With nations rolling out their green future initiatives and strategies aiming at increasing the use of cleaner and renewable sources of energy, hydrogen fuel is now the talk of the town. Several nations have begun taking a serious approach towards replacing the traditional sources of energy- oil and gas, with renewable energy. While some nations are looking at green hydrogen as their fuel of choice for the future, they are forced to consider blue hydrogen, pink hydrogen, or grey hydrogen as the option for immediate future due to technical and economic reasons.
The likes of Japan, South Korea, Australia, Norway, Germany, EU, France, Spain, Chile, Canada, Russia, and now India, have rolled out their hydrogen strategies in the last 4 years. Russia is expected to lead the blue hydrogen market in coming years. With Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s optimistic towards India-Russia cooperation’s potential to bring stability in global energy market, can hydrogen become an avenue for rejuvenation of ties between the two nations?
Hydrogen is an emerging option for an energy dense fuel with zero carbon dioxide emissions. It can be produced through several ways ranging from use of biomass waste, fossil fuels, nuclear material, and completely renewable solar and wind energy. To produce hydrogen fuel, water is split into hydrogen and oxygen by electrolysis process (using electrolysers), which need electricity.
When the needed electricity comes from completely renewable sources like solar and wind, the generated hydrogen is termed as green. If it is generated from fossil fuels like coal and oil, it is termed as brown/grey hydrogen. In case the released carbon dioxide is captured through carbon sequestration processes, the output is blue hydrogen. Further, in case of use of nuclear energy for electrolysis process, the term used is pink hydrogen. When biomass or plastics are used for electricity generation to split water and produce hydrogen fuel, it is termed as white hydrogen.
Hydrogen can be stored in several ways, ranging from cryo-compressed which stores the gaseous form of hydrogen, to cryogenic vessels that stores liquid hydrogen. As high-density hydrogen storage poses a challenge for transportation applications, hydrogen fuel till now has been used in either large volume systems like rockets, or stationary applications like industries. For utilising hydrogen, fuel cells act as the mechanism which are fed hydrogen and oxygen from the outside, resulting in chemical reaction for energy output. While the use of fuel cells has been in place since 1960s in space projects like the Soviet lunar program, recent technology innovations have led to the development of new materials that can create such fuel cells to be used in smaller vehicles like cars and trucks.
It needs to be noted that there remain several limitations at present when it comes to an expansion in hydrogen use. While fuel cell expansion is constrained by the expensive platinum used in fuel cell batteries, forms like blue hydrogen are facing criticism for its inability to be a cleaner fuel in absence of effective carbon capturing techniques, as then blue hydrogen may end up producing more carbon in process of generation of hydrogen fuel, then it will avoid while being utilised in its application. However, the world is looking at increasing capacity first for the usage of hydrogen, and then turning towards a completely renewable and clean form of green hydrogen.
Russia as a leader in a ‘Hydrogen Future’
Being the world’s leading oil and gas exporter, Russia has a massive potential to produce hydrogen fuel on a commercial scale, for both internal usage and export purposes. This vision is observed in the concept of development of hydrogen energy announced by Russia last year. According to this strategy, Russia is hoping to maintain its oil and gas export markets in Europe and Asia through blue hydrogen exports. Russia sees Japan, China, South Korea, Germany, and France as promising expert destinations.
According to Russia’s deputy energy minister Pavel Sorokin, cutting transportation costs and safe transit will be the major challenges for hydrogen exports. Russia is looking at several solutions towards the transportation issue. While it wants to utilise the existing gas pipeline to Europe to transport a mixture of hydrogen and natural gas to the extent needing no changes in infrastructure, Russia is eyeing at shipping as the mode for exporting cryogenic containers to Asian markets, especially Japan.
Beyond the tremendous capabilities for producing blue hydrogen in the near future, Russia is also aiming towards pink hydrogen which would utilise Russia’s existing nuclear energy facilities.
