The world is changing. Crude oil is becoming expensive and environmentally unsustainable. So, if the world can agree on anything, it is the need to replace conventional fuel vehicles with better options. The EV lobby has capitalised on the opportunity and has strongly pitched electric vehicles as the future of the automobile industry. However, India’s Union Minister of Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari has said that he will drive a car powered by green hydrogen in Delhi in order to show that it’s possible to generate hydrogen from water.
The Union Minister added, “I have a plan to run buses, trucks and cars on green hydrogen that would be produced using sewage water and solid waste in cities.”
Well, Gadkari is right. It is actually possible to generate green hydrogen from wastewater and the hydrogen fuel cell vehicles thus produced are a much better option for reducing vehicular pollution when compared to EVs.
What is green hydrogen?
Green hydrogen is a fuel produced through the electrolysis of water with the use of renewable power. The water is thus split into hydrogen and oxygen. The green hydrogen produced in this process is free from any emissions as cleaner technologies like solar power or wind power can be used for the entire process. Also, green hydrogen has numerous applications like industrial feedstock, fuel cell vehicles and energy storage.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s green hydrogen agenda
Presently, the production of green hydrogen is an expensive process and remains a nascent technology. However, India is looking to develop itself as a global hub of green hydrogen. During his Independence Day speech, PM Modi announced that India will become the biggest exporter of green hydrogen in the years to come. He also launched the National Hydrogen Mission to encourage the green hydrogen industry in the country.
During his UN General Assembly speech in September, Prime Minister Modi again said, “India to become the world’s biggest Green Hydrogen hub. We are answerable to future generations with our decision making.”
Why green hydrogen is better than EV?
You must have read a lot about EVs and their ability to curb carbon emissions. But there are a number of reasons why green hydrogen-powered vehicles are a much better option than the EVs that are powered by lithium-ion batteries.
One major reason why the world wants to shift away from conventional fuels is the need to cut through the monopoly of Oil and Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). However, EVs don’t really solve this problem. Lithium, the most important metal required for Li-ion batteries used in Electric Vehicles, is a finite resource and its demand is set to skyrocket as EVs begin to replace fossil fuel-run vehicles. While only about 3 grams of the light element is used in smartphones, electric vehicle batteries use 10 kilograms of Lithium.
In fact, Lithium-ion batteries will demand the mining of tons of Lithium, and not all nations have the necessary reserves of the metal. Green hydrogen, on the other hand, can be produced in abundance as it only requires the electrolysis of water. Gadkari, for example, has disclosed that wastewater will be used to produce green hydrogen, which solves two issues- wastewater management and finding a cleaner substitute to conventional fuel.
No harmful byproducts:
EVs powered by lithium-ion batteries are not really environment-friendly. There is no efficient method to dispose of lithium-ion batteries once they are used. The components of such batteries- cathode, anode, separator, electrolyte, are tightly stacked together and are very difficult to disassemble. So, after lithium-ion batteries are used, they can add up drastically to the solid waste on the planet.
Compare this to green hydrogen. As per the United States Environmental Protection Agency, “In a fuel cell, hydrogen (H2) gas from the vehicle’s fuel tank combines with oxygen (O2) from the air to generate electricity with only water and heat as byproducts of the process.”
Since you use smartphones and other consumer electronics, you would be able to understand this. Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries have a limited life and the estimated life of a lithium-ion battery is two to three years or 300 to 500 charge cycles, whichever is earlier. Therefore, lithium-ion batteries may not be a prudent option in terms of affordability, especially in developing countries where automobiles are still a matter of luxury.
Hydrogen fuel cell stack however can last for much longer periods of time. In fact, the fuel cell stack in a Toyota Mirai is designed to last for the lifetime of the car, making hydrogen fuel cells a much more affordable option in terms of maintenance and replacement costs.
Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are cleaner than EVs:
Operating hydrogen cars will involve burning hydrogen, which will be truly a zero-emission activity. Even producing green hydrogen requires only the use of renewable energy for the electrolysis of water, which is truly a clean process. On the other hand, running EVs won’t be so simple. The EVs are in themselves zero-emission vehicles, but what about the electricity needed to power them.
Developing countries like India and China still rely predominantly on coal-powered thermal energy, which isn’t really a clean source of electric energy. Transformation to wind energy and solar energy will still take some time. So, if you use coal-powered thermal plants to run EVs, it does not really save the environment and we only shift from one type of hydrocarbons to another type of hydrocarbons while driving our automobiles.
Ask any millennial- the biggest headache of the 21st-century world is charging electronic devices- mobile phones, Bluetooth speakers, hair trimmers, driers and so on. Do we want to add another device to this list? Certainly not.
Consider this, a hydrogen fuel tank can be filled in 5 to 10 minutes. On the other hand, even Tesla’s fast chargers with 120 kW give 80% battery in thirty minutes. Also, creating a huge charging network just for charging EVs throughout large nations like India or the US will involve huge costs. On the other hand, green hydrogen can be transported and used like a conventional fuel in a much more convenient manner.
Green hydrogen, not EVs, is the future of the automobile sector. Yet, the EV lobby is aggressively pushing electric vehicles for obvious reasons. India however seems to be choosing hydrogen-powered vehicles defying all EV backers.