Green hydrogen is the future fuel: NITI Aayog Member VK Saraswat

Rishi Ranjan Kala | | Updated on: May 24, 2022
VK Saraswat, member of NITI Aayog  (File photo)

VK Saraswat, member of NITI Aayog (File photo) | Photo Credit: VENKATACHALAPATHY C

In an interview with  BusinessLine, Saraswat said that currently green hydrogen is not economical, but with technologies such as Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage (CCUS), grey hydrogen can be made environment friendly

Emphasising that green hydrogen will play a crucial role in India’s energy transition, noted scientist and NITI Aayog Member VK Saraswat said it is the future fuel. In an interview with  BusinessLine, Saraswat said that currently green hydrogen is not economical, but with technologies such as Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage (CCUS), grey hydrogen can be made environment friendly. Excerpts:

What ails India’s energy transition efforts in Power sector?

Our main pathway is to maximise the use of renewable energy (RE) in our energy mix. Our installed capacity is more than demand. The problem today is that there is a mix of RE and base load power from thermal power plants (TPPs). So we have to manage the grid in such a manner that the variability of RE is compensated for base load. Due to this variability, many TPPs are not operating at full capacity. During peak demand, one has to ramp up TPPs, which leads to issues of coal supply and others. The right way of doing energy transition is that we should learn how to manage RE penetration, base load operation and reduce CO2 emissions.

How do you plan to reduce CO2 emissions?

To reduce CO2 emissions, we should look at the distribution of energy with respect to the environment and requirements. From models developed by bodies like the IEA or the Niti Aayog, it is clear that TPPs are still relevant for meeting demand. Since India does not have large quantities of gas, our thermal power will have to come from coal. In fact, the estimation is that even by 2070, around 8-10 per cent of power will come from coal. It can not be wished away, but it pollutes.

To check emissions is to increase the efficiency of TPPs. One way is that instead of running subcritical power plants, we should go for super critical, ultra-supercritical, and advanced ultra-supercritical plants. India has already developed the technology for advanced ultra-supercritical plants. We can replace aged TPPs, with an installed capacity of around 25 gigawatts (GW), with new plants. Since the base load issue is there, replacement will be with Integrated Coal Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) plants and advanced ultra-supercritical plants. With this our efficiency will be more than 45 per cent and our emissions will go down by 40-50 per cent, as far as TPPs are concerned. We should also integrate TPPs with CCUS. With this greenhouse gas emissions, PM, etc will reduce to less than 1 per cent. Then it becomes clean and also meets base load. Our focus should be on increasing TPPs efficiency and integrating them with CCUS. Niti Aayog will be coming out with a policy paper on CCUS.

What are your views on prospects of green hydrogen in energy transition?

Hydrogen is the future fuel. It is an energy carrier. So how do you produce it? One is green hydrogen through electrolysis, but its cost today is significantly high. The cumulative supply chain cost is: production at $5–6 per kg, compression ($2 per kg), and distribution ($3 per kg). In the long run, with large electrolyser making capacity coming up in the country, their cost will come down from $800-$1,500 per kWh. It is expected that by 2030, hydrogen production costs will be $1-3 per kg and compression costs will be $2-4. So the total cost at the door step will be about $3–7 per kg including production, compression, and distribution.

What about economies of scale in hydrogen production?

At present, green hydrogen is not economical. But grey hydrogen is competitive, but it’s not green. Grey hydrogen is available at less than $2 per kg. It releases CO2, but we can use CCUS to abate CO2. With CCUS, grey becomes blue and production costs are 30 per cent cheaper. With lower costs, industries such as steel, cement, aluminium, refineries, etc. can start using blue hydrogen. As demand for blue hydrogen grows, more production will happen, which will further reduce costs. In my opinion, blue hydrogen is an enabler to green hydrogen. Affordability is the key to ramping up production. For instance, when we ask fertiliser industries why they do not use grey hydrogen, they say that production costs will go up from $375 a tonne for grey to $875 for green. Nobody will do that at such high costs.

How do you plan to check emissions in the transport sector?

The only area where we cannot remove CO2 by CCUS is transport. We should go for three things—alternate fuels, electrification, or a hybrid approach. At present, electrification is suitable for small vehicles, last-mile delivery, etc. For the long haul (over 1,000 KM), it is not serving the purpose due to the size of the battery, distance, etc. Here, alternate fuels such as H-CNG, methanol, blended fuels with ethanol, etc., are the answer. But this is an immediate measure. In the long run, we can explore using hydrogen fuel cells. Hydrogen has a low molecular weight and requires a lot of space. So one cannot carry a lot of quantity. So there are range limitations, but it can be used for short haul (up to 300 KM).

With methanol on-board, we can use methanol reforming to produce hydrogen. Recently, we have developed a reformer at Thermax that is doing the job. Here with hydrogen, CO2 is also released. We absorb the CO2 with an absorber, so this hydrogen is green. We can put this hydrogen into fuel cells. This can be the answer to clean energy for long-haul vehicles up to 1,000 km. The only high cost here is fuel cells. But with the PLI scheme for developing electrolysers and fuel cells, prices will come down. Methanol can be produced using coal.

Published on May 24, 2022
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