TechSprouts is a platform to engage with the deep science ecosystem in India

TechSprouts Monthly: July 2023

The rapid development of green hydrogen in India, the draft National Deep Tech Startup Policy and much more


Deep science funding updates

  • Indian drone maker Ideaforge went public via an initial public offering which was subscribed over a hundred times.
  • KBCols Sciences, a startup making biotech-powered natural colours and pigments for textiles, raised $1.22 million in a round led by Nabventures Fund.
  • Developer of autonomous UAVs Okulo Aerospace has raised $1 million in a seed funding round with participation from Ideaspring Capital and Java Capital.
  • Sarvam, a venture out of IIT-M’s AI4Bharat for AI models and LLMs based on Indic languages, has raised $12 million in funding from Peak XV and Lightspeed Ventures.
  • InfoEdge’s wholly owned subsidiary Redstart Labs has invested $120,000 in BrainSight Technology, a startup providing AI-based technology for precision diagnosis of mental health disorders.

Deep science ecosystem updates

  • The Government of India launched the draft National Deep Tech Startup Policy, a document that lays out the policy and support environment for deeptech startups in the country. The report is anchored on four pillars, and contains recommendations for a stronger IP framework, innovative funding constructs, and infrastructure support for deeptech startups.
  • The Chandrayaan-3 mission successfully lifted off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota. This is a sequel to the Chandrayaan-2 mission and aims to make a soft landing on the moon using a lander.
  • The GoI organized the International Conference on Green Hydrogen in July, bringing together all the stakeholders in the country in the green hydrogen field. This follows the launch of India’s Green Hydrogen Mission launched earlier this year.
  • IN-SPACe issued an expression of interest (EoI) for technology transfer of its small satellite launch vehicle (SSLV) to private industry players, hoping to pave the way for India to be a global hub for small satellite launches. 
  • The government has approved the export of Serum Institute of India’s BCG vaccine to Canada. The vaccine is a live freeze-dried preparation derived from an attenuated strain of Mycobacterium bovis
  • Pune-based Mylab Discovery Solutions has launched its Mybox+ diagnostic device leveraging its dry luminescence technology and AI technology. The device contains a range of tests including a thyroid and a cardiac panel.

News from the research community

  • Scientists from the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Tirupati have developed a new catalytic process of producing hydrogen using methanol as an input. This offers a low-footprint method of producing the fuel. 
  • Scientists at International Advanced Research Centre for Powder Metallurgy and New Materials (ARCI), Hyderabad have developed low-cost perovskite solar cells with superior thermal and moisture stability compared to incumbents. This also marks the first indigenously-developed perovskite-powered niche product in the country.

Deep Science Thoughts

Green Hydrogen in India

Image Credit: Pixabay

The Government of India, along with the Confederation of Indian Industries, held the International Conference on Green Hydrogen between 5th-7th July. The conference is part of a major push from the government towards making India a global leader in green hydrogen production. This follows the launch of the Green Hydrogen Mission earlier in the year which aims towards transforming the hydrogen economy in India. The overall objective is to reduce the import energy dependence which is close to $200 billion annually and become self-sufficient in green energy production and consumption.

Green hydrogen is among the cleanest forms of energy carriers and has the potential to decarbonize heavy polluting sectors such as iron and steel, chemicals as well as transportation. The applications could be direct- for ammonia production or indirect- for hydrogen powered furnaces in steel plants. Currently, all of the hydrogen consumed in India, which is around 6 million metric tonnes (MMT), is produced using natural gas steam methane reforming method, also known as grey hydrogen. The process releases 9.3 kg of CO2 per kg of hydrogen production. It is currently being used majorly in the fertilizers and refineries industries for ammonia production and fuel desulphurization. However, in order to achieve the net zero targets, the current hydrogen production processes need to be replaced by greener alternatives. The National Green Hydrogen Mission aims to produce at least 5 MMT of green hydrogen by 2030, which will be around 40% of the element produced in the country. Reliance Group, NTPC, ONGC, Greenko, Renew Power, ACME Group have already submitted proposals and are in the process of setting up capacities for production of green hydrogen.

