Ambani, Tata and Mahindra might form the dream trio for India’s new National Hydrogen Mission to come to fruition

The National Hydrogen Mission was declared by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman during the 2021-22 Budget on February 1. According to Gateway House colleague Chaitanya Giri, domestic companies such as Reliance, Tatas, Mahindra & Mahindra, and Indian Oil would benefit from the new initiative. He proposes that forming a partnership with businesses would support each other and help India diversify its clean energy choices as well.
Anand Mahindra (L), Ratan Tata (C) and Mukesh Ambani (R)

India is betting on capitalizing on hydrogen, one of the most common elements on earth. During the 2021-22 budget, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharman announced the National Hydrogen Mission to benefit from this universally available portion.

According to Chaitanya Giri, a fellow of space and ocean studies with the Mumbai-based think tank Gateway House who wrote a paper on the methane economy, the green energy source may also put together some of India's largest companies including Reliance, Tatas, Mahindras, and Indian Oil.

According to him, a group of stakeholders such as the Hydrogen Council or the European Hydrogen Coalition is the need of the hour. Companies such as Indian Oil, the Tatas, the Eicher, the Mahindras, let them be part of the coalition. Then it can also be part of speciality chemical companies such as Reliance,' he told Business Insider in an exclusive interview.

Why does India need a hydrogen coalition?

The response is simple: no corporation or industry can pull this off on its own. To work together, you need the car industry, fuel companies, speciality chemicals and advanced materials companies.

India does not only need fuel to make hydrogen a viable solution; it will need cars that can process it. It also involves fueling stations and technology to ensure that it remains secure because, by default, hydrogen is an explosive element.

Countries like Germany have already proven that an alliance is an outstanding path forward. By 2023, it intends to build 400 hydrogen fueling stations. "They are using the Council on Hydrogen to the best extent possible," Giri said.

India may also seek support to build a framework blueprint from Norway, Sweden or New Zealand. But their ventures need to be scaled up to suit India's population. The population of these nations is just one-fourth the size of urban cities in India, with a population of 55 lakh in Norway, while Mumbai has over two crore individuals. Their national-scale ideas can at best be repeated in Indian cities, but can initially be beneficial.

Giri claims that, including Air Goods and Linde, foreign players with technology to make hydrogen safe are already here in India. These companies will enter into contracts along the highways to set up gas infrastructure and storage devices. They will be crucial for dispensing infrastructure like gas fueling stations,” he said.

How will India make Hydrogen?

Currently, there are two approaches to collect hydrogen. One is the electrolysis of water. However, water is a scarce resource.

The other is natural gas which can be split into two parts Hydrogen and one part Carbon. The hydrogen can be used for fuel and the leftover carbon, once solidified, can be used to create speciality materials for sectors like space, aerospace, auto, shipbuilding, electronics and more.

While these two approaches are already on the market, there is one more approach which is not yet business-ready — absorbing Methane directly from the air and then using scrubbers to convert that gas into hydrogen and carbon.

Prototypes are already in the works in Europe, Saudi Arabia and the US. “We just need to implement them on-ground and commercialise these technologies in a way that you have a substantial quantity of fuel,” explained Giri.

What will happen to lithium batteries and electric cars?

Electric cars are actually the flavour of the season, but there are a range of barriers to the use of lithium batteries.

For one, most lithium batteries are imported and there are problems of 'range anxiety' that can be eased by hydrogen fuel. Until having to refuel, electric cars will go for about 200-250 kilometres. Cars with hydrogen would be able to fly double the distance, if not more. Which means less refuelling stations for the drivers and less tension.

Most notably, in the world, there's more hydrogen around than lithium. "Because of the sheer abundance of hydrogen, lithium batteries will fall behind," Giri said.

If done right, hydrogen would be a viable choice for a traditional internal combustion engine. It can also help satisfy the huge energy needs of the exploding population of India.