Russia’s hydrogen strategy has focused on creation of 3 territorial production clusters. The northwest cluster in St. Petersburg and Leningrad region (at Baltic shores) is oriented towards exporting hydrogen to European markets. The eastern cluster in Russian far east region is aimed at export hydrogen to the Asia-Pacific region and also for housing, industrial and internal transportation facilities to accelerate development in the far east region. Further, third cluster in Arctic (Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous district) can aim towards developing power supply lines as the Arctic region commercializes with the opening of the Northern Sea Route for year-around transport.
India’s Hydrogen Strategy
India is aiming at a quantum leap in realm of energy independence. While all hydrogen consumed in India comes from fossil fuels at present (grey/brown hydrogen), India has set a goal to produce nearly 80 percent of its hydrogen from completely renewable sources (green hydrogen). To this goal, India has launched its National Hydrogen Mission last month. India wants to have a 10 percent blending of Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) to create H-CNG, in order to accelerate the hydrogen production. According to TERI (The Energy and Resources Institute), India needs to target those sectors where direct electrification is not well-suited.
In one viewpoint, India needs to take a similar approach it took in case of the solar revolution where even though the prices of implementing infrastructure to harness solar energy was costly when India began the process in 2010, the cost has dropped drastically with technical innovations. So even though currently the costs of production for green hydrogen are not competitive relative to that of blue or grey hydrogen, instead of worrying about this, India should focus on ramping up the infrastructure of pipeline infrastructure and creating a demand for hydrogen, in order to fulfil the goal of creating a hydrogen economy.
Role of India-Russia cooperation for a Hydrogen Future
Most national strategies aimed at creating a green hydrogen economy understand the major role to be played by blue hydrogen in near future, till technology innovations provide a cost-effective solution which can compete with non-renewable sources. Being a nation which imports 80 percent of its crude oil requirements, India can benefit by working in coordination with Russia who has embarked on its journey towards creating its lead in the blue hydrogen market.
While scientists from India and Russia are working towards developing new materials for cheaper hydrogen fuel cells which can bring down the prices for hydrogen fuel run cars, the desires to expand cooperation in energy sector by both India and Russia can come to fruition via a ‘Hydrogen future’.
In recent years, India has looked towards investment in Russian far east with increasing interest. With upcoming projects like International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC), (connecting India’s Mumbai port with St. Petersburg in Russia through Iran and Azerbaijan land route) and the Chennai-Vladivostok maritime corridor (creating connectivity between India and Russian far east), India and Russia can benefit from trade and investment in the hydrogen capacities.
There have also been suggestions for India to cooperate in this aspect with the nations of the Gulf region like Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Oman. As major oil and gas producers, these nations are also looking towards transitioning their economies towards clean energy and have come up with their own policies and initiatives. India’s geographical proximity to these nations and the already existing energy trade between India and Gulf nations provides a compelling case for cooperation in hydrogen sector as well.
India and Russia are witnessing a rejuvenation in ties since the last few years. The two nations have been keen to find new areas of cooperation, and the leaders from both nations have expressed desire to increase mutual cooperation in fields of energy, connectivity, trade, and security for strengthening ties and stability in the geopolitical landscape. The emergence of hydrogen as the ‘Fuel of the future’ is one such avenue which India and Russia can exploit for mutual benefit. As a nation with huge energy import needs, India can benefit from the production capacities and technologies in hydrogen domain which Russia is expected to lead in coming years. There remain several challenges related to technical feasibilities for the adoption of green hydrogen for some time to come. There are also challenges like transportation costs when it comes to blue hydrogen. But India and Rusia should seek to overcome their traditional limitations to start a new era in their relations.
(Grey/Brown hydrogen produced from natural gas and coal has a production cost between USD 2 to 6 per kg, blue hydrogen using carbon capture at around USD 6-10 per kg, green hydrogen costs around USD 10-13 per kg)
*Divyanshu Jindal is a Doctoral student at OP Jindal Global University, India.