Green Hydrogen – Need, Uses and Benefits


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In a recent development, Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd. (BPCL), has collaborated with Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) to scale-up alkaline electrolyser technology for green hydrogen production. It shows how green hydrogen has become an important element in the context of decarbonized hydrogen production and is seen as one of the best alternatives to fossil fuels. Therefore, it becomes important to know the various aspects related to green hydrogen and how it is going to work in the Indian context.

This topic of “Green Hydrogen – Need, Uses and Benefits” is important from the perspective of the UPSC IAS Examination, which falls under General Studies Portion.

What is green hydrogen?

  • Hydrogen production usually involves the usage of non-renewable sources of energy and thus leads to the emission of greenhouse gases. 
  • However, when hydrogen production is carried out by using renewable sources of energy causing significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions, it is known as green hydrogen.

What are other types of hydrogen?

  • Hydrogen is a colourless gas. Its nomenclature based on various colours is fundamentally related to its process of production and the raw materials used in this production process. 
  • Based on this, hydrogen is classified into the following categories:
    • Grey hydrogen
      • When hydrogen is produced using natural gas, or methane, through steam methane reformation technique but without capturing the greenhouse gases emitted in the process is called grey hydrogen.
      • It is the most commonly used method of hydrogen production.
    • Black and brown hydrogen
      • When hydrogen is produced using black coal or lignite (brown coal), it is known as black and brown hydrogen.
      • Hydrogen produced by using fossil fuels through the process of ‘gasification’ is also sometimes known by the same name interchangeably.
      • This hydrogen causes the highest damage to the environment.
    • Blue hydrogen
      • When hydrogen is produced using natural gas through the process of steam reforming bringing together natural gas and heated water in the form of steam leaving carbon dioxide as its by-product and involves carbon capture and storage (CCS), it is known as blue hydrogen.
      • As this process involves carbon capture and storage, it is often described as ‘low-carbon hydrogen’.
      • Although it halves the amount of emissions but is not completely emissions-free.
    • Pink hydrogen
      • When hydrogen is produced using nuclear energy through the process of electrolysis it is known as pink hydrogen.
      • It can also be referred to as purple or red hydrogen.
    • Turquoise hydrogen
      • It is a new addition to the hydrogen colour palette.
      • When hydrogen is produced using the process of methane pyrolysis, it is known as turquoise hydrogen.
      • The process of methane pyrolysis breaks down methane into hydrogen and solid carbon. 
      • This carbon can either be buried or used for other purposes restricting it from escaping into the atmosphere. Thus, this process can have low carbon emissions.
    • Yellow hydrogen
      • It is a relatively new phrase.
      • When hydrogen is produced using solar power through the process of electrolysis it is known as yellow hydrogen.
    • White hydrogen
      • Naturally occurring geological hydrogen found in underground deposits and created through fracking is known as white hydrogen.

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So, how is green hydrogen produced?

  • The production of green hydrogen involves electrolysis.
    • Electrolysis is the process of using electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen.
  • When this electricity used to split water into hydrogen and carbon atoms is generated by using renewable sources of energy such as solar or wind energy causing no greenhouse gas emissions, then green hydrogen is said to be produced.

Why is green hydrogen needed?

  • Hydrogen has numerous uses starting from industrial purposes to fulfilling domestic energy requirements.
  • Approximately 70 million metric tons of hydrogen are already produced globally every year for use in oil refining, ammonia production, steel manufacturing, chemical and fertilizer production, food processing, metallurgy, and more.
  • However, various estimates say that hydrogen production for these usages is currently responsible for more than 2 % of total global CO2 emissions.
  • As per International Energy Agency (IEA), 2019 estimates, global energy demand will increase by between 25 % and 30 % by 2040, which will further raise greenhouse gas emissions.
  • This will aggravate environmental degradation and exacerbate climate change further. 
  • On the contrary, the global plan is to decarbonise the planet by 2050.
  • Given this scenario, green hydrogen can prove to be the best alternative.

What can be the possible uses of green hydrogen? 

