The Rise of Hydrogen Power: A Game-Changer for Transportation

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Due to energy produced from fossil fuels like diesel and petrol, there has been a global increase in carbon emissions. This has led to an escalation in air pollution, climate change, and rising temperatures. Consequently, the impact of climate change is now evident worldwide.

In the context of Nepal, approximately 30.95 percent of the total energy consumption is covered by petroleum products. The dependence on imported petroleum products has increased, leading to a growing reliance on India. The main factor contributing to the trade deficit in the country is the import of petroleum products. The Nepalese government spends more on the import of petroleum products than the total export earnings.

According to studies conducted by organizations such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in the context of climate change, in Nepal, vehicles contribute to approximately 38 percent of total air pollution and are responsible for 79.5 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions. According to ‘Our World in Data, 2023,’ Nepal’s carbon emissions reached 5 million tons in 2019. Furthermore, various studies indicate that vehicles in the Kathmandu Valley emit less than the standard for emissions set by 40 percent.

This has had a serious impact on public health, and on the other hand, it has also contributed to increasing Nepal’s energy independence, along with the goal of ‘Net Zero’ for Nepal. Therefore, taking solid steps in the global campaign against the expansion of petrol/diesel-powered vehicles has been slow for Nepal.

The alternative to petrol/diesel in transportation.

The use of electric vehicles (EVs) is increasing worldwide as an alternative to petrol/diesel-powered transportation. However, there are some limitations, which is estimated to hinder its ability to achieve relatively high speeds. Primarily, it is suitable for small and moderate-sized vehicles, and there are concerns about the disposal of batteries used in EVs. Additionally, the essential materials such as lithium and cobalt used in these batteries are globally scarce, raising serious questions about the worldwide supply of EVs.

In such a situation, the use of hydrogen as an alternative to petrol/diesel in transportation is advancing globally. Hydrogen-powered vehicles can be utilized in two ways: first, through ‘fuel cells,’ and second, through ‘hydrogen combustion engines.’ A ‘fuel cell’ is an electrochemical cell that converts the chemical energy of hydrogen into electrical energy. Global advancements in hydrogen-powered vehicles, especially through ‘fuel cell’ models like Toyota Mirai and Hyundai Nexo, are on the rise. However, the potential challenges include the high cost, limited efficiency, and the need for significant engine modifications in vehicles already in use, which may hinder the results as anticipated. In such a scenario, hydrogen combustion engines can be highly beneficial for Nepal

What is a hydrogen combustion engine and why is it necessary?

Currently, engines that run on petrol/diesel can be modified slightly (minor modification) to use hydrogen as a fuel, and these modified engines are referred to as hydrogen combustion engines. The significant feature of the hydrogen combustion engine is that it requires minimal modifications to the existing engine and can be operated at relatively low costs. This fact underscores the notable point that globally, even organizations like the International Energy Agency (IEA) are considering reevaluating the decision to halt the sale and distribution of new petrol/diesel engines in the coming decade. This is because the awareness is growing that the fuel used in the engine itself may be more harmful than the engine, and the engines currently in use are continually being refined and further developed.

An even more important and interesting fact than developing countries having successfully tested and implemented hydrogen combustion engines for commercial purposes is the concept of the ‘Dual Model’ – where the vehicle can run on either hydrogen or petrol/diesel (both) simultaneously, or with 100 percent hydrogen. In the ‘Dual Model,’ even in the absence of hydrogen, the vehicle can still run entirely on petrol/diesel.

The environmental benefits of using 100 percent hydrogen in hydrogen combustion engines are significant. In addition to reducing carbon emissions, greenhouse gas emissions, and other environmental pollutants, the use of hydrogen in ‘Dual Model’ vehicles for transportation can contribute to a cleaner environment. Furthermore, the potential for widespread utilization of hydrogen in Nepal not only aligns with the global trend but also aids in reducing Nepal’s dependence on external sources. It is worth remembering that various studies have shown the possibility of cost-effective hydrogen production in Nepal, leveraging the country’s abundant water resources.

Currently, there are even more possibilities to generate internal consumption from hydrogen production in Nepal rather than exporting it. The potential use of hydrogen in the vehicles already in operation in Nepal could become a significant breakthrough. An initial study by Renew Gene Resources Nepal has indicated that a 100-kilowatt hydrogen plant could operate 20-25 ‘Dual Model’ vehicles (30-40 percent hydrogen and 60-70 percent petrol/diesel).

Approximately 17 percent of Nepal’s total household consumption is spent on petrol/diesel. In this scenario, the use of hydrogen as an alternative in transportation could prove to be a pivotal step for Nepal’s economic and environmental sustainability.

During the last Dashain festival, it was reported that only 500 megawatts of electricity were generated daily in Nepal. The situation resulted in a loss of 5 billion rupees when that electricity was imported. India has recently changed its policy regarding the purchase of electricity from Nepal, now opting for a policy that allows flexibility in buying or not buying electricity within 6 months or a year. Due to the absence of a unified policy from India regarding the purchase of Nepal’s electricity, there is unpredictability in Nepal’s electricity market. Therefore, creating an environment of self-reliance within the country and exporting only the surplus to India may be a viable strategy. In this context, investing in hydrogen could be a dual benefit for Nepal, fostering self-reliance and potentially being an exportable commodity.

Source: Online Khabar (Dr. Pramod Tandon, Laxman Malhotra, Rajana Maharjan)