India’s Carbon Neutral Aim Hinges on Top Emitters Using Hydrogen
Emissions rise from a chimney at a Tata Steel Ltd. plant in Jamshedpur. (Photographer: Anindito Mukherjee/Bloomberg)

India’s Carbon Neutral Aim Hinges on Top Emitters Using Hydrogen

India’s steel mills, the second-largest producers globally, expect hydrogen-based production to be key to cutting pollution as the nation comes under pressure to zero out greenhouse gas emissions.

As the world’s third-biggest emitter, India is expected to boost its commitment to slow global warming ahead of climate talks in Scotland this year. Officials close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi are working with senior bureaucrats and foreign advisers to consider ways to meet the 2050 deadline, according to people familiar with the matter.

Top steelmaker China -- the biggest polluter -- has already set a 2060 net-zero target, while Japan aims to reach that goal by 2050. India’s push to cut emissions will depend heavily on the steel sector, which is the biggest carbon dioxide emitter among its industries.

“If we want to expand to meet the growing requirements to build our economy, we have to be efficient until hydrogen-based technology becomes available and in the meantime use renewable energy for reducing fossil fuel-based power,” said Seshagiri Rao, joint managing director at JSW Steel Ltd. The benefits to productivity and the quality of steel will compensate for the extra costs on the greener technology, he said.

Turning to Hydrogen

Globally, steelmakers are turning to hydrogen as a replacement for coal in their processes to refine iron ore and mills would need to be powered by hydrogen produced from renewable electricity in order to hit zero emissions. Cleaner than wind or solar, the technology is expected to eventually play a major role in the global energy mix but is still in its infancy and requires a lot of investment before it’s commercially viable.

The transition to a cleaner fuel will be difficult for sectors like iron and steel and cement and they won’t be able to meet a 2050 decarbonization target, according to Chandra Bhushan, president of the International Forum for Environment, Sustainability and Technology.

“The steel sector has to build its technology which is in the experimental stage,” said Chandra. “We have a gas-based technology where you use gas as a reducing agent. It requires the next leap where someone will start replacing methane with hydrogen over a period of time.”

Emissions from India’s steel industry are projected to more than triple to 837 million tons over the next three decades as demand for the alloy more than quadruples, The Energy and Resources Institute said in a report last year.

JSW Steel has a target to cut carbon dioxide emissions by more than 40% by the end of this decade from a 2005 base. Tata Steel Ltd. is also moving to a low carbon regime and is working on carbon capture, hydrogen-based steelmaking and new smelting technologies, according to its latest annual report.

Seeing the potential, India announced plans for a National Hydrogen Energy Mission. The country could make some of the world’s cheapest hydrogen by 2050 using ultra-cheap renewable power developed by companies including ReNew Power Pvt. and Adani Green Energy Ltd., according to BloombergNEF.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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