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Storms, floods and wildfires are intensifying worldwide along with concerns of unpredictable weather causing untold damage to homes and livelihoods. Many environmental worries have surfaced on account of our increased use of fossil fuels for the generation, transformation and use of energy. While the impact of climate change will be devastating, advances in handling this crisis have led to cleaner air, created new jobs and spurred economic growth. Far more can be achieved in the field of clean energy.

It has become imperative to employ fuels and energy from renewable resources such as solar, wind or hydrogen. Of these, hydrogen, specifically, is an energy carrier that can provide emission-free fuel for transportation and thereby aid the transformation of our fossil-fuel-dependent economy into an environmentally-friendly one.

Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India is looking to kick-start the development of a green-hydrogen ecosystem. Initiatives aimed at the greater use of hydrogen in India’s energy mix have already been taken. The National Hydrogen Mission has created a road-map for this, and pilot projects on blue hydrogen, green hydrogen and hydrogen compressed natural gas (CNG) have been initiated. Thanks to technological advancements, hydrogen is being blended with CNG for use as transportation fuel as well as an industrial input to refineries. On a pilot basis, 50 buses in Delhi now run on hydrogen-blended CNG. The plan is to scale it up across the country’s major cities.

India requires centres of excellence for its ambitions in this emerging field and it is a good sign that these have already been envisioned under the Mission.

Hydrogen is colourless, odourless, non-toxic, highly volatile and classified as a flammable gas. It can be combustible when mixed with air in concentrations ranging from 4% to 75% by volume. Compared with other flammable substances, very little is required to ignite this gas. Hydrogen can be ignited by the static discharge of clothing, for example, and is even subject to spontaneous combustion. Hydrogen is lighter than air and leaks are probable, but given the largely outdoor usage of it, safety is not a major concern because a leak will quickly dissipate. However, it’s important to prevent any accidental discharge. To achieve these goals and establish a hydrogen ecosystem, we should develop centres of excellence in each state and start training engineers and technicians right away.

The role of such centres cannot be underestimated. They will not only help expand the scope of hydrogen technologies and solutions, but also aid the generation of jobs within the country.

Advanced laboratories for research and training in process safety and the extensive use of virtual reality (and augmented reality) are some of the verticals that these centres could focus on. They can be expected to undertake scientific risk assessments, forensic audits of accidents, and, most importantly, advanced research for the development of models based on field data and forensic audits done of accidents. These centres should also help develop standards and operating codes for hydrogen production, storage, transportation and dispensing.

Under instructions of the government, plans are underway for centres of excellence to meet objectives that will go towards the achievement of our national targets. These objectives are simple, yet hard to attain in a short span of time. One goal is to develop bachelor’s, master’s and PhD academic programmes that are relevant to green hydrogen production, storage, transportation and dispensing, so that we have the requisite scientific expertise. Another such goal is to have research and development done at Indian educational institutions, with support from Norwegian hydrogen clusters, on the materials and equipment used in the hydrogen energy value chain.

Substantial research is needed to get useful suggestions on alternative choices of technology in the context of their technological and commercial feasibility. Further, we would need well-informed advice on regulatory and other policy matters related to our hydrogen energy industry.

In this context, of special utility will be a database of the findings of pilot and demonstration projects, which would assist the industry in simulating the potential of hydrogen energy at various prospective locations. The government’s encouragement of joint ventures and assistance in the commercialization of hydrogen applications of relevance to India will also give private-sector efforts an impetus.

With concerted action by all agents of change, including our centres of excellence, India could aspire to become a hydrogen export hub. Globally, massive projects that have helped deliver some of the world’s cheapest green power have seen high load factors, a sign of their success. It is claimed that renewable hydrogen costs could halve by 2030. Affordability will increase.

To realize India’s hydrogen vision, we require an administrable plan that covers a combination of technologies developed to address Indian concerns, while innovating in this field and following appropriate safety standards. Centres of excellence can play their part by paving the path to sustainable success as envisioned for the country.

J.P. Gupta is chairman, environment committee, PHDCCI, and managing director, Geenstat Hydrogen India Pvt Ltd.

 

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