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Hydrogen is the most abundant element found in nature. It is a fuel of the future promising carbonless economy. However, it is still being produced and used in chemical industry for producing ammonia, fertilizer and oil refineries. The difference between today and tomorrow of hydrogen is that these days it is being produced from fossil fuels like natural gas and coal and in future it would be produced out of water and renewable energy like Wind and Solar. Water contains hydrogen and oxygen. Hydrogen can be extracted by electrolysis of water, passing an electric current though water and electric current coming out of wind and solar power plants, predominantly. Another difference in future of hydrogen will be in its usage. It would expand into the transportation sector running cars, trucks, trains and even aeroplanes. It will go into steel-making replacing coal, coke and natural gas. It is projected to start commercialization by 2030 and would be a major fuel by 2050, replacing fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal partly or fully.

Hydrogen has emerged a little later in the case of EVs (Electrical Vehicles). There are two types of EVs; BEVs (Battery Electrical Vehicles) and FCEVs (Fuel Cell Electrical Vehicles). FCEVs run on hydrogen. FCEVs have been derided by the famous entrepreneur Ion Musk as "Fool Vehicles". Japanese have shown tenacity in promoting FCEVs. Fuel Cells have had a longer history in Japan, having been used in residential sector CHP applications with efficiency exceeding 90%.

There are three types of hydrogen in terms of source: 1. green hydrogen which is produced from water and renewable energy; 2. grey hydrogen is produced from natural gas; its another variant is black hydrogen which is produced from coal; and 3. blue hydrogen is also derived from natural gas. However, the CO2 produced in the process is captured and stored and probably used in case of need.

Green hydrogen depends on the availability of pure water and renewable energy. Water is electrolyzed in electrolyzers. Various technologies have been there in this respect; alkaline and PEM (Proton Exchange Membrane). Cost and prices of electrolyzers are coming down with the expansion of the market. Largest electrolyzer of 20 MW capacity has been inaugurated in Canada in January 2021.

Investments in hydrogen are coming up all over the world. In the last two years, 70GW of electrolyzer capacities have been announced. This is projected to result in reduction of unit capex rates of electrolyzers by 65%. The cost of producing green hydrogen would go down to under 2 USD/kg by the year 2030. Thirty-one countries have announced hydrogen targets. It is being projected that 22% of global energy needs would be met by hydrogen by 2050 with a market value of more than 2 trillion USD.

India launched its National Hydrogen Mission on 15th August 2021. India's target of producing 450 GW of renewable energy (solar and wind) by 2030 is going to help in producing green hydrogen at a lower cost. There is a view that in the interim period, blue hydrogen may be produced and ultimately green hydrogen. Indian Oil Corporation has announced its plan to build India's first green hydrogen plant at its oil refinery in the northern city of Mathura. In the private sector, Reliance has chalked out plans to go into green hydrogen. Saudi and the UAE investment is being attracted to India for producing hydrogen. There are plans to add hydrogen to natural gas supply pipelines and also add hydrogen to CNG. Two hydrogen fuelling stations have been installed at R&D centers.

Thar coal can be a great source of black hydrogen. There are project ideas of producing natural gas or diesel through Thar coal gasification. These projects can be converted to the production of hydrogen. There may be choices or competition between hydrogen and syngas concepts. Fertilizer production can be converted to hydrogen at mine site or Hydrogen can be transported to fertilizer plants located in upper Sindh. There is a steel project lying dormant due to gas supply and cost issues which could be revived. Thar coal hydrogen can be used in this project. Pakistan Steel could use some hydrogen. Oil refineries have a need for hydrogen for desulfurization processes. Thar coal-based hydrogen can be as economic as gasification products, although definitive cost studies may have to be undertaken.

Hydrogen can be a great fuel for exports. If Pakistan manages to install hydrogen production infrastructure in the medium to long-term, it can look forward to exporting hydrogen rather than importing fuel. Saudi Arabia is already implementing a project for producing hydrogen. Hydrogen market may develop faster internationally than it may do at home here in Pakistan.

What should we be doing with respect to hydrogen? It is a typical question for any developing country when new technologies start knocking at the door. Human and financial resources are limited and future not a charted territory. If everybody moves ahead and we do not and stagnate for a variety of social, political and economic constraints, it can endanger our freedom and liberty whatever we have at the moment. Something can always be done. It is not that hopeless. There are options, choices and opportunities. A beginning can be made and a route is charted and whatever resources are available can be marshaled, mobilized and applied.

Pilot projects may be launched for the production of green hydrogen in the wind power regions of Thatta, Jhimpir and Gharo. Excess/unutilized electricity is usually available in these regions. However, one need not restrict to one region due to wind power only. Solar is available almost everywhere in Pakistan. Electrolyzers may be provided to the universities and other R&D centers to produce expertise in green hydrogen production. It is recommended that GoP/Planning Commission may organize a Hydrogen Group of experts drawn from industry, academia and government to develop and recommend a Hydrogen Policy and Plan for the next 10-20 years.

(The writer is former Member Energy, Planning Commission and author of several books on energy sector)

Scenario                                                 1           2            3          4           5
CAPEX electrolyser (Euro/kW)                          2000         800          800        800         800
Efficiency clcctrolyscr (%)                             60          80           80         80          80
Annual opcraling hours (1 year = 8760 hours)          7000        2000         1000        500        7000
Renewable electricity cost (Euro MWh)                   70          70          140          0          60
Electrolytic H2 production cost (Euro/ke)              7.0         6.1         12.2       10.5         3.7

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021


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