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China’s hydrogen energy industry gains momentum for development

Hydrogen Energy Fuel Cells Expo
People visit the Hydrogen Energy & Fuel Cells Expo China held in Beijing, March 26, 2024. (Photo by Du Jianpo/People's Daily Online)

By Liu Yiqing, Shen Xiaoxiao, 

China’s first hydrogen-powered urban train recently completed a test at a speed of 160 km/h in Changchun, northeast China’s Jilin province.

The train, developed by China’s CRRC Changchun Railway Vehicles Co., Ltd., is equipped with a built-in hydrogen power system and an independently developed hydrogen-electric hybrid energy control system. 

During the test, the train’s average energy consumption was 5 kWh per km, with the maximum range exceeding 1,000 km.

“Compared to urban vehicles powered by internal combustion, hydrogen-powered trains emit water while running. Over the entire lifecycle of a hydrogen-powered train, carbon dioxide emissions can be reduced by approximately 50,000 tons, which is equivalent to the emissions from 50,000 cars driving 5,000 km simultaneously,” said Wang Jian, deputy director of the new technology research department of the engineering research center of CRRC Changchun Railway Vehicles Co., Ltd.

Hydrogen energy is a secondary energy source that is abundant, environmentally friendly, and widely applicable. Its development and utilization are crucial for building a clean, low-carbon, safe, and efficient energy system.

China is the largest producer of hydrogen in the world, with a production of 35.33 million tons in 2022, accounting for over 1/3 of the world’s total. 

The hydrogen energy industry in China is experiencing a promising growth trajectory. The country has initially mastered key technologies and techniques for hydrogen production, storage, transportation, hydrogenation, and system integration. In some regions of China, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles have been put into use for demonstration on a small scale.

China Hydrogen Alliance estimated that by 2025, the output of China’s hydrogen energy industry will reach 1 trillion yuan ($138.2 billion). By 2050, the demand for hydrogen will approach 60 million tons, which is expected to reduce approximately 700 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions; hydrogen energy will account for over 10 percent of China’s end-use energy system, with the industrial chain generating an output of 12 trillion yuan.

The Chinese hydrogen energy industry has also seen rapid progress in international cooperation. In recent years, an increasing number of foreign companies have entered the Chinese market and engaged in cooperation with their Chinese partners. For instance, carmakers like Hyundai and Toyota are working on their hydrogen fuel cell projects in China; multinationals including Cummins and Siemens have started hydrogen production through electrolyzers in China. At the same time, Chinese companies are also expanding the global market and forging partnerships and collaborations with their foreign counterparts.

For example, China Energy Engineering Corporation has signed an agreement with the Egyptian government, according to which it will build a green hydrogen plant worth $6.75 billion in Egypt’s Suez Canal Economic Zone. The plant is expected to generate 1.2 million tons of green ammonia and 210,000 tons of green hydrogen each year.

The Egyptian government believes that the green hydrogen plant will significantly contribute to Egypt’s energy transition and sustainable development. Egyptian Ambassador to China Assem Hanafi noted that the joint efforts of Egypt and China in promoting hydrogen energy cooperation will lead to a green transition that benefits everyone.

In April 2023, China Energy Investment Group and Électricité de France signed an agreement to jointly build a 1.5GW offshore comprehensive smart energy island demonstration project in Dongtai, Yancheng, east China’s Jiangsu province. 

In early 2023, Jiangsu Guofu Hydrogen Energy Equipment Co., Ltd. reached a strategic cooperation agreement with Brazil’s YDRO. The two sides will establish a joint venture and build an electrolyzer-producing factory in Brazil in 2024. The factory is expected to build more than 50 water electrolysis hydrogen production systems by 2025.

Besides, companies like CRRC Zhuzhou Institute Co., Ltd. and Feichi Technology based in Foshan, south China’s Guangdong province have supplied hydrogen-powered buses and light rail vehicles to a hydrogen energy transportation demonstration project in Malaysia.

Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on Climate Action Selwin Hart, noted that China will continue to play an active role in the development of green energy sectors such as the hydrogen energy industry, which will make renewable energy accessible to more people in the world.

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