NEW DELHI: India’s first hydrogen fuel cell bus service is starting in Leh with the first-of-its kind commercial trial of the futuristic technology on public roads in the high-altitude cold desert of the union territory of Ladakh.
The project is being implemented by India’s largest power producer NTPC, which is supplying five hydrogen fuel cell buses to the Leh administration for intra-city service in the city. The state-run company has also built a refuelling station and captive solar plant of 1.7 megawatt for producing green hydrogen to fuel the buses. The Leh administration has leased 7.5 acres of land in the city for the infrastructure.
Ashok Leyland is supplying the buses at a cost of Rs 2.5 crore each under a global expression of interest floated in April 2020. Passenger fare for the hydrogen fuel cell buses will be the same as the cost of travelling on 9-metre diesel buses currently in service. “NTPC will bridge the gap if there is any loss,” one company executive told TOI.
The first bus reached Leh on Thursday but remains camouflaged as the plan to launch the service on Independence Day was hit by disruption caused by floods and landslides. It is expected to go live shortly, company executives said.
The project comes within two years of Prime Minister Narendra Modi announcing in the 2020 I-Day speech his vision of a carbon-neutral Ladakh.
“Nestled in the heights of the Himalayas, Ladakh is progressing towards new heights. Ladakh has several specialties. Not only do we have to preserve them, we have to nurture them as well. As Sikkim has made its mark as an ‘Organic State’ in the northeast, Ladakh, Leh and Kargil can also create their own niche as a ‘carbon neutral’ unit,” the prime minister had said.
Though hydrogen fuel cells have been identified as a key technology for energy transition, it is still evolving. Reliance Industries Ltd is also testing hydrogen buses in its plant.
But the NTPC project stands out on two counts. This is the first time hydrogen fuel cell buses will be deployed commercially on public roads in India. This is the first time that the technology will be tested in altitudes above 11,500 feet and a rarefied atmosphere with less Oxygen in the air.
The real test will be in winter when temperature drops 20 degrees below freezing on average in Leh. Combined with wind chill, such low temperatures can play havoc with machinery.
Company executives said the project is being funded through CSR budget and has been driven by chairman Gurdeep Singh’s thrust on putting NTPC at the forefront of transition with emerging technologies.