Exclusive: Hydrogen can de-leverage us from oil in so many ways

Exclusive: Hydrogen can de-leverage us from oil in so many ways

As Director of Mack Valves, an Australian-based cryogenic and industrial gas valves manufacturer with significant operations in India, Ravin Mirchandani is a busy person indeed.

Today he could be found on a flight to India. Next week that destination might be Australia. Another week, it could be a business trip in the Middle East, a speaking engagement in Singapore, or a fact-finding mission in Scandinavia. It’s an action-packed business schedule, but a subject that he always has time for is hydrogen.

Commencing his career with one of the industrial gas majors, Mirchandani has previously worked in the core industrial gases business in Australia, France and India. He also has significant experience in manufacturing cryogenic storage and distribution products.

With more than 20 years of international development experience – having worked throughout Asia and Europe focusing on establishing new operations, as well as mergers and acquisitions (M&A) – Mirchandani is well versed in gases, chemicals, business and economics. And he is a passionate advocate of hydrogen energy, as he explains here in an interview with H2 View.

Thanks for giving H2 View your time. We know you are a passionate advocate of all things hydrogen energy, so could you tell us why it’s got you so enthused?

The fact that hydrogen has the potential to change energy generation for the better really excites and motivates me. Hydrogen has the potential to address the energy storage challenges faced by many renewable energy technologies.

Wind and solar-based generation have both suffered due to the limitations of present energy storage technologies and chemistries. This has resulted in a slower uptake of renewable energy technologies in some parts of the globe (for example the uptake of solar energy in India). It has also hampered the ability to use renewable energy generation assets to their full potential in other countries (for example wind farms in the Netherlands which are often shut down when energy storage back-up is full and/or the local grid is at capacity).

Hydrogen also allows humanity to cease using precious single use resources for the generation of energy. More importantly, when channelled towards mobility, hydrogen also presents the opportunity to deleverage us not just from ‘oil’ but also from all the geo-political tensions that ‘oil’ has resulted in over the last 100 years. Imagine countries not having to import oil and hydrocarbon-based energy raw materials for power and fuel any more.

“In many ways it feels like the new gold rush. This can only be good for our industry and for the various sectors that hydrogen energy serves. It’s also excellent news for our planet”

What hydrogen innovation or application makes you most excited for the future?

Pure, emission-free mobility! Solar and wind-based generation of hydrogen for vehicle refuelling stations is what truly excites me. We have seen this accomplished already in Sweden. Australia is looking seriously at this option as well. The technology has been proven to be economical (in developed economy conditions) and resilient as well, already.

Generating hydrogen through renewable energy for mobility means that vehicles are truly being driven with zero emissions (as against hydrogen generated from electricity generated by coal or gas fired power plants). This means that we will be finally making the changes necessary to address climate-change and resource diminution as caused by the global demand for energy.  This is an incredibly motivating thought and mission.

In the context of hydrogen mobility and energy, I like to always refer to this analogy: it was only 150 years ago that it was normal to hunt whales for oil to light up our street-lamps and night-lamps at homes. The fact that humanity could do something like that feels almost absurd now. Future generations will view our use of precious and diminishing natural resources just to generate power and move vehicles in a similarly poor light. Hydrogen generated from renewable sources gives us an opportunity to change that.

What changes have you seen within the hydrogen ecosystem and community in the past year?

The high level of enthusiasm is now catalysing into smaller projects in so many countries. Today, these projects are focused on mobility and the generation of hydrogen from renewable sources. The formation of the Hydrogen Council, the implementation of hydrogen energy strategy groups by numerous governments, the announcement by Japan on the strong reliance on hydrogen energy for the 2020 Olympics are all major changes we have witnessed in the last many months. In many ways it feels like the new gold rush. This can only be good for our industry and for the various sectors that hydrogen energy serves. It’s also excellent news for our planet.

Where do you feel the pinch points or challenges currently are in the hydrogen space?

In my opinion there are still a number of challenges to be overcome. The cost of the technology to generate hydrogen purely from renewable energy is still on the higher side and we will slow adoption globally until that changes – in particular in developing economies where it is needed the most. This has resulted in some geographies investing in the generation of hydrogen from technologies that would not necessarily be considered green or renewable. Costs across the value chain need to drop to spur demand (capital costs for hydrogen charging stations, hydrogen vehicles, electrolysers, fuel cells).

The other big challenge is also perception. I am still surprised at the negative response I encounter in so many countries globally when a discussion about hydrogen energy takes place.  People still remember the Zeplin and the resulting discussion on hydrogen safety tends to be focused more on emotions, rather than facts. Our industry needs to do more to educate the world on the many advantages of hydrogen-based energy and mobility technologies. We perhaps also need to run a sustained campaign together, with all sectors that comprise our industry – from generation to the automotive majors – to help future users appreciate the benefits and major safety advances in the generation and use of hydrogen.

Why did you decide to get involved with H2 View as an Editorial Advisory Board member?

Well that’s quite simple. This presents a chance to help change the world for the better. An opportunity of a lifetime.

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