Hydrogen Fuel Cell Buses are Atmanirbhar-cally Driving Away CO2
India's first indigenously manufactured Hydrogen fuel cell bus was demonstrated by Sentient Labs, an R&D innovation facility. The hydrogen fuel cell technology was developed in partnership with CSIR-NCL (National Chemical Laboratory) and CSIR-CECRI (Council of Scientific and Industrial Research) - (Central Electrochemical Research Institute).
Sentient Labs' vision is to create technology solutions for sustainable mobility, with a focus on hydrogen-powered vehicles at the moment. It found constraints in battery technology, fuel cell technology, and hydrogen generating technology. The bus is powered by a fuel cell that generates electricity from hydrogen and air. Since the bus emits only water as waste, it is perhaps the most environmentally friendly means of transportation. For one, a single diesel bus traveling long distances generates about 100 tonnes of CO2 annually, and India has over a million of them.
Combining both of Sentient's technologies could be a cost-effective and environmentally beneficial solution. While hydrogen generation technology can offer farmers a new source of income, replacing diesel buses with hydrogen fuel cell buses will significantly improve air quality while also lowering oil import costs.
Sentient Labs is committed to helping India achieve its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for transportation by developing clean and intelligent solutions.
Ravi Pandit, Chairman of Sentient Labs, said, “we are proud to launch an indigenously developed hydrogen fuel cell power bus. A strong technical team along with CSIR-NCL worked on several technology components. This will go a long way in powering Hydrogen Mission, Aatmanirbhar Bharat and importantly sustainable mobility. We envision that the solution will see wide-spread adoption powered by several partnerships. Our efforts will also be pivotal in enabling vehicle makers and suppliers to build a net-zero carbon path in India”.
Dr. Raghunath Mashelkar, Member of Board of Directors, Sentient Labs, said, “world over, efforts related to the green hydrogen revolution are on, but Sentient Labs stands out. At Sentient, challenges that are core to India are understood, and solutions are developed. Digitization, decentralisation and decarbonization is what India needs for sustainable mobility and these innovations from Sentient will go a long way”.
Sentient Labs built and developed additional critical components such as the Balance of Plant, Powertrain, and Battery Pack from the ground up, in addition to the hydrogen fuel cell technology. On a 9-meter, 32-seater, air-conditioned bus, all of these components were deployed. This vehicle is designed to have a range of 450 km while only using 30 km of hydrogen. A modular architecture enables for design adjustments to meet range and operating conditions requirements.
Tata’s First Try on Hydrogen Fuel Cell Bus
In 2018, Tata Motors and Indian Oil Corporation experimented their first trial on India’s first ever hydrogen fuel cell technology. The Department of Science and Industrial Research, the Ministry of Science and Technology, and the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy have all contributed to the project's funding. The bus was also fuelled at IndianOil's R&D Centre, which is the country's first hydrogen dispensing plant.
Tata Motors and IndianOil will conduct long-term testing of the hydrogen fuel cell bus to better understand the efficiency and durability of the new and clean mobility option in the long run.
The Tata Starbus fuel cell bus is a zero-emission vehicle that was created in collaboration with ISRO and is ideally suited for inter-city transportation for the public (Indian Space Research Organisation). The Starbus Electric 9m, Starbus Electric 12m, and Starbus Hybrid 12m buses are designed, developed, and manufactured in India and are powered by alternative fuels. As a byproduct, the Tata Starbus Fuel Cell bus produces only water and heat, resulting in zero emissions.
With Tata Motors at the forefront of introducing clean vehicles for public transportation, such developments reflect well on the Indian government's 'Make in India' policy. While luxury buses from Volvo and Mercedes-Benz have been spotted, Tata Motors' new buses also promise to be environmentally friendly. Buses powered by hydrogen fuel cells are already on the road in a number of nations. London's public transportation system includes almost 100 fuel cell buses.
How close is India’s Distance in Commercialization?
In the Union budget for 2020-21, the Finance Minister formally initiated the National Hydrogen Energy Mission (NHM), which seeks to generate hydrogen from renewable energy sources. The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) has also stated that the drafted NHM regulations will be submitted to the Union Cabinet for approval. Though it is expected that NHM would focus on producing green hydrogen and allowing its commercial usage as a transportation fuel, it is unclear what roadmap the government has in mind in its draught laws.
The economic sustainability of harvesting green or blue hydrogen is one of the most significant issues that the industry has in commercializing hydrogen. The technology employed in the production and use of hydrogen, such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) and hydrogen fuel cell technology, is still in its early stages and is expensive, raising the cost of hydrogen generation. Furthermore, fuel cell maintenance expenses after a plant's completion can be high.
The commercial use of hydrogen as a fuel and in industries necessitates a massive investment in research and development of technologies and infrastructure for hydrogen production, storage, transportation, and demand creation. However, the NHM's proposed regulations are likely to include specifics about hydrogen technology, such as storage, research and development, pilot projects, and other specifications and safety criteria.
With Indian Oil Corporation Limited (IOCL) announcing the establishment of prototype hydrogen production units, the industry has already unveiled its hydrogen project. NTPC, an energy PSU, is exploring establishing a green hydrogen production facility in Andhra Pradesh, while RIL, a private sector behemoth, plans to gradually replace traditional transportation fuels with hydrogen and clean electricity. To get a good start on the NHM and ensure a smooth transition, the policy vacuum must be filled as soon as feasible with regulations.
Commercial use will necessitate collaboration between multiple ministries and regulators. The NHM can also emphasize the importance of global cooperation and provide opportunities for technology exchange.