India must opt for sodium and hydrogen fuel cells, says C.N.R. Rao

Bharat Ratna recipient C.N.R. Rao, who is the president of Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR), on Monday said the country’s focus should be making fuel cells from sodium and hydrogen.

Lithium, cobalt not available

The market is currently attuned towards lithium-based fuel cells but that element is not available in the country as also cobalt.

Both the elements are crucial in making of batteries to power mobile phones, laptops and even electric vehicles.

“The government has correctly called for the move towards electric vehicles; I have no issue with that but since we have no reserves of either lithium or cobalt and China having effectively taken control over Congo where cobalt is available in abundance, we have to shift towards sodium and hydrogen. We can do magnesium fuel cells too but it is in short supply,” he said.

Risk of depletion

Interacting with presspersons at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)-Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (IICT), Prof. Rao also pointed out that certain elements like lithium and even helium are at risk of being depleted and lost forever.

“We have been able to prove in the laboratory about the efficiency of fuel cells made of sodium, magnesium and hydrogen. Fuel cells of hydrogen cause no pollution as water is a by-product. The challenge is to scale it to commercial operations and it is very much possible,” he maintained.

About the depleting helium reserves, he said the element, which is a mainstay in several labs, is “irreplaceable” but some alternative has to be thought of.

The eminent scientist hoped that the Government of India gives a fillip to the search for rare metals and he is not aware of the current status of a project taken up years ago as the subject is with the department of atomic energy.

CSIR director general Shekhar C. Mande informed that the Central Electro Chemical Research Institute in Karaikudi in Tamil Nadu has been at the forefront in research of fuel cells and has been collaborating with the Indian Space Research Organisation for many years.

Modern periodic table

Earlier, Prof. Rao delivered a talk on ‘Introduction to the modern periodic table’ that had the rapt attention of scientists, students and others at the auditorium.

He traced the origin of the table from the days of Russian scientist Mendelev in 1869 and recalled the contributions of scientists in the last two centuries, even as he made a special mention of Micheal Faraday, who discovered electricity, and G.N. Lewis.

Former CSIR-IICT directors Thyagarajan, A.V. Rama Rao, J.S. Yadav and Ahmed Kamal were felicitated on the occasion.

New formulation for TB

CSIR-IICT director S. Chandrasekhar disclosed that the institute, which has been involved in discovery of drug formulations for many years once the patents held by the multi-nationals get expired, is now ready to unveil another formulation to tackle tuberculosis (TB) with the drug called Bedaquiline.

It is also ready to hand over another chemical compound formulation with anti-sclerotic properties to tackle cardiac ailments to a major pharma firm.

This was a chance discovery made through random screening done on the 60,000-odd synthetic molecular compounds currently in its natural product library, he added.

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