The Indian public sector oil refineries have together planned to set up 137 kilo tonnes per annum (ktpa) of green hydrogen facilities by 2030. 

This was revealed by Dr S S V Ramakumar, Director – R&D, Indian Oil Corporation, at the India Energy Week, held recently in Bengaluru. Participating in a panel discussion on green hydrogen, Ramakumar said Indian Oil would first put up a 7 ktpa electrolysis plant at its Panipat refinery. 

He pointed out that IOC had entered into an agreement with the renewable energy company, ReNew Power and the engineering major, L&T, for putting up green hydrogen plants, not only for IOC but for other refiners also. 

Read also: H2e Power to set up SOFC charging stations at IOC outlets

Technology quadrilemma 

“The last word on the (green hydrogen production) technology has not yet been spoken,” he said, noting that even if one were to assume that electrolysis of water is the only pathway to produce green hydrogen, still we are not very sure as to which type of electrolysers is the best. 

There are two mature technologies, alkaline and PEM, and both have their own merits and demerits, Ramakumar said. The third one, solid oxide, “which is projected to be a super-duper technology, is at TRL 3 or 4.” (TRL is ‘technology readiness level’; level 3 or 4 refers to quite low levels of readiness.) 

More read: The Green methods of producing hydrogen

“But there is a fourth kid on the block, which is going to address the demerits of both the mature technologies, which is called anion exchange membrane, or AEM – for the simple fact that it (AEM) doesn’t employ any platinum group of metals. “It is based on transition elements, so it is much cheaper, and the electrolyte is also much dilute—so lot of problems are solved,” said the Director R&D.  

Even that technology is TRL 2 or 3, he said. 

As a country, all the research institutions need to concentrate on AEM technology—if we want to adopt the electrolysis technology pathway, Ramakumar said. 

(While Ramakumar has said that ‘solid oxide’ and AEM are at low technology readiness levels, an industry expert who participated in the India Energy Week, told businessline that solid oxide electrolysers are already in the market. For example, the US company, Bloom Energy, sells solid oxide electrolysers. Also, a Pune-based company called H2e Power, has already supplied AEM electrolysers to Oil India Ltd and is getting ready to showcase its home-grown AEM electroloysers (though developed with the help of the Fraunhofer Institute of Germany) at the upcoming Hannover Messe fair later this year. Business Line has earlier reported that H2e Power will start producing electrolysers at Jalagaon, Maharashtra in April. Indeed, the company intends to also use solid oxide electrolysers, which operate at high temperatures, to convert carbon dioxide into ‘syn gas’ (a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen), and then use the syn gas to produce ‘sustainable aviation fuels’.) 

Read more: IOC plans hydrogen production units

Biomass is the best 

While IOC has planned green hydrogen production by electrolysis, i.e., splitting of water into hydrogen and oxygen with electricity, Ramakumar said that the biomass gasification was a better way of producing green hydrogen in India. 

Noting that there is a debate as to whether electrolysis is the only pathway or there are other “India-centric technologies”, Ramakumar said,“ my own personal view is that biomass gasification is the most promising green hydrogen pathway, especially to achieve the aspirational target of 1:1:1 (achieving a price of $1 per kg of green hydrogen in one decade.)” 

Describing the biomass route as “very, very promising”, he said that the route does not suffer from the demerits of electrolysers, a big one of which is the need for large quantities water. While sea water electrolysis is being “intensely looked into” today’s electrolysers require pure water, Ramakumar said. 

Also read: Dollar-a-kg hydrogen?

The view that the biomass route is better is shared by many experts. For example, Ravi Pandit, Chairman and C-founder, KPIT Technologies, wrote in a newspaper recently that while a kg of hydrogen produced by electrolysis costs ₹600-800, which translates to 45-50 per cent higher than diesel in vehicles, small, decentralised biomass plants can produce green hydrogen for ₹250 a kg.