Traveling in India for the common man is not complete without experiencing Indian Railways, which is known for its low cost and extensive network. But despite being a popular mode of transport, Indian Railways has been facing environmental issues in recent years. To address this, the railway is moving towards 100% electrification, but it is not enough. Therefore, Indian train ways is committed to using hydrogen as fuel.
Hydrogen based Railways
In her budget speech on February 1st, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced a significant increase in the capital outlay for Indian Railways, totalling Rs. 2.41 lakh crores. This represents a 71.42% increase from the previous year’s allocation. It is also 9 times greater than the allocation in 2013-14.
The budget also includes provisions for India’s first hydrogen-based train, which is expected to be launched by December 2023. This is especially noteworthy as the same budget allocated Rs. 19,700 crores for India’s National Green Hydrogen Mission. The mission is aimed at promoting hydrogen as a clean and renewable energy source.
Indian Railways operates the largest railway network in the world. It had a passenger traffic reaching 8.09 billion people in 2020. The railway system also handled a total of 1418.1 million tonnes of freight in FY22. Despite its importance to India, the massive volume of rail traffic has a significant impact on the environment. The majority of the railway network was previously powered by fossil fuels. However, India is actively reducing its dependence on diesel in the railway system.
In a reply to the Lok Sabha, Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishav informed the house that in FY2019, Indian Railways consumed 26,41,142 kilolitres of diesel. However, this consumption was reduced by 10.44% and 50.29% in the following two years. The diesel consumption of the Indian Railway stood at 11,75,901 kilolitres in 2021.
In an effort to electrify its networks, Indian Railways has so far electrified 81.5% of its broad-gauged tracks. The goal is to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2030. However, electrification alone is not sufficient to achieve this goal, as the generation of electricity is still a carbon-intensive process.
Hydrogen has long been considered a fuel of the future and that future is near. The production method for hydrogen fuel results in different names for the resultant fuel. Green hydrogen is produced through clean energy sources, pink hydrogen is produced through nuclear energy, blue hydrogen is produced from natural gas and grey hydrogen is produced from fossil fuels.
As far as the Indian Railways is concerned, it can work in 2 ways. Firstly, using hydrogen as a fuel in internal combustion (IC) engines and secondly, by using hydrogen cells. The problem with the hydrogen is its cost intensive production. In the production of green hydrogen, the process of electrolysis of water (separation of hydrogen and oxygen) is followed which uses platinum as the catalyst. The main problem here is that, platinum is costly and hydrogen, being low density fuel raises storage issue. There are some more aspects like its high energy which makes the process risky among others.
The processing and handling of Hydrogen raises the cost of hydrogen fuel production to almost 320-330 per kilogram. But, the government’s incentivisation and increasing the efficiency of process along with low-cost procurement of raw material are some of the important factors that have contributed to the increased emphasis on the production of green Hydrogen.
The high budget allocation to Indian railways, the National Green Hydrogen Mission and India’s goal of reaching net zero emissions are converging to make Indian railways decarbonized and hydrogen-based. Germany was the first country to run a hydrogen train, and India’s growth and progress make the railway initiative achievable.
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