An expert panel constituted by the government has suggested that India has enough potential to produce hydrogen from domestic coal and the country should strongly pursue this option.
This assumes significance in the wake of Prime Minister Narendra Modi annoucing hydrogen mission on India's 75th Independence Day.
Hydrogen is a clean fuel and can serve as a possible substitute to liquid and fossil fuels. It is also the most abundant element in the universe, making up more than 90 per cent of all known matters.
"India has an opportunity to produce hydrogen from domestic coal and we may aggressively pursue this option in our overall hydrogen ecosystem," the expert committee said in its report on roadmap for coal to hydrogen production.
The panel also suggested for setting up of a couple of semi-commercial gasification units to convert coal to hydrogen.
The integration of Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage (CCUS) units along with gasification, it said, can be explored so that blue hydrogen thus produced is more acceptable.
"The gasification technologies may be selected based on assessment of the potential for eventual commercial upscaling and keeping the option of biomass co-gasification along with coal subject to availability of biomass in the close vicinity of such gasification units," the panel said.
The coal gasification units should be set up near the hydrogen demand centres or close to the coal mines.
The cost of transportation of hydrogen would be high at present and hence there was a need to examine the economics before deciding upon the locations of gasification plants.
"Alternatively, we could establish the plants closer to the natural gas grid so that hydrogen thus produced could be injected to some extent i.e. up to 18-20 per cent into the natural gas pipelines, as to that extent of hydrogen injection in the natural gas pipelines may not need the modification of the gas pipelines," the panel recommended.
This, it said, will facilitate the utilisation of hydrogen produced from coal in the industries currently using imported natural gas.
The coal ministry had earlier said that coal has not been encouraged elsewhere because of the fear that while extracting hydrogen via coal (from the moisture embedded in coal) there may be carbon emission.
Currently, hydrogen is used mainly in refining-- to remove sulphur from crude oils -- and fertilizer production except small usages in other sectors like chemicals, textiles, and electronics.
Total demand of hydrogen in 2021 was around 6.7 million tonnes, of which around 54 per cent or 3.6 million tonnes was in petroleum refining, three million tonnes in fertilizer production and 0.1 million tonnes in gas-based DRI (Direct Reduced Iron).
It is expected that the demand of hydrogen in the country may shoot up to 11.7 million tonnes by 2030 with 6.8 million tonnes in refinery, 4.6 million tonnes in fertilizer and around 0.3 million tonnes in DRI steel making.
Looking at the future, hydrogen has a number of potential applications that could be significantly expanded across a range of end-use sectors from transportation to electric power to industry. For example, hydrogen can be used in fuel cells to power passenger and commercial vehicles, heavy-duty trucks, buses, trains and waterborne vessels.
It is projected that the demand can increase to around 28 MT by 2050, driven by cost reductions in key technologies, as well as the growing imperative to decarbonise the energy system. Demand will continue to be largely focused in industry sectors, either expanding in existing sectors such as fertilizers and refineries, or growing into new sectors such as steel.
Hydrogen can also be stored for use in power generation to manage load in power systems when intermittent renewables are not available.