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Future with zero emissions: Hydrogen powered vehicles thrive in China

By Miao Wanyi in Foshan (People's Daily Online)    08:30, November 16, 2018

“Don’t be shy and take a sip of the exhaust water. It’s drinkable. Trust me.”

The bizarre offer came from a driver as he pulled over and waved at a group of people in their fineries outside an upscale hotel in downtown Beijing. Squatting near the back of his white van, the driver pointed at the exhaust pipe, which was giving out warm steam on a cold autumn day.

“This fuel cell vehicle only emits water and heat,” he continued, confidently.

Hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles (FCV) are regarded as zero-emission vehicles, which can reduce air pollution and the effects of climate change. The special vehicles were first introduced in developing countries led by China in 2003 by its Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

Move 15 years forward and China is now the world’s only developing country that has continually promoted hydrogen energy and fuel cell technology projects.

With China’s industrial upgrading underway, hydrogen, regarded as an “ultimate” form of energy for future industries, is a clean option that is increasingly favored by countries seeking to replace fossil fuels.

Old tradition, new fashion

The FCVs today are similar to the ones that hit the road in China’s capital city for the first time in 2008 during the Beijing Olympics, when three FCVs demonstration buses served the public.

As another major sporting event draws near, this time in Beijing and neighboring Zhangjiakou in Hebei province, the clean energy tradition marches on. Zhangjiakou, the co-host city for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, is spearheading the effort to create a hydrogen energy operation system as a way to demonstrate China’s resolution on cleaner and greener technology.

“Zhangjiakou has the world’s largest number of fuel cell city buses, which are expected to expand to a total of 74 buses during the 2022 Winter Olympics. Not only do they serve the public, but the buses also act like mobile air purifiers for the city,” Huo Junqing, head of the vehicle technology department of a local public transportation company, said at a demonstration conference for FCVs in Nanhai District, Foshan City, South Guangzhou province, China on Nov. 6.

“And the latest water quality testing shows that the exhaust water from FCVs meets drinking water quality standards,” Huo noted.

Foshan is one of the five FCV demonstration cities in China besides Beijing, Shanghai, Zhengzhou, and Yancheng.

Eight FCVs from eight Chinese vehicle enterprises made their first debut in the UNDP-GEF (Global Environment Facility) Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicle Roadshow in Foshan on Nov. 7, officially unveiling the commercialized operation of FCVs in China.

Hundreds of FCVs including passenger vehicles, sedans, logistics vehicles, and postal service vehicles are hence expected to be rolled out in the demonstration cities.

Citizens were also escorted to the roadshow on fuel-cell city buses and were encouraged to offer their advice on FCVs.

“The bus felt really smooth and steady when climbing. My favorite thing was its design—it has a one-step platform and wheel zone. I have kids and elderly in my family and their comfort and safety are my priorities,” a local citizen surnamed Chen told People’s Daily Overseas Social Media after the 20-km roadshow.

In addition, a total of 22 hydrogen stations are expected to be put into operation in Nanhai District by 2022, making Foshan the city with the most hydrogen stations, according to its current hydrogen development plan.

In addition, over a thousand FCVs are expected to be seen on city’s roads by 2020.

From subsidy-support to innovation-driven

Thanks to a national policy and financial support to promote hydrogen industrialization, the clean energy industry is burgeoning, but what happens when subsidies begin to ebb away is another standing issue worthy of attention.

The average cost of a hydrogen station in China is around 10 million yuan ($1.44 million). Under current policy, a hydrogen station with a filling capacity of greater than 200 kg a day can obtain four million yuan worth of government incentives, accounting for 40% of the total amount, according to data revealed at the demonstration conference.

The former development track of electronic vehicles (EVs) draws a lesson for FCVs that is, to not bet the future on policy and financial support, but actively seek technological and commercial solutions for deepening industrialization, Wang Binggang, a senior expert with the National New Energy Automobile Innovation Project Group and an advisor for China Society of Automobile Engineers, told People’s Daily Overseas Social Media.

As part of the Greater Bay Area, a national scheme to link cities in the Pearl River Delta into an integrated economic and business hub, Foshan will continue offering pivotal technology solutions and business models for innovative industries to empower the industrial upgrading, local officials pledged at the roadshow.

“It took us less than 10 years with a great deal of partnerships and investments across China with many actors. Today, many projects are underway. The new cluster is forming with the effort of the city government and vehicle manufacturers,” Achim Steiner, administrator of UNDP, told People’s Daily Overseas Social Media.

“FCVs breathe new life into China’s goal of building a cleaner environment and a greener economy. Though the high cost is a major limitation for the industry, large-scale industrialization can change that. Only in this way can China speed up the standardization and realization of low-carbon and low-cost hydrogen energy infrastructure construction,” Wang noted.

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)
(Web editor: Jiang Jie, Bianji)

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