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NEW DELHI : Toyota Motor Corp., Hyundai Motor Co., Tata Motors Ltd, Ashok Leyland Ltd and KPIT Technologies Ltd have evinced interest in India’s maiden initiative to run hydrogen-powered fuel cell-based electric cars and buses, said three people aware of the development.

NTPC Ltd, India’s largest power generator, plans to issue a tender shortly to procure 20 such vehicles for pilot projects in New Delhi and Leh, the people said, requesting anonymity.

The state-run company is also expected to invite bids for setting up 1-megawatt electrolyzers each in Delhi and Leh to fuel these zero-emission vehicles with green hydrogen, the people said, adding NTPC may also run super-luxury hydrogen buses between Delhi and Jaipur.

“Besides Toyota and Hyundai, commercial vehicle manufacturers like Tata Motors and Ashok Leyland have also been working on developing such vehicles, and most of them are eager to showcase their technology," said one of the three people cited above. The tender will be to offer a total of 10 buses and 10 cars for Leh and Delhi, the person said.

The government has been urging automakers to develop vehicles that run on cleaner fuels to curb rampant vehicular pollution in most major cities. It thus plans to promote hydrogen vehicles, in addition to rolling out incentives for local manufacturing of lithium-ion cells.

This comes amid the proposed National Hydrogen Energy Mission, which may mandate fertilizer, steel and petrochemicals industries to shift to green hydrogen. The proposal is expected to be taken up by the Union cabinet for approval shortly.

Japan’s Toyota and South Korea’s Hyundai are globally leading the race for developing hydrogen fuel cell-based vehicles that leave water as waste. This technology is thus viewed as more eco-friendly than lithium-ion battery-powered electric vehicles and is seen as the ultimate replacement for internal combustion engines.

“Green hydrogen" gas is considered the most eco-friendly as it is produced by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen using an electrolyzer, and is powered by electricity generated from clean energy sources such as wind and solar.

To be sure, hydrogen has not been a success yet even in wealthy countries because of the high cost of storing and transporting hydrogen fuel cells. The high cost of hydrogen vehicles has also hindered their large-scale customer acceptance.

The government is encouraging the use of hydrogen fuel cell- based cars and those powered by lithium-ion batteries, and has mandated some state-run companies, including NTPC, to ascertain their suitability in the country.

“More such pilots are expected to be conducted in the coming years as the government is getting serious about reducing vehicular pollution," said the second person cited above.

Hyundai has been planning to introduce a hydrogen fuel cell-based electric sport-utility vehicle, Nexo, in India for the past few years. Toyota has also been showcasing its capability in this space with its product, the Mirai.

“The expression of interest for hydrogen fuel cell-based vehicles has already been issued by NTPC Vidyut Vyapar Nigam Ltd. NTPC is also planning to call for a tender for sub 1MW electrolyzer (one each in Delhi and Leh) to fuel these vehicles," the third person said.

In November, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced plans to launch a National Hydrogen Energy Mission, buttressing the country’s green energy credentials with the carbon emission-free next-generation fuel.

India plans to build hydrogen plants that will run on electricity produced by green energy sources and help reduce dependence on fossil fuels. These plants will provide grid-scale storage solutions and provide feedstock for ammonia production.

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