Enthusiasm was on display at the International Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Conference and Exhibition, which was held July 26 through 28 in Beijing. It showed the incredible speed at which China as well as Japan have grown in importance in the global hydrogen and fuel cell market. The People’s Republic knows how to benefit from the potential offered by both technologies.
The country is acutely aware that much needs to be done in little time to resolve its massive pollution problem. But China’s aim to increase renewable capacity from about 149 gigawatts today to more than 250 gigawatts by 2020 will prove a solid foundation for the use of a variety of fuel cell applications powered by green hydrogen.
Likewise, the government has plans to up the number of electric vehicles carrying goods and passengers across the country’s huge landmass from about 1.2 million to 10 million by 2030. Fuel cells, on the other hand, are still limited to a niche market, even though bus manufacturers seem to be making some inroads. An example is the partnership between Broad Ocean, Guangdong Energy and Canadian manufacturer Ballard Power. Additionally, some expect that the People’s Republic will map out a comprehensive fuel cell strategy and increase funding. If that happens, the nationwide 2030 goal of 3,000 hydrogen fueling stations could be too low. China can be fast.
Great Wall Motors’ Hydrogen Technology Center stated that those stations would have to not only be built at a greater speed but become less expensive in the process. Several speakers at the conference seemed to expect the price for green hydrogen to drop, too, with USD 5 thought to be an attainable goal. This would increase the number of fuel cell uses and products in the foreseeable future. An estimated 500,000 fuel cell trucks could be on the roads by 2030, the year when the first fuel cell cruise ship is to be put into service.
Several of those giving presentations said that fuel cell trucks had clear-cut advantages over all-electric ones. Likewise, they added that fuel cell taxicabs and forklifts provided a better return on investment during multi-shift operations due to their faster fill-up with hydrogen. PEM stacks, and not high-temperature alternatives, are believed to be the fuel cell’s future, as they are easier to assemble, more reliable and last longer – up to 20,000 hours. Also, they are efficient and start up in just a few seconds each time.
National and international corporations, as well as research institutions, have begun to allocate a great deal of resources to the design of PEM stacks, specifically membrane electrode assemblies, with the goal to substitute carbon compounds for platinum throughout those units. Many speakers put production techniques front and center during their presentations.
After talking to many of the participants, I got the impression that although the number of attendees was down from last year, the presentations were of higher quality and the exhibits more intriguing. Much of what people asked or presented bore some relation to safety or the range of applications, from hydrogen use in cars, trucks and buses to power-to-gas. Companies based in Canada, such as Ballard and Hydrogenics, and those based in Germany, like ElringKlinger, have become fully aware of the potential fuel cells have in the People’s Republic and are well-connected through joint ventures with Chinese corporations. Now, they can reap economies of scale and cater to not just one market but the world.
This article was written by independent stock market analyst Sven Jösting, who spent several days in China to report about hydrogen and fuel cell innovations at CHFCE. His trip was partly funded by Peter Sauber Agentur Messen und Kongresse GmbH, a company organizing events in Japan and Canada, in addition to the German f-cell show and WHEC in Brazil.