There will be a stronger focus on hydrogen-powered vehicles in India soon, though pure electric technology is in great focus now in alternative fuel space, according to Dr R K Malhotra, President, Hydrogen Association of India.
There are two competitive technologies for zero tailpipe emission – pure electric battery vehicles and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, where electricity is generated from hydrogen in a device known as a fuel cell that powers the electric motor, are more energy efficient and up to twice that of internal combustion (IC) engine vehicles and have zero emissions like electric vehicles (EVs).
“While EVs are in great focus currently, there will be a momentum for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles with a variety of sources for hydrogen production, quick refueling time, longer range, fast reducing the overall cost of fuel cells and lower GHG emissions in heavy-duty vehicles,” said Malhotra.
The EV route is viable for two- and three-wheelers. But in cars/taxis and city buses, both pure electric battery vehicles and HFCVs will compete. However, for long-distance inter-State buses and trucks, hydrogen IC engines and/or HFCVs will be the preferred choice.
Leading commercial vehicle makers such as Tata Motors and Ashok Leyland are working on both hydrogen IC vehicles as well HFCVs. Last week, Tata Motors delivered its first hydrogen fuel cell-powered 12-metre bus to Indian Oil Corporation as part of a contract to provide 15 fuel cell electric buses.
Ashok Leyland has also developed a 9-metre hydrogen fuel cell bus for NTPC and it has also developed a heavy truck powered by hydrogen IC engine technology in collaboration with Reliance Industries.
Malhotra stated that burning hydrogen in IC engine tends to be most efficient under high load. “While heavy-duty trucks that tend to spend most of their time hauling the biggest load they can pull, IC engines are usually the ideal and efficient choice,” he added.
Fuel cell EVs, in contrast, are most efficient at lower loads like cars, taxis, and city buses, and vehicles that operate frequently without any load – tow trucks and concrete mixer trucks.
However, fuel cell vehicles are zero-emission vehicles, while hydrogen IC engines will have Nox emissions that need exhaust treatment,” he said.
There are three major challenges associated with HFCVs now – the cost of hydrogen production from various sources, fuel cell cost and durability and cost of fuelling infrastructure including hydrogen transportation and dispensing, safety regulations, etc. are the issues that need to be addressed, said Malhotra.
It is gathered that hydrogen transportation is associated with some risks. But Malhotra said there are various options available for hydrogen distribution.
“Pipeline transportation is the most cost-effective way, but existing natural gas pipelines are not suitable due to material embrittlement issues. Separation of hydrogen near the place of use is possible, but would require membrane technology in place. Dedicated pipelines for hydrogen or modifications of existing natural gas pipelines may be needed in the future. Also, the new NG lines should also be designed to be suitable for hydrogen,” he said.
He also said India’s proposed plan of producing 5 MT of green hydrogen is too small a target and it should be higher.
Now, the production cost for green hydrogen is estimated at ₹240-280 per kg, which is higher than grey hydrogen and blue hydrogen. “A subsidy of ₹40-50 kg for some will bring the cost closer to blue hydrogen and carbon credits may bring the cost closer to grey hydrogen,” pointed out Malhotra.