Will Hydrogen be the Next Game Changer?

In today’s energy world, the most significant challenge is controlling the climate change, technologies based on Hydrogen (H2) hold enormous potential to aid the process of decarbonisation… - P. K. Chatterjee (P. K.)

Of late globally a major section of the scientists’ community, other decision makers and advocates of climate change are all considering the tremendous potential of the lightest element Hydrogen (H2) as the best carbon-free solution for power generation in the coming days. The purpose of this article is to highlight some major opinions and steps to develop the Hydrogen Technology; some significant development works to push the same; and to present the success story of an exemplary project around the globe – however, it’s not a critical analysis of the Hydrogen Technology as this technology is still in its nascent stage.

Advocacy in favour of the Hydrogen Technology

According to a report from International Energy Agency (IEA), “The time is right to tap into Hydrogen’s potential to play a key role in a clean, secure and affordable energy future.” Naturally, the question arises why is IEA calling it ‘a clean, secure and affordable energy’? The answer can be easily traced from a communiqué from the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy under the U.S. Department of Energy, which states, “Hydrogen is a clean fuel that, when consumed in a fuel cell, produces only water. Hydrogen can be produced from a variety of domestic resources, such as natural gas, nuclear power, biomass, and renewable power like solar and wind. These qualities make it an attractive fuel option for transportation and electricity generation applications. It can be used in cars, in houses, for portable power, and in many more applications. Hydrogen is an energy carrier that can be used to store, move, and deliver energy produced from other sources. Today, Hydrogen fuel can be produced through several methods. The most common methods today are natural gas reforming (a thermal process), and electrolysis. Other methods include solar-driven and biological processes.”

Almost in the same tune, a communiqué from Fraunhofer Institution states, “If Germany is to meet its climate targets, it must embrace Hydrogen technology. This applies primarily to industry, although not exclusively. Companies are now making big efforts to switch established production processes over to Hydrogen and to work toward the creation of a Hydrogen economy in the long term. One promising area for the use of Hydrogen is in production processes that generate large volumes of carbon dioxide. Here, Hydrogen offers various ways of defossilizing the production chain. The key task is to make this switch both economical and sustainable.”

As far as today’s scenario is concerned, grid integration of the energy generated from the renewable sources, which are quite unpredictable, is a big challenge almost everywhere in the world – where the Hydrogen Technology can mitigate the challenge in a big way. TheFraunhofer Institution’s most optimistic Hydrogen Outlook also states, “There is an evident need for Hydrogen technology. In the power sector, for example, we require flexible ways of storing surplus electricity, so that this can then be fed back into the grid at times when solar or wind energy are unavailable. If climate targets are to be met, we must continue to expand the renewable generation of electricity. Yet this expansion only makes sense in conjunction with the development of Hydrogen-based technologies. Ten-megawatt electrolyzers can rapidly correct an imbalance between supply and demand in the grid. In the future, they will perform an important function in ensuring grid stability. However, a shift to renewable energy alone will not be enough to achieve a 95 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions. In addition, industrial processes will have to be defossilized, combined with a shift towards renewable resources in the raw-materials base. For this reason, Hydrogen solutions will rapidly become the sensible option both ecologically and economically in other areas as well. From 2021, for example, the steel industry will be using Hydrogen to reduce its CO2 footprint. By 2050, it should be possible to produce steel on a CO2-neutral basis. Moreover, if CO2 is removed from highly concentrated waste gases and converted into basic chemicals such as methanol by means of Hydrogen, it will not only improve the climate impact of industrial processes but also mark the beginning of a new form of production that is no longer dependent on fossil-based resources. In the long term, it should also be possible to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, combine it with Hydrogen and thereby create a source of raw materials that fills the gap in the global carbon cycle. Hydrogen will also help achieve climate neutrality in the transport sector, especially in areas where directly electrified propulsion is not an option.”

Glimpses of Hydrogen production

Hydrogen may be produced in different ways. As per IEA, “Hydrogen is a versatile energy carrier that can be produced from a wide range of sources and used in many ways across the entire energy sector. It could become a game-changer in its low-carbon form, but its widespread adoption faces challenges.”

As on day the price of ‘Clean Hydrogen’ is quite high, however, it is expected to come down by 2030. Till then we have to depend on Grey, Blue or Green Hydrogen, which have been classified based on the source. When Hydrogen is industrially produced from natural gas that simultaneously generates a significant amount of CO2, it is called ‘Grey Hydrogen’. If in this process, the carbon emission is captured and reused then the outcome is called ‘Blue Hydrogen’. The gas produced through renewable energy is known as ‘Green Hydrogen’. With the gradual downtrend of cost of production of renewable energy, production of ‘Green Hydrogen’ will be much easier in the near future.

