Hydrogen Economy: A Pathway to Sustainable Future

By Aman Kayal (Editor-In-Chief)

Have you wondered about a nation’s economy being driven by hydrogen as it’s commercial fuel?

Well, the Hydrogen Economy is a model where hydrogen can be produced from domestic energy sources economically and in an environmentally-friendly manner. There’s a need for Fuel cell technology that must become economical so that fuel cells and fuel cell vehicles can gain market share in competition with conventional power generation sources and transportation vehicles. This would lead the entire world to benefit from lower dependence on oil and coal since they are the major sources of energy and improved environmental quality through lower carbon emissions. The hydrogen economy is considered an important energy storage strategy to exploit the benefits of renewable and sustainable energy. Hydrogen-related technologies are a new research frontier. Among the hydrogen storage technologies, materials-based hydrogen storage has been considered a long-term solution.

According to the World Bank, Hydrogen is the lightest element in the periodic table and the most common in the universe. Due to its natural tendency to form bonds with other molecules, it is rarely found unbounded in nature. It can therefore be considered as a storage of energy because the molecules can be easily encouraged to form bonds with other elements through either chemical or combustion processes. The products of these processes include water and energy which, depend on the reaction, which can be in the form of electricity and heat. It is a widely used commercial gas, with a high utility in the energy transition.


Hydrogen is an energy storage medium where an energy carrier is not just a primary source of energy but also has the potential for use as a fuel in a variety of applications, including fuel cell power generation and fuel cell vehicles. It is combustible and can be used as fuel in conventional Internal Combustion Engines (ICEs) to produce mechanical or electrical power. In this case, the overall energy efficiency is higher than Internal Combustion Engines (ICEs) that operate with conventional fuels such as diesel or gasoline. Furthermore, unlike conventional ICEs, which emit pollutant gasses as a result of combustion, hydrogen-powered ICEs, fuel cells, and fuel cell vehicles emit only water vapor. For these reasons, it is realistic to have a vision of reaching a hydrogen economy. The transition to a hydrogen economy faces multiple challenges that have to be overcome, including large-scale supporting infrastructures similar to those of gasoline and natural gas and the cost of hydrogen production and storage. These challenges can be overcome by willpower and persistent research. The recent boom of shale gas that started in 2005 makes the hydrogen economy even more promising than before.

We could say that the current energy system is demeaning the economy due to some reasons like:

  1. It’s only the demand for energy that’s growing and the raw materials for the fossil fuel economy are diminishing due to which the natural environment is being hurt. The amount of oil, coal and natural gas supplies is not replenished as compared to the consumption levels.
  2. The people who consume fossil fuels don’t live where fuels are extracted leading to enormous economic motivation for the consuming nations to try to exert control over the regions that supply the fuels. This is another aspect diminishing the ozone layer of our Planet Earth.
  3. Due to emissions from fossil fuel the air quality all over the world is getting tarred and what is left to breathe is pure CO2. The resulting carbon byproducts are substantially changing the world’s climate affecting human and climatic conditions.
  4. The carbon economy puts people and nations under the biased influence of energy suppliers. The lack of economic independence is unacceptable to many businesses and governments as it falls directly against their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

Source: World Bank – CO2 emissions (metric tons) in India

To address the question as to how Hydrogen Economy would benefit the economy in the long run, sustainability is the need of an hour:

  1. The use of hydrogen greatly helps in the reduction of pollution: When hydrogen is combined with oxygen in a fuel cell, energy in the form of electricity is produced. The electricity can be consumed to power vehicles, as a heat source, and for many other uses. The advantage of using hydrogen as an energy carrier is that when it combines with oxygen the only by-products are water and heat. No greenhouse gasses or other particulates are produced by the use of hydrogen fuel cells.
  2. Hydrogen can be produced from multiple sources: Hydrogen can be produced either centrally, and then distributed, or onsite where it will be used. Hydrogen gas can be produced from methane, gasoline, biomass, coal, or water. Each of these sources brings with it different amounts of pollution, technical challenges, and energy requirements.
  3. If hydrogen would be produced from the water we have a sustainable production system: Electrolysis is the method of separating water into hydrogen and oxygen. Renewable energy can be used as a source to power electrolyzers to produce hydrogen from water. Using renewable energy provides a sustainable system that is independent of petroleum products and is nonpolluting. Some of the renewable sources used to power electrolyzers are wind, hydro, solar, and tidal energy. Once the hydrogen is produced in an electrolyzer, it can be used in a fuel cell to produce electricity. The by-products of the fuel cell process are water and heat. If fuel cells operate at high temperatures the system can be set up as a co-generator, with the waste energy used for heating.

