China mulls use of hydrogen-powered cars to beat smog

By Cao Siqi Source:Global Times Published: 2018/11/1 15:43:39

A line 384 bus. This is the only line that uses a hydrogen powered fuel cell in Beijing. Photo: Courtesy of UNDP

China is thinking of replacing gas-powered cars with fuel cell vehicles powered by hydrogen to combat air pollution and save energy, and is studying when to ban the production and sale of cars using fossil fuels.

New-energy vehicles refer to vehicles powered by non-traditional fuels - for example, electric and hybrid vehicle. Fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) are powered by hydrogen, which are more efficient than conventional internal combustion engine vehicles and produces no tailpipe emissions. They only emit water vapor and warm air.

China's Ministry of Science and Technology (MoST) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have been jointly implementing a Global Environment Facility (GEF) funded project that utilizes the innovative solution to help mitigate the impact of climate change. 

Devanand Ramiah, Deputy Country Director of UNDP, told the Global Times on Thursday that "we have launched a pilot program in five cities, including Beijing and Shanghai. Three hydrogen-powered buses served during the 2008 Olympic Games and another six were used at the Shanghai World Exposition in 2010."

Some 5,000 FCVs are expected to be on the road by 2020 and the number is estimated to reach 1 million by 2030, he said.

Zhang Weidong, a programme manager at UNDP, told the Global Times on Thursday that the hydrogen fuel cell vehicles have more advantages over pure battery-powered electric ones due to fast-refueling speed (refueled within 3-5 minutes to run for at least 400 kilometers), longer life time and low maintenance.

Promoting hydrogen FCVs could also help rural areas get rid of poverty as green hydrogen could also be generated from reforming ethanol that can be extracted from farm crop residues such as sugar-rich straws, Zhang said.

However, despite the push to promote hydrogen FCVs, a number of obstacles could hinder their development. Many people are concerned about safety because hydrogen is flammable.

Since hydrogen is classified as a hazardous chemical substance in China, Zhang noted that under the current regulatory framework, building new hydrogen refueling stations is not as easy nor smooth as building new fossil fuel stations.

China's new-energy vehicle market recorded a year of rapid growth in 2017 as the government continued its strong push for green transportation. A total of 777,000 new-energy vehicles were sold in the Chinese market last year, up 53.3 percent year-on-year, the Xinhua News Agency reported, citing the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.

"China is studying relevant research for when to stop the production and sale of traditional fuel cars," Wang Cheng, an official at the China Automotive Technology and Research Center, told the Global Times.

The UK and France have said they will ban new petrol and diesel cars starting 2040.

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