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IOC to open India's first hydrogen fuel pump

Danny Goodman in New Delhi | December 23, 2008 10:24 IST

While conventional fuels are derived from crude oil or gas, the hydrogen fuel will use atmospheric air to synthesise pure hydrogen.

Indian Oil Corporation [Get Quote], the country's largest oil marketing company by sales, will open the country's first hydrogen fuel-dispensing station in New Delhi next month. The new-age pump will be set up in Dwarka.

"This is the culmination of a journey undertaken by IOC to diversify the energy mix of the country which ultimately results in energy security in the future," says RK Malhotra, IOC's executive director of research and development.

While conventional fossil fuels like petrol, diesel and CNG are derived from raw materials such as crude oil or gas, and mostly imported, the hydrogen fuel to be dispensed at this pump will use atmospheric air to synthesise pure hydrogen, which will be used to fuel vehicles. The process is called "electroliser" technology.

Further, hydrogen-fuelled cell cars emit only water, while CNG vehicles emit noxious oxides that have been a concern to authorities ever since CNG was introduced as an automobile fuel in the capital.

The fuel pump, according to the company, will be set up at a cost of Rs 5 crore (Rs 50 million), with the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy and the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas funding the project in equal measure.

In 2006, the government unveiled its National Hydrogen Energy Roadmap, outlining an ambitious target of converting one million vehicles to run on hydrogen.

The hydrogen fuel pump will dispense a mix of hydrogen and CNG roughly in the ratio 20:80 to a group of test vehicles comprising three-wheelers and passenger vehicles, mainly drawn from the government's fleet.

General Motors India has confirmed to Business Standard that its next-generation fuel car under validation in the US -- the Equinox, which is a hydrogen-powered fuel cell car -- has been sounded out by IOC as a possible test vehicle in India in the coming months.

German auto major BMW also runs a fleet of cars on pure hydrogen across Europe. "But the hydrogen we use is qualitatively different from the one India will experiment with. So we are unable to participate in the rollout," said the spokesperson of BMW India.

In the initial phase, we plan to target current CNG vehicle-owners in the capital -- public transport vehicle operators, goods carriers or passenger car owners because these vehicles can be run on hydrogen fuel mix with a little modification," says Malhotra. But use of 100 per cent pure hydrogen as auto fuel, Malhotra adds, will require a completely new engine.

Automobile manufacturers like Bajaj Auto [Get Quote], Tata Motors [Get Quote], Ashok Leyland [Get Quote], Eicher Motors [Get Quote] and Mahindra & Mahindra have been involved in IOC's efforts to test hydrogen fuel as a commercially viable fuel option in the country since 2006. In 2005, talks were conducted between IOC and Bangalore-based Reva Electric Car Company (RECC) to fine-tune the hydrogen fuel technology for large-scale commercial use in the country. No progress was made on the joint venture, says RECC.

In terms of mileage efficiency, cost of fuel and emissions, hydrogen is superior to CNG. "It depends on how you use hydrogen fuel. If used in a fuel cell car, the mileage efficiency obtained is twice that of a conventional internal combustion (petrol) engine," says Chetan Maini, deputy chairman and chief technical officer, RECC.

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