Source: Science Direct

Due to the recent Russia-Ukraine crisis, the fuel prices have been soaring high. The most serious effect of the Russia-Ukraine war for the world economy is the higher commodity prices. “Oil prices will remain above $100 per barrel for as long as the conflict rages on”, was a statement made by EIU. This is the main reason why most of the countries are aiming to shift towards a Hydrogen driven economy which is sustainable and can be used for multiple purposes.

The move to a hydrogen economy would bring annual global demand for hydrogen in 2030 to some 650 Mt, from the current 70 Mt, representing around 14% of the expected world total energy demand. Hydrogen is a versatile source of energy that can contribute to the decarbonization of the global economy if produced using low-carbon emitting sources. Due to the recent Russia-Ukraine crisis, the Government of India has built up an interest and inclination towards developing Hydrogen as a future fuel. Industry sectors such as refineries and fertilizers account for major hydrogen demand in India mainly through Grey hydrogen. Hydrogen can be useful in applications that require high temperatures, especially in the chemical, iron, and steel industries. In such cases, hydrogen can serve as an excellent alternative to other energy sources. Also, it is essential to promote the usage of hydrogen in sectors where direct electrification is not feasible. Renewable energy in India is among the cheapest in the world. Hence, the renewable Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) will be minimum. The national target of achieving 500 GW of Renewable Energy (RE) capacity will further complement production costs and volumes of green hydrogen. For hydrogen technologies to contribute to carbon neutrality, there is a need for the current production of hydrogen to shift from fossil-fuel to fossil fuels with Carbon Capture Use and Storage (CCUS), renewable electricity, nuclear power or grid-connected electricity through electrolysis using low-carbon electricity.

To sum up, we can state that in order to adopt a Hydrogen Economy framework, the government and policymakers would have to adopt the following strategies: –

  • Promote all clean hydrogen technologies

Delve into research and make innovations in all clean hydrogen technologies in order to unlock all sustainable production pathways and to move away from fossil-fuel production.

  • Build on existing gas infrastructure

The natural gas transmission network can be used to integrate hydrogen in a cost-efficient way at a miniscule 10-15% of the cost of a newly built hydrogen pipeline.

  • Accelerate deployment of electrolysers

The development of electrolysers cannot wait until 100% of electricity is from renewable sources. Support is needed for the deployment of electrolysers connected to the electricity grid and low carbon generation plants in order for it to work efficiently.

  • Scale up hydrogen projects by 2030

It necessitates long-term offtake commitments for clean hydrogen produced for industrial, transportation, heating and synfuels projects. A clear regulatory framework and supportive mechanism that promotes investments is required.

  • Promote projects of common regional interest

It is believed that the government shall promote strategic thinking and move towards projects which will aid the common public at large. Initiatives like reduction of pollution, taking steps to reduce Greenhouse gasses, decrease the emissions of Chlorofluorocarbons, ban the use of fossil fuels, which would definitely be in favour of saving the current global scenario in totality.

Green hydrogen is the best and cleanest source of energy, which can play a fundamental role in the world’s decarbonization plans. Continuous efforts are being made to make green hydrogen the most affordable fuel option by bringing down its cost to $2 per kg. India’s ambitious plans of installing 450 GW of renewable energy capacity will only fuel its drive to become the global hub of manufacturing green hydrogen. The ultimate aim of the government is to bring down the cost of green hydrogen to $1 per kg and have five million metric tonnes per annum (MMTPA) green hydrogen capacity by 2030 in India.

References:

Benefits of the Hydrogen Economy — Hydrogen Energy Center. (n.d.). Hydrogen Energy Center. Retrieved August 1, 2022, from https://www.hydrogenenergycenter.org/benefits-of-the-hydrogen-economy

´´(. (2021, April 19). YouTube. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/engineering/hydrogen-economy

Bhattacharjee, S. (2021, November 23). Explained: The Hydrogen Economy And How India Plans To Steer It. CNBC TV18. Retrieved August 1, 2022, from https://www.cnbctv18.com/energy/explained-the-hydrogen-economy-and-how-india-plans-to-steer-it-11566712.htm

The Future of Hydrogen – Analysis. (n.d.). IEA. Retrieved August 1, 2022, from https://www.iea.org/reports/the-future-of-hydrogen

Moda, G. (2022, May 30). How can India unlock its green hydrogen ambitions? EY. Retrieved August 1, 2022, from https://www.ey.com/en_in/energy-resources/how-can-india-unlock-its-green-hydrogen-ambitions

CO2 emissions (metric tons per capita) – India | Data. (n.d.). World Bank Data. https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EN.ATM.CO2E.PC?locations=IN

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