India has set aside spending from its 14.66bn rupee ($177m) hydrogen pilots programme for projects using H2 in steelmaking and as a transport fuel — including for shipping — the country’s minister for new and renewable energy RK Singh told a recent conference.

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In a speech to the “Green Hydrogen Pilots in India” event held by state-owned power firm NTPC, Singh argued that switching from fossil fuels to hydrogen would be key to reducing the country’s dependence on imports.

“For long, we have been huge energy importers. If we don’t do something about this, our import bills will multiply,” he said.

The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy has announced that 4.56bn rupees will be set aside for hydrogen pilots in steel, 4.95bn rupees for transport, 1.15bn rupees for shipping, and 4bn rupees for unspecified “other projects”, which could potentially include power generation/energy storage.

Singh is bullish about the prospects for hydrogen in steel.

“These pilots are starting points at transforming the sector, moving away from fossil fuels. For example, take steel; we import the bulk of our coking coal requirements. But there is a simpler process – direct reduction using hydrogen. That is the direction to go,” he said.

“We are one of the biggest manufacturers of steel in the world, we aim to continue to be so, only that we will need to transform our steel industry and we will have to move in this direction.”

“Electric mobility is not viable for long-distance heavy mobility; hence hydrogen or ammonia is the answer,” Singh also claimed.

However, many truck manufacturers are venturing into battery-electric heavy-duty vehicle development, with some in Europe arguing that hydrogen-powered options will only be necessary for particularly weighty payloads.

Singh also anticipates that “world shipping will go green within around 10 years”, requiring India to prepare for an expected demand for green hydrogen-based fuels.

The International Maritime Organization’s most recently adopted greenhouse-gas strategy focuses mainly on reducing carbon intensity, but has set targets of 5-10% of energy used by global shipping by 2030 to run on technologies with zero “or near-zero” emissions.

The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy has already asked the Ministries for Road Transport and Highways, for Steel, and for Ports, Shipping and Waterways to send through proposals for pilot projects in their respective sectors.

While no funding has been allocated specifically for hydrogen in electricity generation, Singh appeared to advocate for pilots in this sector in an effort to manage rising power demand, which he estimated had grown by 21% year-on-year, while reducing emissions.

While 30.2% of India’s grid is supplied by wind, solar and other non-hydropower renewables, more than half of the country’s electricity is still supplied by coal or natural gas.

In order to reduce the risk of intermittent generation while also decreasing fossil-fired power, this would mean the introduction of new technologies for energy storage.

Citing the development of gas turbines that can run on hydrogen or ammonia, Singh added that the country’s ambition is for technology demonstrated in pilot hydrogen-to-power projects funded by the government to eventually compete in the electricity market.

“I believe we can replicate them on a larger scale for round-the-clock renewable energy. This will free us at one stroke from the problem of going for large-scale imports of lithium batteries till we have our own manufacturing capacity,” he added.

India currently imports lithium as well as lithium-ion batteries, mainly from Hong Kong and China, at a cost of 89.8bn rupees ($1.08bn) in 2020-21, according to government data.

However, deposits of lithium have been found in the state of Jammu and Kashmir— albeit near disputed territory with Pakistan and China — for which the government last month passed a law allowing it to auction and mine these reserves.

A final roadmap for hydrogen research and development, outlining which technologies are high-priority in the short term versus long term, is also set to be published soon.

The Indian government is also considering a mandate for industries to switch from grey H2 or its derivatives to green options.