India Needs to Step on the (Hydrogen) Gas

Using hydrogen as an energy carrier for such applications is based on two expectations: one, that hydrogen can be produced in a manner that is affordable and environmentally benign and, two, that applications using hydrogen - fuel cell vehicles, for example - can gain market share in competition.

Published: 10-May-2007

The UN’s latest climate change report makes it clear that the days of passing the buck and pussyfooting are over.

It says that emissions must start declining by 2015 to prevent the world’s temperatures from rising more than two degrees Celsius over pre-industrialised temperatures to stave off disaster.

To that end, emissions of carbon dioxide in particular have to drop between 50 and 85 per cent by 2050.

Considering automobiles happen to be one of the leading causes of atmospheric pollution, the need to change over to hydrogen fuel based vehicles as soon as possible can’t be over- emphasised.

The technology involves a very simple chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen, generating energy which can be used to power a car, producing only water, not exhaust fumes.

However, using hydrogen as an energy carrier for such applications is based on two expectations: one, that hydrogen can be produced in a manner that is affordable and environmentally benign and, two, that applications using hydrogen — fuel cell vehicles, for example — can gain market share in competition.

The first is not a big problem; technological advances in nuclear power can provide the energy for the large-scale generation of hydrogen by a variety of means.

The second is where all efforts so far have got stymied. The reason is the oil and automobile industry’s unwritten agenda to keep the production of internal combustion engines rolling at any cost.

They have simply too much at stake here to think of losing even a fraction of their enormous margins.

As a result, their powerful lobbies make sure nothing radically different is ever undertaken in the name of experiment or environment.

Consider hybrid electric cars for instance. Since these use rechargeable batteries in tandem with conventional engines they’re considered kosher because the fossil fuel component is still there.

Almost every automotive giant pours megabucks into their R&D and manufactures at least a model or two to earn brownie points.

All-electric cars on the other hand are pathetic second runners, even though they’re far cleaner.

For the hydrogen economy to happen under such circumstances is a daunting yet doable task.

To begin with, governments will have to wholly reinvent their mindsets in a hurry and stop handling the nexus with kid gloves.

To stabilise the planet’s climate, all gloves need to come off now.

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