‘2024 will lay the roadmap for hydrogen-powered vehicles'

Medium & heavy vehicles to lead the conversion.
Last Updated : 24 December 2023, 21:51 IST

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Bengaluru: If 2023 has been the year of electric mobility gathering momentum, 2024, say industry observers, will essentially be about laying the groundwork for broad-basing India’s engagement with alternative fuel - particularly hydrogen.  Some enabling action by both the government and the automotive industry was already seen in this calendar, which is expected to evolve into developing the base infrastructure and policy support in the coming year.

Many participants in the sustainability journey are not so impressed by electric mobility. “Electric vehicles are no longer considered the silver bullet solving the twin problem of emissions and our large import bill. We are effectively just moving the emissions from one place to the other in the chain. Hydrogen is expected to emerge as a viable commercial option for both passenger and commercial vehicles and play a significant role in resolving both problems. It is critical that the industry, government and consumer groups are in step to ensure that the regulatory environment facilitates faster adoption,” said Kabir Bogra, Partner at Khaitan & Co.


On the ground, in January, one saw the Union Government launch the National Green Hydrogen Mission with the aspiration to develop a production capacity of at least 5 MMT per annum bringing in investments of about Rs 8 trillion. The same month one also saw Tata Motors and Ashok Leyland showcase heavy-duty trucks with hydrogen internal combustion engine (H2ICE) technology at the Auto Expo.

Omega Seiki Mobility is set to launch a hydrogen-fuel cell-powered three-wheeler by mid-2024. More recently, India’s first green hydrogen fuel cell electric bus - a product of collaboration between Tata Motors and Indian Oil Corporation - was unveiled in Delhi, in September. Then came the global debut of an H2ICE vehicle by JCB at Bengaluru last week.

The future

These are just the first stirrings. According to Mumbai-based BlueWeave Consulting, between 2023 and 2029, the size of India’s hydrogen fuel cell vehicle market is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 27.66% reaching a value of $347.85 million by 2029 from about $80.36 million in 2022.

According to Subhabrata Sengupta, partner at Avalon Consulting, India may see 10,000-12,000 hydrogen-powered vehicles, mainly medium and heavy commercial vehicles by 2030. 

While estimates on the share of hydrogen vehicles are “still speculative”, as the technology is in nascent stages, projections for India’s electrification of its vehicles peg it at just 10-12% by 2030, well below China’s 48% and USA’s 27%, pointed out Rajeev Singh, partner and consumer industry leader for Deloitte - Asia Pacific. 

EVs will remain a better proposition for urban intra-city mobility, while hybrids will take on intercity (long-haul) transportation. While efforts are on with flex engines using ethanol blending and biofuels, lighter fuels such as hydrogen make a lot more sense where payload is a detrimental factor, explained Mustafa Wajid, Chair - IET Future of Mobility and Transport Panel. “Green hydrogen-powered heavy vehicles could be seen on roads in the next 12 months,” he added.

“We are very well placed, thanks to our experience with gasoline, diesel and CNG, to take on H2ICE. All we need is a little tweaking on the CNG engines for example in terms of quantum of pressure adjustments,” suggested Anuraag Bharadwaj, Vice President and Industry Platform Leader for Automotive – India, Capgemini.

The challenges

Fuel cell technology, while safe, is also extremely expensive and is less efficient  (as low as 30%) as compared to EVs, even though it addressed range anxiety, a major issue, industry leaders agreed. “India is still importing electrolytes (used in fuel cell production),” said Himanshu Singh, research analyst with Prabhudas Lilladher Pvt Ltd. Efforts are also underway to produce synthetic hydrogen, the carbon capture way. 

Singh pointed out that for scalability, pricing has to reach a sustainable level. Today EVs cost about 3-4 times as compared to internal combustion engine vehicles and so far estimates are unavailable on the price range of hydrogen-powered ones.

“The challenges and economic viability of production, transport and storage are big roadblocks for hydrogen-led mobility today,” Shreyas Shibulal, founder and director of Micelio Mobility added.

Action required

Ravi Chawla, managing director and chief executive of Gulf Oil sees early efforts to set up the supply chain among the oil and gas players and technical interventions addressing the cost problem in the long-term. “We are all set when it comes to lubricants required with more efforts needed to set up the supply chain,” he said. Singh underlined that government incentives like PLI will boost domestic production of electrolytes and bring down costs helping the segment to take off. 

Veer Singh, chief executive of Lord’s Automative Pvt Ltd underscored a twofold approach under which governments can strengthen existing regulations to accommodate the unique characteristics and requirements of alternative fuel vehicles, especially in areas of storage, distribution and safety, along with drafting new regulations tailored particularly for emerging technologies. 

“The government could drive faster adoption either through reduction in tax rates and monetary incentives to producers or the users, or through mandatory adoption/restriction,”  Ashish Bagadia, Partner, Corporate Finance & Investment Banking, BDO India added.

“We expect the FAME 3 to feature alternate fuel types,” Shibulal suggested, adding that the country could see startups emerging to create solutions to position hydrogen as a commercially viable alternative fuel for vehicles.

Published 24 December 2023, 21:51 IST

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