Hydrogen fuel cell maker Refire sees strong potential for fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) growth in China, particularly as the new energy vehicle (NEV) industry will expand under the country’s 2060 carbon neutral directive.
According to China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM) statistics, from January to July this year, China’s domestic new-vehicle sales were 14.7-million units, of which 1.47-million were NEVs, which is an increase of over 190% year-on-year.
China’s NEV Industry Development Plan and Energy Saving, and the New Energy Vehicle Technology Roadmap, will also help to stimulate the market for FCEVs.
By 2035, the market share of NEVs in China is expected to exceed 50%, with the number of FCEVs expected to reach about one-million.
As an example of China’s national government support for FCEVs, in September 2020, the Ministry of Finance, together with four other ministries, issued a notice on the demonstration and application of FCEVs, which is expected to further drive technological breakthroughs, cost reductions and end-use applications of fuel cell power in various areas.
At the local government level, more than 20 regions have so far issued phased plans for the promotion of FCEV deployment. Shanghai, for example, has recently proposed a 2023 target of having 100 hydrogen refuelling stations, 100-billion yuan of industry output and 10 000 FCEVs deployed.
Refire says that, coupled with the collaborative efforts of policy and industry, China’s nascent carbon trading schemes may further incentivise a shift towards green hydrogen, which is produced from fully sustainable sources such as wind and solar power.
As the domestic carbon trading and credit systems take hold, further market demand will arise from the need by corporations to offset their own carbon footprint.
Therefore, for companies operating vehicle fleets, for example, it will be attractive to opt for zero-carbon solutions such as fuel cell power.
Producers of FCEVs will likely see an increasing uptrend in demand as more corporations participate in the scheme, and as the carbon pricing mechanism begins to weigh in on overall corporate environmental, social and governance directives.
Since the hydrogen value chain is long and complex, local and global partnerships are essential to achieving industry competitiveness
“We are seeing more robust global partnerships with market participants from government, the oil and gas sector and automotive original-equipment manufacturers across the supply chain.
“Such partnerships are supported by actionable steps towards producing cleaner hydrogen and fuel cell products at scale and with decreasing bottlenecks in order to meet the green mandate,” Refire states.
Since its inception in 2015, Refire has been creating strategic partnerships with upstream and downstream industry partners, academic and research institutions, as well as with industry associations and standards bodies, to accelerate the shared vision of mass-adoption of clean fuel cell technologies.
This will only be achieved by building affordable and truly great products at scale, the company believes.
Refire considers grey and blue hydrogen valuable interim contributors to the transition to fully green hydrogen, since they allow for zero emissions at the point of use.
However, upstream considerations such as carbon capture and sequestration, and other methods of reducing the carbon footprint during hydrogen production, are ultimately less sustainable, it notes.
LIGHT VS HEAVY-DUTY
At the heart of Refire’s hydrogen fuel cell systems is platinum-based proton exchange membrane stack technology.
The company’s fuel cell systems are characterised by industry-leading product reliability, durability, freeze-start performance and fuel efficiency for light- to heavy-duty commercial vehicle applications.
“Our aggregated mileage of over 75-million kilometres (as of mid-August 2021) is testament to this and has been accrued by over 2 700 fuel cell vehicles in daily operation. This represents a saving of over 39 000 t of kerbside carbon emissions, equivalent to about 100 round-trip flights between Shanghai and New York.”
According to CAAM’s 2019 statistics, commercial vehicles accounted for only about 12% of China's car ownership but produced 56% of road traffic carbon emissions; of this portion, trucks in particular are major polluters.
In 2019, China was home to about seven-million heavy-duty trucks – or one-third of the world’s 20-million heavy-duty trucks.
Based on Bloomberg New Energy Finance predictions, 50% of the world’s heavy-duty trucks will be powered by new, clean energy by 2040.
Fuel cell technologies provide an attractive and viable zero-emissions mobility solution in the long term and their advantages, such as longer range and quick refuelling, combined with greater load capacity, make them a uniquely attractive option for trucks as this sector works towards decarbonisation.
Although Refire is oriented towards the heavy-duty commercial vehicle sector, it says routes and duty cycles of mass transit and logistics vehicles of all sizes are generally well understood, meaning that even with limited refuelling and servicing locations, they can all play an early and significant role in the decarbonisation of urban and extra-urban traffic.
Urban movement of goods has exploded in recent years in China owing to economic improvements, e-commerce and the growth in home-delivery culture. These trends are expected to continue which will ensure greater demand for clean power including fuel cells.
Importantly, mid- and light-duty FCEV deployment will help facilitate a broader spectrum transition to hydrogen energy by accelerating the roll-out of critical infrastructure such as refuelling networks and by driving technological breakthroughs.
Refire has focused on the light- and mid-duty sectors for several years already, with mass transit and commercial logistics fleets remaining a priority.
For example, earlier this year, Geely Commercial Vehicle Group announced a new generation light-duty truck prototype that will be developed into three types of new electric vehicles including battery electric vehicles, range extended electric vehicles and FCEVs.
To this end, 5 500 trucks will be deployed, of which 1 200 will be FCEVs powered by Refire’s PRISMA fuel cell system.
Refire’s vision is to accelerate the mass-adoption of zero-emissions hydrogen fuel cell technology so that the world can breathe easy. Therefore, it is essential to strive for a greater proportion of fully renewable sources of hydrogen to achieve net-zero carbon emissions.