from natural gas.
“Since existing vehicles cannot use H-CNG, these 50 buses were tuned to accommodate it and are in a trial phase. The final outcome is expected in a month or two. The trends are positive, reflecting more efficiency and environment friendliness than CNG buses,” the official said.
“H-CNG will not be cheaper than CNG at purchase price, but when taking into account the incremental benefit, it will be cheaper. These results can be quantified in a month,” he added.
Using pure and clean hydrogen
However, the currently available hydrogen manufacturing approach is not clean or green. The hydrogen here is made from natural gas or naphtha, largely using steam-methane reforming. This puts dependence on fossil fuel as a source of hydrogen.
“This is not viable for putting in cars from a cost and compatibility perspective. In a decade from today, pure and neat hydrogen can be used, and demonstration projects have started in the world and India. A large amount of R&D work for generating green hydrogen is also being done at Indian Oil R&D,” the official said.
“Any vehicle that runs purely on hydrogen will be equivalent to an electric vehicle. This is because when hydrogen goes to a fuel cell, the cell produces electricity, which runs the vehicle. So, a fuel cell is the future of battery and hydrogen is a future fuel,” he added.
Clean hydrogen manufacturing facilities that produce hydrogen from water are currently available in Japan, Germany, and a few European countries.
They use solar electrolysers to break down water into its basic constituents of hydrogen and oxygen. It is expected that such projects are going to come up in India too.
“IndianOil has floated a tender for setting up a green hydrogen generation demonstration unit. We have proposed making green hydrogen from four different techniques. It is expected to be awarded in three months and project implementation will take another year from the date of award. We are hopeful that by mid-2022, we will see ready-to-demonstrate systems at our R&D centre in Faridabad, Haryana,” the Indian Oil official said.
“The tender seeks to develop an ecosystem and has sought participation from car manufacturers. Vehicle manufacturers are already planning for these new technologies. Tata Motors has already conducted trials with hydrogen fuel cells installed in buses. Ashok Leyland, Maruti, Hyundai and Toyota are also said to be participating in this technology,” he said, adding, “It is a bit of a chicken-and-egg where car manufacturers are waiting for the hydrogen fuel to be available and fuel companies are hoping for a better ecosystem, including availability of cars.”
Centre’s push towards hydrogen fuel
In November 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced the launch of the National Hydrogen Energy Mission. This was also reiterated in the Union Budget 2021-2022 by finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman.
An important requirement for large scale adoption of hydrogen, similar to CNG, is the need for specialised fuel cells.
“Hydrogen is a very light gas, and occupies a lot of volume. It cannot be placed in the same cylinders as CNG because it requires much more pressure. The challenges to hydrogen are transportation and storage. Hydrogen is currently being used in oil refineries. The costs of storage, purification and transport in bringing it to the cities drives up the prices,” said the IndianOil official.
To attempt a solution to these issues, in February 2021, petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan oversaw the signing of a statement of intent between Indian Oil and Greenstat Hydrogen India, a subsidiary of Greenstat Norway, for setting up a centre for excellence on hydrogen.
In the last week of March, Pradhan also held a meeting with US Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm. The two reviewed the India-US Strategic Energy Cooperation (SEP).
They agreed to prioritise greater collaboration in cleaner energy sector- biofuels, CCUS, hydrogen production and carbon sequestration through technology exchange, joint R&D through Partnership to Advance Clean Energy Research (PACE-R), among other initiatives, an official statement said.
But the Petroleum Ministry is not the only government arm pushing for Hydrogen fuel. Surface Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari had also chaired a meeting of government agencies and representatives from research institutions where he said with nearly 81 per cent of Li-ion battery components available locally, India stands a good chance for value addition at lower costs.
Gadkari was reacting to the presentations made for different technologies, including lithium-ion, metal-ion, sodium sulphur, hydrogen, iron sulphur, polymer electrolyte membrane cell system and zinc gel, among others.
NTPC, a public sector enterprise under the administrative control of the Power Ministry is also exploring prospects for Hydrogen run buses and cars. According to recent reports, an NTPC tender to run hydrogen-powered fuel cell-based electric cars and buses has got responses from Toyota, Hyundai, Tata Motors, Ashok Leyland and KPIT Technologies. NTPC is expected to soon issue a tender for procuring 20 such vehicles for pilot projects in New Delhi and Leh.
Year 2000: IndianOil R&D begins work on hydrogen fuel
October 2020: IndianOil announces patented technology to generate H-CNG
November 2020: PM Modi announces National Hydrogen Energy Mission
February 2021: IndianOil inks pact with Norwegian firm for setting up Centre for hydrogen excellence
2022: IndianOil likely to demonstrate clean hydrogen-run vehicles