A schematic diagram demonstrating the combination of a Hydrogen extraction system and a PEMFC for power supply…
Credit: Jing Liu
Source: American Institute of Physics

Around one year back, a communiqué from the American Institute of Physics reported a method developed for on-demand Hydrogen production, which has huge potential for use in portable Hydrogen fuel cells. According to that, researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing and Tsinghua University, Beijing have developed a real-time, on-demand Hydrogen generation for use in fuel cells. The researchers used an alloy – a combination of metals – of gallium, indium, tin and bismuth to generate Hydrogen. When the alloy meets an aluminium plate immersed in water, Hydrogen is produced. This Hydrogen is connected to a Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cell (PEMFC), a type of fuel cell where chemical energy is converted into electrical energy.

An exemplary project

Last year, Hanwha Energy, a comprehensive – energy – solutions company, has completed an exemplary project, which is so far the world’s first and largest by-product Hydrogen-Fuel-Cell Power Plant. Inside the Daesan Industrial Complex in Seosan, Korea, the company has built the plant that uses only recycled Hydrogen.

The new byproduct-Hydrogen-fuel-cell power plant cost USD 212 million. It occupies 20,000 m² of the Daesan Industrial Complex. It is the first to only use Hydrogen recycled from petrochemical manufacturing. The plant has the ability to generate up to 400,000 MWh of electricity per year.

The Hydrogen used in the new plant is recycled Hydrogen from petrochemical manufacturing,which is supplied by the Hanwha Total Petrochemical plant located within the same Daesan Industrial Complex. Hanwha Total Petrochemical pumps the recycled Hydrogen into the new power plant via underground pipes and feeds it directly into the fuel cells. Electricity is then generated by an electrochemical reaction between Hydrogen and Oxygen. The resulting byproduct of the fuel cells is only pure water. Unlike fossil-fuel-electricity generation, Hydrogen fuel cells do not emit environmental pollutants such as greenhouse gases, sulfur oxide (SOx) and nitrogen oxide (NOx).

Daesan Green Energy Hydrogen-Fuel-Cell power plant…
Source: Hanwha Energy

Indian Initiative

MNRE has been supporting a broad based Research Development and Demonstration (R&D) programme on Hydrogen Energy and Fuel. Projects are supported in industrial, academic and research institutions to address challenges in production of Hydrogen from renewable energy sources, its safe and efficient storage, and its utilization for energy and transport applications through combustion or fuel cells.

With respect to transportation, major work has been supported to Banaras Hindu University, IIT Delhi, and Mahindra & Mahindra. This has resulted in development and demonstration of internal combustion engines, two wheelers, three wheelers, and mini buses that run on Hydrogen fuel. So far two Hydrogen refuelling stations have been established – one at Indian Oil R&D Centre, Faridabad and the other one at National Institute of Solar Energy, Gurugram.

In this connection, last year, a compilation of ongoing research activities in the country related to Hydrogen being carried out by several scientists, industry, utilities, and other stakeholders from R&D laboratories and academia was launched by the Secretary of Department of Science and Technology Professor Ashutosh Sharma.

(L) Dr. Ranjith Krishna Pai, DirectorTechnology Mission Division, Department of Science & Technology (DST), New Delhi; and (R) Secretary, Department of Science and Technology Professor Ashutosh Sharma are launching the report ‘India Country Status Report on Hydrogen and Fuel Cells’…
Source: PIB of India

The compilation titled ‘India Country Status Report on Hydrogen and Fuel Cells’ was an outcome of a brainstorming discussions and presentations on various issues for developing programmes and strategies to accelerate the ushering in of hydrogen economy as part of India’s commitment as a participating country in Mission Innovation Renewable and Clean Hydrogen Challenge.

Our government holds that greater utilization of renewable in our energy mix is our policy objective to achieve decarbonization. While there are several pathways for decarbonisation varying in time frames, Hydrogen produced from renewables is considered as the cleanest energy source. Hydrogen as an energy source will play a key role in transforming climate-neutral systems over the next few decades.


Although still some groups hold doubt about the safety aspect of utilising Hydrogen at mass scale, it should be noted that the gas is safer than most of the commonly used fuels. If its concentration in air increases more than 4 per cent, then only it’s risky. So at this moment, nothing can be assumed as safer than H2 for energy generation.

By P. K. Chatterjee (P. K.)

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