IndianOil Backs Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles
Economic Times, Delhi   22-May-2020

IndianOil is putting its might behind hydrogen fuel cell vehicles as its raw materials can be sourced locally, in line with the recent government call for self-reliance, and as an alternative to lithium-ion battery-powered vehicles that could raise country’s dependence on import.

Indian Oil, the nation’s largest refiner and fossil fuel retailer, wants to keep itself relevant to motorists in future should vehicles shift away from polluting fossil fuels under the combined pressure of climate change obligations and technological innovations. In the last few years, it has experimented with building charging stations for battery electric vehicles. It is now embarking on a Rs 300-crore demonstration project for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

“Our forte is hydrogen production,” said SSV Ramakumar, director (R&D) at Indian Oil. “We are the largest producer of hydrogen in the country. Our aim is to build the hydrogen economy and hydrogen distribution network.”

Refineries use hydrogen to reduce the sulphur content of motor fuels. They mostly use natural gas and naphtha to produce hydrogen.

Indian Oil is seeking to purchase 15 fuel cell fitted buses for which a tender is out. “This is a local tender because we believe that if it is to be mass-adopted, it must be from auto OEMs or fuel cell technology providers, who can develop, manufacture or fabricate it in India,” he said.

Fuel cell vehicles carry a hydrogen tank and produce their own electricity, unlike other electric vehicles, which use battery charged from external sources. Hydrogen reacts with oxygen in the fuel cell to produce electricity that drives the motor and emits only water vapour.

“For hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, raw materials can be easily sourced indigenously. Given that prime minister has given a call for self-reliance, we thought hydrogen fuel cell-based mobility will be the ultimate green tech for the country,” said Ramakumar. “Battery EVs have their own challenges of inadequate charging facilities, battery technology, scarcity of battery raw materials in the country and recycling.”

After it receives hydrogen buses, Indian Oil will set up four demonstration units for production of hydrogen, each with different production technology, and identify which production pathway is most optimal.

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are being explored globally and have the potential to come on a par with battery electric vehicles in terms of cost when economies of scale are attained, Ramakumar said.

The total cost of ownership of a hydrogen vehicle, including the capex, production and distribution of hydrogen, would be nearly the same as diesel-powered vehicles when equated on comparable volumes, he said. This is subject to production of hydrogen using biomass, as per the study conducted by Indian Oil R&D.

“If we consider the overall well to wheel cycle, hydrogen fuel cell-based mobility works out to be 8-10% more efficient than battery-electric mobility, considering electricity used for charging the battery is from the coal-based grid,” he said.