'Government support is critical for providing PLI in electrolyser manufacturing': Dr RK Malhotra

Dr RK Malhotra, former-chairman and R&D head at Indian Oil Corporation speaks with Autocar Professional and discusses how India can amalgamate the various stages of green hydrogen.

By Amit Vijay M calendar 07 Apr 2023 Views icon10146 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp
'Government support is critical for providing PLI in electrolyser manufacturing': Dr RK Malhotra

Touted as the fuel of the future, hydrogen holds tremendous promise in terms of delivering cost-effective and sustainable energy solutions. While still in the nascent stage, its long-term viability will depend on piecing together several factors right from production to reaching the consumer.

While India seeks to become the world's largest producer of Green hydrogen, what steps do you think the government and industry should take to reduce the cost from US$ 6-7 to US$ 1 -2?
The government further needs to support the industry by providing PLI benefits for electrolyser manufacturing, and R&D support for the improvement of technology and efficiency of electrolysers. In my view, despite the best efforts, the cost of green hydrogen may come down to around US$2.5 to US$3.0 per kg by 2030. Though many have announced a target of US$ 1 per kg, even the price of US$2 per kg will be quite attractive for the Hydrogen market to grow fast.

Electrolysers that have to be imported are in short supply and this aspect is expected to continue for the next two or three years. What is your view on the domestic manufacturing capabilities in the country?
Yes, globally sourcing electrolysers is a challenge at present, but several Indian companies both in the private and public sectors are scouting the technology and have plans to set up large manufacturing capacities in India. Though we have a few Indian manufacturers currently producing alkaline electrolysers, they cannot match the growing market demand in terms of size or numbers. By 2025, we may have Indian domestic manufacturing capability.

Do you think the journey for India-made electrolysers storage compressors, storage systems, tube trailers for transporting hydrogen from one place to another trailer, or Type IV cylinders has begun?
Yes, the journey has begun and many are moving fast to take lead. Although most talks are around electrolysers, there will be demand for compressors, hydrogen storage, transportation, and delivery systems including type IV cylinders and tube trailers, etc. for which we need to provide incentives to simultaneously create indigenous manufacturing facilities of such equipment necessary to have the complete ecosystem for the hydrogen economy.

How important a role will water play, as we develop a green hydrogen economy?
This is a very pertinent question, as for one kilo of green hydrogen production through electrolysis requires nine litres of clean de-ionised water. This could be a great challenge for India, as the areas with large capacities for solar power like Rajasthan and central India are water scarce. The wind energy-based units are close to the coastline and will require energy for the desalination of seawater. Investment in R&D for use of effluent-treated wastewater or saline water in electrolysers needs to be made to cater to the growing need for water for the production of green hydrogen.

Many automakers have been talking about H2ICE as it is more suitable for India. Is blending 80 percent hydrogen with CNG achievable?
Most heavy-duty truck manufacturers are working towards the development of H2 IC Engines with significant progress to roll out such trucks in the market in the near future. Initially, till green hydrogen cost is affordable, such vehicles may be fuelled by brown/grey or blue hydrogen produced from fossil sources. This may help create an infrastructure where we can move towards a hydrogen economy, without waiting for green hydrogen costs to become affordable.

On mixing CNG in hydrogen, we cannot mix up to around 18 percent (not 80 percent), as hydrogen beyond such a limit may lead to the embrittlement of steel pipelines and other such equipment used for the transportation and storage of CNG. When I was working at the Indian Oil's R&D department, we had done extensive testing of H-CNG mixtures on several CNG vehicles fuelled with up to 18 percent of hydrogen in CNG.

Like electric vehicles that use conventional electricity, more than 95 percent of the world's hydrogen is fossil fuel-based, produced via Steam Methane Reforming (SMR) or coal gasification. What's the roadmap for the industry to work with suppliers who will generate green hydrogen from renewable energy like solar?
Most of the hydrogen is currently being produced by SMR, but we have the potential to produce low-cost hydrogen from the coal gasification route but may have to integrate carbon capture utilisation and sequestration technologies given our climate commitments. The government wants to push some industries like refineries, fertiliser to gradually shift to green hydrogen production in a phased manner. Many of our refineries and energy companies are either collaborating or planning to produce Green Hydrogen on their own. Some of the leading solar and wind power producers have joined hands and signed Memorandum of Undertakings with refineries.

While the National Green hydrogen mission has allocated Rs 300 crores in the current budget, do you see actionable steps to put the plan into action?
The action plan is yet to be finalised.

What kind of incentives do you think the ecosystem players should be given?
The incentives will be required for the production of hydrogen in the form of incentives for all activities related to the production, storage, and transportation of hydrogen. The government will also need to invest in creating infrastructure such as dedicated hydrogen pipelines, as it will help those industries using green hydrogen to reduce their carbon footprint. The policy of carbon reduction verification and certification for facilitating such certificates to be purchased by polluting industries should be put in place at the earliest, as an incentive for using green hydrogen.

Industry experts believe that India can achieve its green hydrogen production target of 5 million metric tons per annum by 2030. What is the realistic target that can be achieved?
The target is achievable but unless there is cost reduction, it may be difficult to have market pull. Another issue is whether we divert green power for Hydrogen production while continuing to produce power from coal. The coal gasification route for the production of hydrogen with CCUS (carbon, capture, usage, storage) may be less carbon intensive, and life cycle emissions of coal-based power versus hydrogen from coal gasification may need to be done. Pushing green hydrogen in refineries will add to the cost of finished products as green hydrogen will be more expensive as compared to the hydrogen they produce at present from SMR. Pushing it compulsorily in the fertiliser industry as is being talked about will add to the subsidy burden.

Does India need greater level policy changes from a regulatory perspective for hydrogen standards?
We need not reinvent the wheel and follow only the international standards and regulations already implemented elsewhere. This will also help us to become an export hub for hydrogen economy-related hardware also in due course.

This interview was first published in Autocar Professional's April 1, 2023 issue.

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