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Fuel of the Future
China Today
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Fuel of the Future

While stepping up the development of new materials, innovative drugs, and other cutting-edge sectors, China will also focus on hydrogen in its quest for

clean, safe, and efficient energy for industry and transportation, according to the 2024 Report on the Work of the Government. Hydrogen is a clean, safe, and efficient energy source that can power industries and transportation, which makes it an attractive fuel for the future. Consequently, developing hydrogen power was one of the focal points of the discussions at the recent “Two Sessions.”

Building a Hydrogen Ecosystem 

“Hydrogen leads the new round of global energy transformation,” NPC deputy and President of Beijing Yihuatong Technology Co. (SinoHytec) Zhang Guoqiang told China Today in an exclusive interview. It is a key direction for strategic emerging industries and crucial for promoting green and low-carbon energy transition, driving industrial upgrading, and shaping new quality productive forces, whose nature is green development, Zhang added.

China’s first guideline on accelerating the green development of the manufacturing industry, released on March 1, 2024, focuses on the energy revolution and industrial transformation under the dual carbon goals – achieving carbon peaking by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060. The objective is to build a complete industrial chain of technologies and equipment for hydrogen production, storage, transportation and utilization, and to improve the economic efficiency.

Major countries across the globe have all rolled out national policies for hydrogen energy, with increased investment to boost advanced technology research and industrialization. According to Hydrogen Insights 2023, released by the Belgium-headquartered Hydrogen Council and McKinsey & Company, the global hydrogen economy is growing rapidly with accelerated development momentum. By 2030, direct investment in hydrogen energy is expected to reach US $320 billion. About half of the projects funded by these investments will be related to large-scale industrial employment of hydrogen energy, and about 20 percent to transportation. Currently, there are over 1,000 hydrogen refueling stations worldwide.

SinoHytec is a national hi-tech enterprise focused on research and industrialization of hydrogen and fuel cells. Zhang said its two major businesses are hydrogen and fuel cells for land transportation. SinoHytec products have powered over 4,900 vehicles whose cumulative operating mileage is over 200 million kilometers. The company has been holding the largest market share in China for seven consecutive years.

Hebei Province has become a significant player in the industry. Last year it issued an action plan for accelerating the development of new energy as well as seven special plans to promote green and low-carbon transformation of energy, with the goal of forming an integrated system for wind, solar, water, nuclear, and hydrogen energy production and storage. By 2023, a technology research and development, inspection and testing system covering the entire hydrogen energy industry chain had been formed. Core technologies such as purification of industrial by-product hydrogen are being promoted in fields such as transportation, steel and chemical industries, and communication base stations.

Zhang said SinoHytec has created a hydrogen ecosystem in Zhangjiakou in Hebei, building the first plant in China that produces hydrogen from renewable sources and Zhangjiakou’s first hydrogen refueling station. During the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022, over 700 fuel cell vehicles equipped with SinoHytec’s products provided transportation for athletes as well as visitors. Zhang said Zhangjiakou already has 35 hydrogen enterprises, which have formed a preliminary hydrogen energy industrial chain.

Energizing the Path to Net Zero 

The green hydrogen chemical industry is another important area where hydrogen energy can be used.

Xu Zixia, an NPC deputy and chief engineer of China National Chemical Engineering No. 13 Construction Co., said the chemical industry is both high-energy-consuming and emission-intensive. It is one of the eight key industries covered by the national carbon market. “The chemical industry needs urgent technological and industrial upgrading to accelerate transformation and reach the goal of carbon reduction,” Xu said.

In 2022, China’s chemical industry produced over 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon emissions, accounting for nearly 15 percent of the country’s total amount, she said. However, the chemical industry is a pillar of the national economy, with a large economic output, a long industrial chain and multiple products. It is key to the security and stability of the industrial and supply chains and people’s well-being. Therefore green and low-carbon development of the industry is of critical importance.

