Catalysing decarbonisation of trucks through H2ICE, ET Auto

<p>A notable example is the collaborative initiative between RIL and Ashok Leyland, which intends to implement such a strategy. This initiative entails establishing HRS (Hydrogen Refuelling Stations) on the daily operating routes of these trucks. </p>
A notable example is the collaborative initiative between RIL and Ashok Leyland, which intends to implement such a strategy. This initiative entails establishing HRS (Hydrogen Refuelling Stations) on the daily operating routes of these trucks.

New Delhi: As we delve into the topic of decarbonizing mobility, our series, “The Alternatives in Propulsion Technology,” takes centre stage. Throughout this series, we will cast a spotlight on a spectrum of alternatives, namely Hydrogen-ICE, FCEV, CNG, Ethanol-Methanol, Hybrid systems, and BEVs. Our first article will highlight H2ICE’s potential for decarbonizing the heavy mobility segment in India.Emergence of hydrogen in the Sustainable mobility spectrum

In recent years, driven by rising CO2 levels, there have been several extreme climate events globally. They have prompted governments worldwide to take steps to reduce carbon emissions that lead climate change. The transport sector, which contributes to over 24% of carbon emissions globally, has become a key area for decarbonisation efforts. As a result, over the past few years the mobility market has been transforming rapidly, moving towards alternative lower emission powertrain options of which electric mobility has been emerging as the option of choice for decarbonisation. Globally, the sale of electric vehicles has been increasing rapidly, with the share of electric cars rising to 14% of new cars sold in 2022.In the heavy-duty trucks segment, electrification is constrained by battery weight (and thus the effective payload) and charging time considerations. It is in this segment that hydrogen (especially green hydrogen, which is produced from electrolysis of water using renewable energy) is globally emerging as an alternative solution. There are four hydrogen mobility options being discussed currently, which include HFC (Hydrogen Fuel Cell), H2ICE (Hydrogen Internal Combustion Engine), E-Fuels and HCNG (Hydrogen Compressed Natural Gas). Of these, two hydrogen options dominate the discourse, HFC (Hydrogen Fuel Cell) and H2-ICE (Hydrogen internal combustion engine) vehicles.HFC vehicles use a propulsion system similar to BEVs (Battery electric vehicle), where energy stored as hydrogen is converted into electricity by a fuel cell to power an electric motor. H2-ICE vehicles burn hydrogen in an ICE engine. These vehicles can be developed by modification to existing natural gas engines. While eventually, HFC will be the preferred options for electrification of heavy mobility, given the current higher costs of fuel cells, H2-ICE vehicles can play a key role as an interim solution, ensuring decarbonization of this segment.

Hydrogen Mobility in Heavy Vehicle Segmet

Hydrogen has a gravimetric energy density of 33.6 KWH/kg, which is significantly higher than 200-300 WH/kg for lithium-ion batteries currently being used in various electric vehicles. This means that the higher energy requirement of heavier vehicles can be met without correspondingly increasing the weight of vehicles and thus reducing the payload capacity.

Apart from a lower payload, H2-ICE vehicles provide other advantages for the long haul, heavy vehicles segment. In terms of refuelling times, a typical 40 tonne (GCVW) trailer which requires an installed battery capacity of 300-350 KWh will have a charging time of 1.5 hours with a DC ultra-fast charger (240 KW). Compared to this an H2-ICE vehicle has a refuelling time of 5-15 minutes, which is very similar to that for fossil-fuel ICE vehicles. For the trucking industry, where uptimes critically impact the total cost of ownership, H2ICE can ensure a natural shift from current diesel trucks.

Given the focus on green hydrogen in the country, H2-ICE provides a viable power train option for decarbonizing the heavy-duty vehicle segment. It can also propel the development of hydrogen refuelling infrastructure, which can support adoption of HFC in the time to come. Recognizing the relevance of H2-ICE to the Indian context, we are seeing companies entering this segment with new products.

Ashok Leyland has partnered with RIL to develop a H2-ICE heavy-duty truck (19-35 tonnes), which was unveiled earlier this year. RIL has further plans to use these trucks along with retrofits, as part of its contracted fleet of 45,000 trucks that are used for refining and marketing operations. TATA Motors is also working on developing H2-ICE solutions.

The Indian context

India, having one of the world’s most competitive renewable energy (RE) tariffs, holds immense potential for producing hydrogen at competitive LCOH (Levelized Cost of Hydrogen). This not only paves the way for domestic growth but also unlocks promising export opportunities. Moreover, the trajectory of RE tariffs in India is poised to decrease further, driven by economies of scale, robust government support, and ongoing enhancements in operations and maintenance. Another pivotal factor shaping LCOH is the electrolyser capex wherein the Indian government has taken proactive steps, introducing a scheme with incentives totalling INR 4,440 Crore to boost domestic electrolyzer manufacturing, which is expected to reduce electrolyser prices.