  • Industrial
    • Hydrogen is used mainly in the chemical and petrochemical industry. In the last few years, it is also being used in the steel industry.
    • Green hydrogen can prove to be a better alternative in these industrial sectors. 
  • Domestic
    • For domestic usage regarding heating and electricity, green hydrogen can replace natural gas and help in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
    • It can be also stored in existing pipelines to power various domestic appliances.
  • Fuel cells
    • One of the most discussed areas for the usage of green hydrogen is its use in fuel cells. These fuel cells are well-known for their energy efficiency. 
    • Fuel cells can be used as an alternative fuel in electronic vehicles. 
    • Fuel cells may also help run electronic devices.

What are the advantages of green hydrogen?

  • The very first advantage of using green hydrogen is its sustainability. Green hydrogen does not produce greenhouse gases during production and combustion and thus it is completely environment-friendly.
  • The second advantage is its versatility. Green hydrogen can be transformed into electricity or synthetic gas and thus can be used for domestic, commercial, industrial or mobility purposes.
  • Thirdly, green hydrogen is easy to transport if blended with natural gas. It can be transported through existing gas pipelines and infrastructure.
  • Fourthly, green hydrogen can be stored in large amounts for a long time. This can be beneficial in long run as energy produced by hydrogen has a high energy content per unit of weight.
  • Lastly, it is easy to produce green hydrogen since it just requires water and electricity to produce it.

What are the disadvantages of green hydrogen?

  • Firstly, the production of green hydrogen requires renewable energy generated electricity. This adds to the cost of production making green hydrogen expensive.
  • The second is the safety issue. Hydrogen is a highly volatile and inflammable gas. Thus, its storage requires high safety for preventing leakages or explosions.
  • Thirdly, the transportation of green hydrogen is a challenge. As it is less dense than gasoline, it cannot be transported without blending it with some other liquids or gases. 
    • Transporting hydrogen through natural gas pipelines is also not plausible since it can make steel pipes and welds brittle, causing cracks.
  • Lastly, where the usage of green hydrogen is so highly celebrated, that is, in fuel cells, the technology required is costlier. 
    • Fuel cell technology requires platinum where it is used at the anode and cathode as a catalyst to split hydrogen. Thus, platinum being an expensive material adds to the cost of fuel cells.

Current global scenario

  • Globally, green hydrogen is becoming a key area of focus given the international climate agenda and countries requiring reductions in global Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions that is needed to limit global warming below 2°C by the end of the century.
  • However, estimates say that green hydrogen accounts for less than 1 per cent of total annual hydrogen production.
  • Many countries have announced their hydrogen roadmaps such as European Union (EU), Australia and Japan and many more may join in future.
  • Alongside, the infrastructure and logistics are also being developed keeping in mind the requirements of green hydrogen.
  • Many oil and gas firms are also viewing green hydrogen as the energy of the future and targeting various projects on it.

The Indian scenario

  • India has emerged as a global leader in combating climate change and is making visible efforts to reduce global warming and substantially reduce its carbon footprint in the future.
  • For India’s energy transition to clean fuels, the adoption of green hydrogen to generate energy would bring significant benefits.
  • However, the high cost involved and only a handful of companies manufacturing electrolysers that are used in the production of green hydrogen are key roadblocks in India’s journey to producing green hydrogen at a large scale.
  • The Government of India has launched the National Hydrogen Energy Mission in the Union Budget of India 2021-22 that aims to meet India’s climate targets in a timebound manner.
    • The core focus areas include pilot projects, infrastructure and supply chain, research and development, and regulations and public outreach.
  • Thus, India is on its way to having a future made of clean energy.

Way forward

The significance of hydrogen as a cleaner source of energy cannot be undermined. However, the bottlenecks in adopting green hydrogen as an alternative are not fewer in number. To give a boost to green hydrogen in India, setting up more manufacturing facilities, indigenous production of important components such as electrolysers, and production linked incentives are required so that the cost per unit comes down eventually. Research and development would also play a key role. The focus should be to make it affordable to all.

Practise Question

Q. What are the prospects and challenges in adopting green hydrogen as an alternative source of energy? Critically analyse.

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