China's first hydrogen refueling station went into operation Wednesday at a suburban high-tech industrial base on the outskirts of Beijing.
The station, in the Beijing Hydrogen Park opened the same day, is the largest hydrogen station operated by world energy giant BP.
Covering an area of 4,000 square meters, the BP-branded hydrogen refueling station will produce hydrogen from renewable energies.
BP has invested a total of 3.5 million U.S. dollars in the Sino-British joint venture. The Chinese partner, SinoHytec, an enterprise linked to Tsinghua University, provided the land required for the project.
Fuel cells that generate electricity from hydrogen are an alternative to petroleum for the world's vehicles.
Instead of belching out greenhouse gases, fuel cells generate clean water and so are a much more ecological form of energy than petrol. For a city like Beijing, where vehicle emissions are a major cause of airborne pollution, fuel cells offer hope of cleaner transport and a cleaner environment.
But the cost of producing hydrogen is two or three times the cost of producing gasoline and fuel cell vehicles ten times more expensive than conventional gasoline fuelled vehicles, said Bill Fitzharris, general manager of BP hydrogen transport technology.
Fitzharris predicted that mass production of fuel cell vehicles and the development of commercial hydrogen refueling stations would not happen before 2015 or 2020.
The Chinese station, which currently uses transported hydrogen, will be able to turn natural gas into hydrogen on site next year, said Bill.
Fitzharris said that instead of using natural gas, which is relatively costly, the Beijing station will produce hydrogen from synthesis gas -- a combination of coal, oxygen and steam. This technology offers great prospects for China, the world largest coal producer.
China has been endeavoring to develop alternatives to gasoline to ensure that its craze for vehicle ownership does not seriously damage city air. 1000 new vehicles take to the streets every day in the nation's capital alone.
The Beijing Hydrogen Park is China's first demonstration project for new energy vehicles.
The park, which comprises a research and development center, a hydrogen refueling station, a fuel cell vehicle garage and a maintenance workshop, will provide critical experience in the infrastructure needed to operate hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. It will handle several international trial programs and also fuel the hydrogen vehicle fleet for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
Three Daimler-Chrysler made fuel cell buses went into trial operation in Beijing in June and five vehicles made by Tsinghua University are currently being tested.