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A Scientist Speaks: Can Hydrogen Technology Solve Delhi’s Chronic Pollution?

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It seems, from the recent media reports, that there is some ambiguity in the minds of the readers like me and the citizens of this country as to how Japanese Hydrogen Technology, as stated by the government to our Supreme Court, can address this chronic issue of smog menace.

Representational image.

I thought it prudent to get in touch with Dr. Samrat Ghosh, Assistant Professor, and Innovator from IISER Mohali, who has previously worked on Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technology in a Hi-Tech company in Vancouver, Canada. In the following interview I had with Dr. Samrat, he tries to delineate the link between Delhi’s AQI, stubble burning, and Japanese Hydrogen Technology.

Interviewer (I): Hello Professor, Have you read about the mention of Japanese Hydrogen Technology in the ongoing discussion in our Supreme Court?

Dr. Samrat Ghosh (SG): Yes, Jeiyendira, I am following the matter through different news media.

I: What is this mysterious Japanese Hydrogen Technology they are talking about?

SG: This is no mystery, but simple chemistry. See, since smog from stubble burning in neighboring states is contributing to Delhi’s pollution woes, I think that the Japanese Hydrogen technology briefly referred for implementation is apparently the chemical technology that converts biomass into hydrogen, which most know is a clean-burning fuel.

I: What is that simple chemistry, can you elaborate?

SG: Okay, see it as the following three steps:

Step 1: Steam reforming: Biomass when treated with steam under appropriate pressure, temperature, and a catalyst, results in the formation of hydrogen and carbon monoxide also known as Syn Gas. Biomass + Steam (H2O) —–> CO + H2

Step 2: Water Gas Shift Reaction (WGSR): Carbon monoxide (a byproduct from Step 1) on further reaction with steam leads to the formation of hydrogen fuel and carbon dioxide. CO + H2O ———> CO2 + H2

Step 3: Dry Reforming: Biomass when treated with carbon dioxide (a byproduct from Step 2) under appropriate conditions of temperature and pressure and in the presence of a specific catalyst results in the formation of Hydrogen fuel and carbon monoxide as in Step 1. Biomass + CO2 ——–> CO + H2

I: Okay, you mean any biomass could be brought under these chemical steps and converted into some gases. How it could be interpreted with Japanese Hydrogen Technology.

SG: You see, why this is a promising process because hydrogen which is a known clean fuel is generated in every step with carbon monoxide dioxide shuttle in other steps. Since stubble is also biomass, it too, if subjected to such a process, can lead to the generation of clean and green fuel. In my view, this one smart strategy is how the Japanese Hydrogen Technology might be set up to curb Delhi like Pollution.

I: I understand that now, But, is hydrogen-generation the only way out?

SG: No. Alternatively, the products generated in Step 2 under appropriate conditions of temperature and pressure and in presence of a specific catalyst react to yield methanol which is yet another fuel and could contribute to methanol economy as envisaged by our Government.

I: That is very interesting Dr. Ghosh, so that implies the existence of such biomass to fuel chemical technology, elevates the stubble to a cash crop like status.

SG: True. Farmers now see a clear monetary incentive in not burning the stubble but rather give it to any agency which operates this chemical technology imported from Japan. The agency operating this technology generates either hydrogen and/or methanol from the stubble and then sells this clean and green energy to Delhi and other cities desperately looking for clean fuels. So it is a win-win situation for all stakeholders: stubble generating farmers, stubble consuming agencies and a polluted city like Delhi

I: Given the good business prospect that this scheme guarantees, agencies can even arrange to get the stubble picked up from the farmers located at far off distances from the energy-generating plants.

SG: Very much possible. Since stubble possessing farmers too benefit monetarily or financially from this stubble to fuel generating scheme, they would not now feel constrained to burn the stubble.

I: So, this stubble biomass to clean and green fuel generating chemical process has enormous scope to curb the smog menace in Delhi and other cities every year around this time.

SG: I am hoping and speculating that the Japanese hydrogen-based technology brought to our Apex court’s attention is along the lines I briefly described now.

I: So Delhi needs two blessings: (1) a technology which will prevent smog-like pollution from widespread burning of stubble in neighboring states; (2) A clean- green fuel which will not contribute to Delhi’s polluted air. The Japanese chemical technology referred to in the Supreme Court can help a highly polluted city like Delhi on these two fronts as both are interconnected. Am I right Dr. Ghosh?

SG: Whichever technology gets considered for attempting to mitigate Delhi’s emergency like situation, it should ensure that the stubble which has been a major contributor in worsening NCR’s air quality index, is in the loop of that technology, swadeshi or Japanese. Otherwise, it will be an abortive attempt to control Delhi’s nightmarish pollution level.

I: Absolutely. Thank you, Dr. Ghosh, for sharing this wonderful knowledge and idea about what this Japanese Hydrogen Technology could be. I am sure the youth would be more aware of it after this interview now.

SG: Thank you.

It is time that will reveal the actual technology which would be used for curbing Delhi-like pollution levels. Let us see, if this is how it works, as proposed by Dr. Ghosh.

If not this, then sustainable strategy could be a way we could think of to resolve Delhi-like pollution levels. Incidentally, Dr. Samrat Ghosh has very recently developed a SMART pollution mask cum Respiratory Acoustic Spirometer for Delhi’s pollution scenario.

You must be to comment.
  1. Udit Garg

    Mr. Pradeep, this dialogue is really mesmerizing but my focus throughout your conversation was this: Did Delhi Government use the mention of this Japanese Hydrogen Technology as a deferment? Any chemical churning process of bio-fuel into hydrogen is both expensive in development, and then in operations. And let’s not forget the instability of the hydrogen! For me, this sounds more of a scarce ideology that the Government used to clear itself of this issue!

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