Our analysis reveals that owing to the cost reduction in the green hydrogen production as well as value chain till refuelling stations, H2-ICE heavy duty vehicles will be at a TCO advantage of ~30%-35% as compared to an equivalent diesel vehicle by 2030-2035. This not only makes hydrogen-powered vehicles economically viable but also sparks critical discussions regarding hydrogen’s widespread utilization and the pressing challenges that need to be addressed to ensure growth of the hydrogen mobility ecosystem.

Challenges and opportunities

Although H2-ICE is a viable solution for the decarbonization challenge, its development and adoption in the country are dependent on certain critical factors. As we discussed earlier, with expected reduction in price of green hydrogen production and other value chain elements in the future, H2-ICE is expected to become economically competitive to the existing diesel options. However, the widespread growth of the hydrogen mobility ecosystem will further require (1) the development of hydrogen transportation and refuelling infrastructure and (2) expanding the vehicle options available to the customers.

Hydrogen transportation, refuelling system

Hydrogen production and refuelling footprint will depend on a combination of factors i.e. the LCOH for production of Hydrogen in a particular state, the distance of the production centre from the demand centroids / arterial highways. The transportation mode between the production and consumption centre will be further influenced by the trade-off between the quantity transported and the capex for the transportation option namely Type 1 cylinders, Type 4 cylinders, liquid / cryogenic cylinders or pipelines, which are respectively in the increasing, order of capacity and capex.

Added to this is the fact that Hydrogen refuelling systems (HRS) has a high capital expenditure and thus can add further to the production and transportation LCOH and thus prove a barrier to widespread refuelling availability. The key would be to drawn an optimal balance between the production, consumption and transportation factors to ensure the lowest cost of Hydrogen at the pump.

Vehicle options available to the customers

Adoption of H2-ICE vehicles will also depend on OEMs offering a comprehensive range of hydrogen-powered vehicle models that rival Internal Combustion Engine (ICE). Technologically, an H2 ICE vehicle requires minimal modifications to the powertrain of conventional ICE vehicles, allowing for a sequential launching of H2 ICE models alongside their traditional counterparts. Development of H2-ICE vehicles is already gaining traction with players such as Tata Motors and Ashok Leyland planning to target this segment, and since the technology borrows a lot of existing powertrain architecture, this should be the easier piece of the puzzle to solve.

Way forward

Different steps can be taken to promote H2-ICE vehicles in the country. A cluster approach, targeting key logistics corridors for hydrogen refuelling infrastructure development can help in ensuring maximum impact on emissions while optimizing investments. Fifty per cent of India’s freight movement happens along the Golden Quadrilateral and two diagonal highway networks connecting Delhi and Mumbai and Chennai and Kolkata. Almost half of this freight movement is by road, which if targeted for the use of H2-ICE vehicles can lead to substantial emission reduction. We estimate that 5 million to 7 million tonnes of CO2 eq can be saved till 2030, given the cost trajectory of green hydrogen production and the expected reduction in H2-ICE vehicle costs.

Establishing the refuelling infrastructure along transportation networks will play a pivotal role in catalysing the adoption of hydrogen-powered internal combustion engine (H2 ICE) vehicles and a strategic approach could involve the development of hydrogen highways – essentially well-planned highways that host a network of hydrogen refuelling stations at consistent intervals. By initiating targeted commercial pilots along these key routes, and validating both operational feasibility and economic viability, the success can then serve as a blueprint for expansion into other parts of the road network. One promising starting point could be the migration of fixed-route trucks akin to those being used by OMCs as well as those being utilized by express delivery logistics fleets to H2ICE.

Refineries are already moving towards green hydrogen usage in existing refining processes and refiners can further magnify the impact of green hydrogen by using the same for a) powering their existing truck fleets and b) establish a distribution network for mobility needs through Hydrogen Refuelling stations. A strategic quick win for gearing up the decarbonization could involve retrofitting the existing fleet of trucks already engaged in distribution, and marketing operations.

A notable example is the collaborative initiative between RIL and Ashok Leyland, which intends to implement such a strategy. This initiative entails establishing HRS (Hydrogen Refuelling Stations) on the daily operating routes of these trucks. The potential for decarbonization is substantial given the considerable scale of these truck fleets associated with refineries and OMCs, numbering in the tens of thousands (as seen with RIL-Ashok Leyland’s annual fleet of 45,000 contracted trucks-targeting ~0.5-0.7 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent emission savings per year and IOCL’s daily fleet of 16,000 trucks-targeting ~0.2-0.3 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent emission savings per year ).

The FCEV-based Heavy Duty trucks would be the optimum solution, once the costs of the technology come down for the fuel stacks and the domestic manufacturing ecosystem is setup. However, in the interim H2ICE provides a very viable alternative for decarbonisation of trucks, which make up 38% of the total road transport emissions.

( Disclaimer: Ashim Sharma is Senior Partner and Group Head at NRI Consulting & Solutions. Views are personal)

  • Published On Sep 25, 2023 at 01:34 PM IST

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