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Bicker brake on hydrogen fuel

New Delhi, July 18: India’s ambition to phase out fossil fuels and inch towards a hydrogen economy may be undermined by turf battles and sharp disagreements over applications of this alternative source of energy.

Disagreements over hydrogen as an alternative fuel surfaced today at a high-level meeting on hydrogen energy called by the Planning Commission, with some energy analysts questioning the wisdom of India investing in hydrogen for transport.

Over the past decade, the ministry of non-conventional energy sources has funded research groups that have developed prototype motorcycles, buses, mini-power stations and even domestic kitchen burners — all guzzling hydrogen. But none of these technologies has been considered attractive for commercialisation by industry.

The ministry wants demonstration projects to push these prototypes, including a hydrogen motorcycle from Benaras Hindu University and a hydrogen electric bus from a research team in Chennai, closer towards the market.

But experts say India’s investments in hydrogen energy have been meagre compared to the billions of dollars invested by governments and industries in Europe, Japan, and the US to develop hydrogen technologies for transport applications.

“We can’t spread ourselves too thin,” said Rajendra Pachauri, director, Tata Energy Research Institute, New Delhi. “We should concentrate on stationary applications.” India lacks infrastructure for distribution of hydrogen for transport, he said.

Over 90 per cent of hydrogen produced today comes from processes that burn fossil fuels. Experts say byproduct hydrogen from some industries is insufficient to support widespread transport. “We need to identify niche areas such as decentralised power generation through small generators that use hydrogen,” said Pradipto Ghosh, additional secretary, department of economic affairs.

But a senior official in the ministry of non-conventional energy sources said transport would remain a priority. “We need to pursue hydrogen-powered two-wheelers, three-wheelers and four-wheelers,” said S.K. Chopra, senior adviser in the ministry.

A group from Benaras Hindu University has developed a hydrogen-powered motorcycle that costs Rs 25,000 over the standard price. “We have 10 of these running successfully in Varanasi, and the hydrogen-powered electric bus in Chennai has logged over 2,000 km,” Chopra said.

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