Understanding the methane economy
Green Hydrogen is the centerpiece of India’s recently announced National Hydrogen Mission, but the mission will also focus on Blue and Grey Hydrogen strategies. Synthesis of grey hydrogen by catalytic cracking of methane retrieved from natural gas and coal seams will be essential for India’s climate commitment.
Methane cracking will go a long way in meeting the Paris Agreement’s goals. Recent scientific advances in chemical and energy engineering technologies are making it possible to crack methane into gaseous hydrogen and solid carbon on a commercial scale. The costs of sequestering atmospheric anthropogenic greenhouse gases (GHGs), including methane, are also falling steadily. Therefore, it is now possible to overcome the deficit of the in-demand hydrogen gas and solid carbon materials by cracking methane, sequestered from the atmosphere and natural gas.
India is the second largest emitter of methane in the world. It is also poised to become the third largest economy of the world by 2047, the 100th year of the nation’s independence. Unlike the approach of other major economies, it aims to grow, complying with the global call for climate change mitigation. India, which presently is on a mega infrastructure drive, has the potential to build a clean and efficient hydrogen-powered transportation sector from methane-cracked hydrogen. Similarly, India’s objective of becoming a high-technology manufacturing powerhouse can be met by a steady supply of methane-derived solid carbon materials — graphene, carbon nanotubes, fullerenes, carbides, synthetic diamonds — which are central to futuristic electronics, transportation and the marine, aerospace and space industries.
Several Indian ministries and companies are already working on this technology. The Indian ministry of new and renewable energy, the ministry of petroleum and natural gas (Oil Industry Development Board), the department of space and the ministry of science and technology have made incongruous attempts to develop indigenous capacities in carbon capture, hydrogen fuel production and fuel cell technologies. The need, therefore, is to streamline such efforts, draw up India’s climate action goals and realise the economic potential of methane sequestration.
The time is right for India Inc and the government must together prepare to shape national and global policies, increase their heft in the world market and strengthen India’s resource and energy security.
(The study has been authored by Chaitanya Giri, Fellow for Space and Ocean Studies, Gateway House)