Prospects for Hydrogen Technology in Indian Automotive Sector

Climate change and energy use linked to transportation are corelated. There has been an increased emphasis on opting for cleaner and greener fuels for transportation to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions since the transport sector is a large contributor to the global carbon footprint. Close to 185 countries, who are party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), got the Paris agreement ratified in 2015. The main aim was to ensure that the increase in global temperature is well below the ceiling of 2 degrees Celsius. The United States Energy Information Administration (EIA) in its annual energy outlook, predicted that there will be a considerable growth in the consumption of transportation fuels from 2018 and 2050 owing to increased utilization of electricity and natural gas.

Transportation sector consumption of minor pertroleum


The catch however, was, the proportional rise in the greenhouse gas emissions as well due to fossil fuel-based electricity and a high global warming potential of methane. Subsequently, the countries had to put efforts to decarbonize their energy consumption and reduce the harmful greenhouse gas emissions. India, as one of the world’s fastest growing economies, has set ambitious goals with respect to energy use and transition, energy security and climate. However, India relies heavily on fossil fuels for powering all segments of its automotive sector which predominantly comprises of 2 wheelers, 3 wheelers and non-premium 4 wheelers. Apart from diesel and gasoline, compressed natural gas (CNG) is also utilized, considering its inherent advantages like lesser pollution and cost, and high calorific efficiency. But there are significant risks involved with CNG as well, namely, methane leakage and any disruption in the supply chain of natural gas. This in turn led to the exploration of alternate fuels like hydrogen for decarbonizing the transport system.


Hydrogen as a transportation fuel

It is widely being used in automotive markets in the United States, Japan, and Germany. The single biggest advantage of hydrogen is that it does not emit any harmful greenhouse gas on combustion. The by-products of hydrogen combustion are only water vapour and oxygen, thereby ensuring zero tail-pipe pollution from hydrogen powered vehicles. The most important consideration is in the production of hydrogen. Hydrogen can be produced either by fossil fuels (by means of catalytic process or oxidation of hydrocarbons, coal gasification, water electrolysis etc.) or from renewables. The benefits of hydrogen being a clean fuel is offset by the emissions due to these fossil fuels and are not sustainable. Some of the most important characteristics of hydrogen which make it suitable as a transportation fuel are:

  • High energy density (More energy packed in less weight)
  • Lesser refueling time

However, by virtue of being a very light molecule, it is also highly volatile and hydrogen transportation risks problems of safety and cost. From the consumption point of view, hydrogen can be directly injected into the existing internal combustion engines in gasoline and diesel driven vehicles. But this may be a source of some local pollution due to the mixing of hydrogen with some diesel or gas residues. The second alternative is the use of fuel cell stacks which utilize hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity which powers the motor in the propulsion system of the vehicle. Since only water is produced, along with electricity, it is relatively a greener method of generation electricity. There exist some distinct similarities and differences between hydrogen engines and hydrogen fuel cells which are summarized below:


Hydrogen consumption Similarities Differences
Hydrogen engines Hydrogen combustion happens in hydrogen engines, whereas hydrogen undergoes a chemical reaction in the fuel cell to produce electricity.
Both use hydrogen for powering vehicles Can be used for on road and off-road vehicles. Hydrogen engines are more efficient when subjected to high loads as compared to fuel cell vehicles which are custom made for lower loads.
Emission profiles are similar.
Near zero carbon emissions from tailpipe of the vehicle Fuel cells are relatively newer than hydrogen engines which have been existing for long.
Hydrogen fuel cell Hydrogen engine drive train is more familiar for vehicle manufacturers and fleet operators.


A point to be noted here is that the grade of hydrogen used also plays a significant role. While hydrogen engines can manage with low grade hydrogen, the same cannot be said about the fuel cell vehicles which would generally prefer a higher-grade green hydrogen. It can be said that, both these technologies complement each other in terms of hydrogen production, transportation, distribution, and storage infrastructure with the common objective of reducing transportation emissions towards near zero.

Policy thrust in India

India recognized the importance of hydrogen as an automotive fuel, considering the vast size and diversity of its transportation sector. There are several far-reaching policy measures which are in force to aid the penetration of clean and green hydrogen as an automotive fuel. The Indian government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, launched the National Hydrogen Mission, on August 15, 2021, with the recent financial outlay of INR 19,744 crore, for a comprehensive development of hydrogen ecosystem in the country. This has also been supplemented by several important schemes and policies pertaining to clean and sustainable mobility which are summarized as follows:


Policy/Scheme Date Announced Objectives

The Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Electric Vehicles (FAME) – Phase 1 and Phase 2


April 2015 and April 2019


Financial support for purchasing electric/hybrid vehicles.


National Green Hydrogen Mission



January 2022

To make India a leading producer and supplier of Green Hydrogen in the

world/ Reduction in fossil fuel import


Smart Cities Mission


June 2015

Technology upgradation of public transport/last mile connectivity. Green mobility programmes in cities.


Production Linked Incentive (PLI) Scheme for Automotive Sector




September 2021

Reduction of sale price of electric/hybrid vehicles and increase competitiveness. Manufacturing of green hydrogen as well as its

electrolyser to be covered soon under the strategic interventions for green

hydrogen transition (SIGHT) programme.



Vehicle scrappage policy



April 2022

Gradual phasing out of old passenger and commercial vehicles to reduce the urban air pollution, importance given to passenger and road safety.


The public sector as well as the private sector in India are also playing a significant role in accelerating the cause of hydrogen-based mobility. TATA motors in association with the Indian Oil Corporation Limited (IOCL) has launched a hydrogen fuel cell bus and has even received the nod for roadworthiness trials from the government. The main objective is to reduce the emissions and improve the efficiency and cost effectiveness more than the conventional CNG by blending hydrogen with CNG.


Steps must be consciously taken by all the stakeholders to make hydrogen a viable technological and economic option for powering public transport in India. There should also be emphasis on ensuring more technology maturity of hydrogen oxygen fuel cell on par with existing fuels and vehicles. Production of green hydrogen must be prioritized and the entire hydrogen supply chain all the way from hydrogen production and delivery, storage, and transport, refueling stations etc. must be strengthened. Scaling of hydrogen technology must be stepped up from its present state of pilot testing and research and development. This requires to be supplemented by necessary policies and regulations at all the levels. To start with. commercial vehicles as well as vehicles for last mile connectivity can be targeted to go fully electric, thereby boosting the production scales of hydrogen fuel cell based as well as lithium- ion battery based electric vehicles. Ensuring a vibrant hydrogen eco-system in India would have a ripple effect on other auxiliary sectors such as refinery, steel, cement, and fertilizers. This would go a long way in the making of an Atmanirbhar, green and sustainable society in India.


Dr Mohan Krishna S
Associate Professor, EEE, ACED, Alliance University