“Hydrogen energy is an important part of production in the chemical industry. Using green hydrogen generated via water electrolysis for production can achieve carbon reduction at the source, during the process, and at the end of the production,” Xu pointed out. It is estimated that 10,000 tonnes of green hydrogen can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by more than 100,000 tonnes.

“Green hydrogen” means conducting electrolysis by using renewable sources such as wind, hydro, solar, and nuclear power to produce hydrogen, with no carbon emissions produced during the process. Hebei, for example, has a large amount of renewable energy resources and industrial by-product hydrogen resources, which can be tapped to develop hydrogen energy. Zhangjiakou, Chengde, and regions along the Taihang Mountains in Hebei have abundant wind and solar power, which in turn means abundant green hydrogen resources.

In April 2022, a guideline was issued for high-quality development of the petrochemical and chemical industry, urging enterprises in the two sectors to develop and utilize green hydrogen in accordance with local conditions, and promote the coupling of refining and coal chemical industries with green electricity and green hydrogen.

Key enterprises and projects have started using hydrogen energy. In June 2023, the first 10,000-tonne hydrogen production project in China – the Narisong Photovoltaic Hydrogen Production Industry Demonstration Project in Ordos City, Inner Mongolia – began operation. Two months later, China’s largest photovoltaic green hydrogen project – the Xinjiang Kuche Green Hydrogen Demonstration Project – was launched. Xu called them a breakthrough in the industrial application of green hydrogen in China.

Green Hydrogen as a National Strategy 

Guo Jianzeng, an NPC deputy and director of the Science and Technology Committee of the 718th Research Institute of China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation, said green hydrogen produced from the electrolysis of water is a major solution to tackle global decarbonization. “It is vital to master the key technologies in this field,” Guo said.

Water electrolysis uses renewable energy such as offshore wind energy and tidal energy for the mass production of green hydrogen. Advanced technologies are required for high-density storage and transportation of high-pressure hydrogen, liquid hydrogen, and metallic hydrogen. Besides enabling large-scale production, storage, and transportation, they also help lower costs. The hydrogen produced can be used in many scenarios – as fuel for ships, in the chemical industry, transportation, and construction.

Guo pointed out the multiple advantages of having a marine hydrogen industry. It is an effective way of meeting the carbon peaking and carbon neutrality goals; it boosts the consumption of offshore renewable energy; it meets international green shipping requirements; and finally, it is vital to have independent and controllable technology and equipment throughout the hydrogen energy industrial chain.

“Oceans are a source of abundant renewable energy, which can be tapped through offshore wind, floating solar photovoltaic, and other emerging ocean energy technologies. Hydrogen obtained from these renewable energy sources is sustainable and clean, which makes it a key component in the global energy transition,” Guo said. Hydrogen can also be used for large-scale energy storage and peak shaving, which effectively addresses the challenges of long-term and large-scale storage of electricity, increases the flexibility of the power system, and promotes high-proportion consumption of renewable energy.

Moreover, hydrogen is an effective intermediate agent for producing green and clean fuels for ships that meet the decarbonization standards. Various forms of hydrogen energy consumption can be created, such as adding carbon, oxygen, or nitrogen into hydrogen to make ammonia and methanol, which can be an alternative fuel for the shipping industry to achieve large-scale decarbonization.

“Hydrogen energy covers numerous products in preparation, storage and transportation and application, and is an important component of China’s strategic emerging industry chain. It is also a key field in China’s high-end equipment manufacturing industry,” Guo said. The electrolysis water hydrogen production technology of the 718th Research Institute is a premier technology in China. By developing hydrogen energy and promoting the localization of its equipment, China can both enhance its international competitiveness and ensure the security and stability of the entire hydrogen energy industry chain.

After discussing all the pros and cons, the NPC deputies were unanimous that the development of hydrogen power should be stepped up so that it becomes a new engine of economic growth. It would facilitate China’s clean and low-carbon energy transition and contribute to the development of new quality productive forces.

China TodayShen Yi

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