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Green hydrogen power: benefits are worth the high costs

All eyes were agog when the first fully loaded hydrogen-powered electric train covered 1741 miles on  a Colorado test track earlier this week, lifting hopes of climate campaigners who are looking forward to see a world of emissions-free transportation.

Single-decker Swiss made Stadler’s “Flirt H2” train, acquired and run by San Bernadino County Transportation Authority in California, consisted of three units – two passenger cars  with a power unit in the middle. The power unit contained a hydrogen tank and fuel cells that converted hydrogen into electricity to power the train. The train ran for a record 46 hours non stop and did not need refuelling. The only emission from this train was water vapours.

So, what is fuel cell technology, a term alternately used with green hydrogen, sometimes also called hydrogen fuel cell technology. Green because it is totally emissions free. Cell because, there are two electrodes,  an anode and a cathode in the “cell” where hydrogen is fed to anode and air to cathode. The hydrogen, the smallest atom, breaks into proton and electron and the stream of electrons becomes electric current. This electricity powers the motor of the train.

The test was conducted on 20 March but was officially announced only a week later after confirming all the parameters were met. Back home, around the same time, India hosted meeting of the key global stakeholders to advance the development of clean and green hydrogen technologies. New Delhi’s commitment of emissions reduction while the feeding its engines of economy has been re-iterated by its leadership from time to time. Scientists and researchers in clean fuel technologies are also racing against time to make it to mega transportation run by hydrogen-powered electric vehicles using fuel cell technology. Per passenger emission the diesel trains is already low among other mode of transpiration. Hydrogen power will make it further emissions-free. China has already tested and put  hydrogen trains in service and is even exporting to other  countries.

Results shown by fuel cell technology in driving train glitch free for nearly 3000 kilometres is a feat in itself. But the downside is green hydrogen technology  is extremely expensive. And safety is also an issue that has yet to be fully addressed, considering the unforeseen hazards posed by these new technologies and deliberated on making present and future green hydrogen technologies safe, along with adequate measures during emergencies.

At the New Delhi summit, Vice Chair of International Partnership for Hydrogen and Fuel Cells in the Economy (IPHE), Dr. Noe Van Hulst of Denmark  appreciated the efforts being made by India in promoting green hydrogen and noted that the participating countries of IPHE are impressed by India’s National Green Hydrogen Mission, its ambitious targets and the policies and regulatory framework being implemented to achieve it. Dr. Hulst said that if India achieves these targets, it will put the country at the forefront of global hydrogen development.

The IPHE delegates from participating countries including Austria, Chile, France, European Commission, Japan, Germany, Netherlands, UAE, UK, US, Singapore and South Korea presented their country updates on R&D, key policy developments and initiatives taken by their federal and provincial governments on hydrogen. Each country presented its national clean hydrogen strategies; research and development initiatives related to hydrogen production, storage and transportation; status of demand creation, infrastructure development, supply and demand at scale, and upskilling of workforce.

The meeting also  discussed business models for transportation, production and storage of hydrogen, possibilities of international collaborations and partnerships in the areas of finance, policy, regulations and sustainable commercial and economic models to create a robust yydrogen economy.

The role of IPHE in promoting hydrogen economy is laudable. Green hydrogen ecosystem is gradually developing in all parts of the country. Response of Indian Industry in participating in government policies and programmes to achieve decarbonisation and the extensive deployment of hydrogen as fuel is also quite positive. It is pertinent that that the WTO and the UN play a supporting role to facilitate adoption of green hydrogen. India also needs policy autonomy to pursue the path of decarbonisation in general.

Pradeep Rana
Pradeep Rana
Journalist: Geopolitics, Law, Health, Technology, STM, Governance, Foreign Policy

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