Atanu Mukherjee, Chief Executive Officer, Dastur Energy
India’s transformational scale is truly breathtaking. At the heart of its economic development lies energy, and few nations face as formidable a challenge as India in its quest to improve the lives of nearly 1.4 billion citizens. However, the rapid expansion of industry and the use of fossil fuels have resulted in India’s annual CO2 emissions ranking third highest in the world, with the urgency to limit global warming within 1.5°C intensifying.
At this critical juncture, technology will be key for India to achieve net zero by 2070 while reducing carbon emissions by 1 billion tonnes and carbon intensity by 45 per cent. India is leveraging a multidimensional strategy while employing cost-effective decarbonisation technologies, including carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS), green hydrogen, blue hydrogen, methanol, and waste-to-energy (WtE).
CCUS: CCUS technologies represent a diverse suite of innovative solutions that have the potential to significantly contribute to global energy and climate objectives, especially to achieve decarbonisation of the hard to abate industrial sector (steel, cement, oil and gas, fertilisers and chemicals) and also ensure energy security for the nation, as India’s reliance on fossil fuels is likely to continue in the foreseeable future. CCUS has a critical role to play in realising the goals of net zero by 2070, and particularly for achieving short and medium-term decarbonisation goals by deploying readily available carbon capture and utilisation technologies.
Green hydrogen: Green hydrogen is emerging as a leading contender as developing economies like India strive to transition to sustainable energy sources. This clean fuel is produced through electrolysis, a process that uses renewable energy sources like wind or solar to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen using electrodes. Green hydrogen is poised to take centre stage in the global effort toward achieving carbon neutrality and combating climate change. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) predicts that with economies of scale, green hydrogen installations could witness a cost reduction of 40-80 per cent in the long run. This trend, coupled with the declining cost of renewable energy, indicates that green hydrogen could become a profitable venture by 2030.
Blue hydrogen: In comparison to green hydrogen, blue hydrogen presents an economically viable solution to the pressing challenge of decarbonisation, offering a commercially proven alternative to CO2-emitting processes. In the short term, the decarbonisation of hydrogen production in existing refining and chemical feedstock facilities can be accelerated through the implementation of bolt-on carbon-capture retrofits. Using carbon capture, gasification and gas processing technologies, blue hydrogen can also be produced from steel plant waste gases, petroleum residues, biomass and coal at attractive costs and scale. Advancements in technology, such as the cryogenic fractionation system on the pressure swing adsorption (PSA) tail gas, are unlocking additional hydrogen yields, leading to a carbon capture cost as low as Rs 1,600 per tonne of CO2 and blue hydrogen costs of Rs 100 per kg. This has made these projects financially feasible even without significant green premiums or carbon prices. Blue hydrogen at scale and cost is an accelerated enabler of the hydrogen economy in India, and complements green hydrogen at scale in the future.
Methanol: Methanol is a crucial and incredibly versatile chemical that finds use in the production of hundreds of products of everyday use. As a low-carbon alternative to conventional fuels, methanol offers tremendous potential as a key enabler of decarbonisation across several industrial sectors and applications. Methanol blending in petrol and diesel, and its use as a maritime fuel not only helps in GHG reduction, but also bolsters energy security through reduced dependence on imported crude. While traditional methods for methanol production rely on synthesis gas derived from fossil fuels, green methanol can convert carbon captured through CCUS and green hydrogen to produce clean methanol. Methanol’s versatility and potential as a cleaner burning fuel make it an attractive option for a broad range of industries. With the ability to be used as feedstock for the production of other chemicals and materials, methanol can play a pivotal role in the development of a circular economy.
WtE: Waste matter and especially waste gases contain substantial amounts of energy that can be harnessed through various techniques. CO2 emissions can be captured through processes such as waste gas conditioning and enrichment, waste incineration, anaerobic digestion, biogas production, and wastewater treatment. The goal is to establish a circular economy that transforms all forms of waste into energy, with an approach that prioritises prevention, reuse and recycling as the most effective methods. These energy recovery processes are either 100 per cent renewable, as in the case of biogas, or partly renewable, with 50-80 per cent renewable materials, depending on the composition of the waste. In countries such as India that currently rely heavily on coal and lignite for power generation, WtE offers a notable alternative to fossil fuels, reducing reliance on non-renewable sources while generating energy in a more sustainable and environmentally friendly manner.
India’s commitment to leveraging technology for decarbonisation and net zero is reflected in the country’s research and development programmes focusing on developing and commercialising new and innovative clean energy technologies. As technology continues to evolve and new innovations emerge, India remains committed to leveraging these advancements to drive the country’s transition towards a low-carbon and sustainable future.