Indian Oil Corp. is moving ahead swiftly with its hydrogen ambitions by launching its reformer plant that will produce hydrogen-spiked compressed natural gas, or H-CNG, a fuel Indian energy policy makers are betting can play a major role in the transport sector in coming years.
The push towards hydrogen by India's biggest refiner highlights the company's strategic vision to transform into an integrated energy company as it steps up efforts to prepare itself for the energy transition process.
On Oct. 20, IOC inaugurated its H-CNG Plant in the Indian capital, while the petroleum ministry launched trial run of buses that will run using H-CNG as fuel. To produce H-CNG, the entire CNG of a station will pass through this new reforming unit and part of the methane gets converted into hydrogen, with the outlet product having 17%-18% hydrogen. IOC officials say emission levels would come down substantially for vehicles using H-CNG as fuel.
"In India's quest to promote hydrogen as a clean fuel for the mobility sector, H-CNG is emerging as an excellent interim technology for achieving emissions reduction and import substitution. Refueling of H-CNG blends in vehicles can be performed with minimum modifications in the infrastructure that is currently under use for dispensing CNG," an IOC statement said.
THE COST FACTOR
Globally, hydrogen required for blending in CNG is produced through electrolysis of water, followed by high-pressure blending with CNG. The very high cost of this process offsets the savings achieved from fuel economy gains compared to CNG, IOC said.
"H-CNG blends can be produced directly from CNG, bypassing the energy-intensive electrolysis process and high-pressure blending costs. The flexible and robust process allows the production of H-CNG on-site, in less severe conditions and under low pressure," IOC said, adding that the cost of H-CNG production by the above process would be about 22% cheaper than conventional physical blending.
IOC chairman Shrikant Madhav Vaidya said the latest technological development would align with India's commitment to transit towards the hydrogen economy. "IOC took early steps in promoting hydrogen initiatives. We have also launched a research program on H-CNG alongside the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers and the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy," he said.
Petroleum secretary Tarun Kapoor said that H-CNG could potentially reduce the burden over gas imports in the future. India's push toward embracing hydrogen is gaining speed as not only state refiners, but even some of the country's top private energy companies, such as Reliance Industries and Adani Group, have also highlighted the urgency to move toward the carbon-free fuel, which may have an edge over other non-fossil fuel sources.
The recent announcement by Mukesh Ambani, India's richest individual and chairman of Reliance Industries, to embrace hydrogen in its efforts toward making the biggest private refiner a net carbon-zero firm by 2035 may serve as a wake-up call on the potential the fuel holds in a country that imports 80% of its crude oil requirements.