The major challenge in green hydrogen adoption is the cost of production. Grey hydrogen is currently produced at 150-200 rupees ($1.5-3) per kg in India while green hydrogen, on the other hand, costs more than two times this price. Replacing grey hydrogen will require this cost to fall to below 200 rupees per kg and reach price parities. There are two major elements affecting the cost of green hydrogen production: renewable energy and electrolyzers. 

India stands in a unique position in the renewable energy sector with one of the lowest Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCOE) in the world. For example, LCOE for rooftop solar power was $66/MWh in India compared to $238/MWh in the US in 2021. The latest report by Moody's Investors Service expects the LCOE from solar and wind projects in India to become cost competitive with coal-based power by 2025. To meet the desired green hydrogen production targets by 2030, the country will require a total renewable energy capacity addition of 125 GW. This will be around 25% of the country's overall renewable energy target of 500 GW by 2030. Production of renewable energy is subject to seasonality and thus battery energy storage is a key part in the shift towards renewables. India is looking at developing non-lithium ion based battery solutions which will be affordable and easy to scale. Startups such as Offgrid Energy Labs, Rechargion, Delectrik are offering innovative batteries made from zinc-gel or sodium-ion, raw materials which are easily available and affordable. Hydrogen could also be used as an alternative form of storing extra renewable energy, either as pressurized hydrogen, ammonia or hydrides and is suitable for long-term storage.

Electrolyzers, on the other hand, are also seeing significant improvements. India currently has an electrolyzer capacity of 300 MW which will need to be scaled up to 60 GW for the country to meet its green hydrogen production targets. Based on all the announced projects, India’s electrolyzer manufacturing capacity is expected to hit 8 GW by 2025. Electrolyzers account for 50-60% of the total cost of green hydrogen production. The cost of a 1MW alkaline electrolyser is about US$1m and the cost of a 1MW PEM electrolyser is about US$1.4m. A 10MW PEM electrolyzer can produce around 180 kg of hydrogen. Therefore, reducing the cost of electrolyzers through technological innovation and scale will be crucial in reducing the cost of green hydrogen. There are two types of electrolysers used at present in the industry: alkaline electrolysis (AE) – it uses a liquid alkaline electrolyte solution for splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen – and polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM), which uses a solid polymer membrane for splitting water. Globally, the market for electrolysers is dominated by alkaline electrolyzers, with a 61% market share, and polymer electrolyte membranes have a 31% share. Technologies with advanced electrolyzers such as solid oxide and Anion Exchange Membrane (AEM) are also nearing commercial deployment. Startups such as Ossus Biorenewables and NewTrace are developing innovative electrolyzers which reduce the dependence on expensive metals and improve the production efficiencies, thereby decreasing the cost of hydrogen production. This is an area of significant opportunity for startups to innovate and become the technology of choice for larger industries to adopt as they build towards higher capacities. 

Water scarcity can also become a barrier for green hydrogen production. Currently, 9 kg of water is required to produce 1 kg of hydrogen. A large 1 GW electrolyzer will require around 3 million tonnes of water. Startups and researchers are working towards developing technologies which can utilize either waste water or sea water for producing hydrogen, thereby reducing the dependence on fresh or ground water resources.

Finally, storage and transport of hydrogen is another challenge.  Most of the hydrogen transported globally happens through extensive pipelines and a similar strategy needs to be used in India as well. Gas pipelines in India are owned and operated by Gas Authority of India Limited (70%), Gujarat State Petroleum Corpo­ra­tion (16.5%) and Reliance Gas Pipeline Limited (10.9%). These pipelines will need to be redesigned to avoid leakage and embrittlement. Alternatively, hydrogen can be converted into ammonia or methanol for easier transportation. However, the conversion processes are costly. Startups in this space are working towards developing solid-state hydrogen storage systems which can help in the safe storage and transport of hydrogen.

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TechSprouts is a platform to engage with the deep science ecosystem in India