Leh joins Delhi in hydrogen bus race

LEH: A race is on between Delhi and Leh to become the country’s first city with public transport service running on green hydrogen.

Ladakh’s capital appeared to have stolen a march on Monday evening by signing an agreement with state-run generation utility NTPC’s renewable energy arm for launching hydrogen buses as part of prime minister Narendra Modi’s carbon-neutral vision for the country’s youngest union territory.

Delhi is yet to have any formal agreement but is very much in the race for the green distinction. India’s largest oil refiner and fuel retailer IndianOil had on June 30 ordered 15 hydrogen fuel cell buses from Tata Motors for deploying in Delhi, although there is no formal agreement.

The Leh administration, on the other hand, now has an agreement with NTPC Renewable Energy Ltd (NTPC REL) for introducing such buses. The agreement came within days of NTPC’s power trading arm NTPC Vidyut Vyapar Nigam on July 9 floating a tender for buying hydrogen fuel cell buses for deployment in Delhi and Leh. The bids close on July 16.

“This project will take Ladakh on the path of becoming the first hydrogen-based state in the country and in due course phase out fossil fuel,” Ladakh Lt. Governor R. K. Mathur said after the MoU with NTPC REL was signed.

Irrespective of which city finally gets to ride a hydrogen bus first, the proposed deployment in Leh stands out for several reasons. This will be the first time in the world that hydrogen-fuelled buses will be used at such extreme altitudes with thin air and temperature variations as Leh. Ladakh’s nerve centre is situated at an elevation of 11,500 feet and experiences a temperature of -20 degrees in winter.

Petrol and diesel engines lose power at such altitudes due to low oxygen levels in the air. It is yet to be seen how hydrogen buses will perform under such conditions.

The hydrogen buses would be truly zero-emission vehicles as hydrogen would be generated from renewable energy.

The colour coding of hydrogen denotes the source or method used for production. ‘Green’ hydrogen is produced by electrolysing water using power from renewable energy sources such as wind or solar.

‘Grey’ hydrogen is obtained by separating some of the hydrogen molecules in natural gas. Hydrogen produced from coal or petcoke, the end product of refining, is known as ‘brown’ hydrogen. Hydrogen sourced from carbon capture and storage is known as ‘blue’ hydrogen. Hydrogen from biomass and plastics is known as ‘white’ hydrogen.

India is testing several applications of hydrogen. The oil ministry is moving to include hydrogen within the definition of ‘mineral oils’, for which the government gives out licence to explore and produce. This will provide a policy framework for the adoption of hydrogen. The ministry is also looking at a 10% blending of CNG (compressed natural gas) with hydrogen in future.

Globally, hydrogen is being seen as a true carbon-free mobility solution because water is the only a by-product of burning the gas that can be easily obtained. Hydrogen also has an added advantage as it can be used for both fuel cell and internal combustion engines.

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