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China’s Father of Electric Cars Says Hydrogen Is the Future

An Electric car
An Electric car

His vision to make China an electric-vehicle powerhouse revolutionized the global auto industry, strengthening a move away from the combustion engine. Now, Wan Gang says get ready for the next game-changing moment.

The world’s biggest car market is set to embrace hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles the way it did EVs, Wan, who’s been called the father of China’s electric-car movement, said in a unusual interview in Beijing on June 9.

A former Audi executive who went on to become China’s science-and-technology minister, Wan persuaded leaders two years ago to play on the then-untested technology of vehicle electrification, selling it not only as a way to boost economic growth but also to tackle China’s reliance on oil importations and its rising levels of pollution. His approach of using government grants to bring carmakers and drivers on board, made China home to one of every two EVs sold worldwide today.

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And now it’s hydrogen’s turn, Wan said.

“We have a duty to look into creating a hydrogen society,” said Wan, 66, who’s now a vice chairman of China’s national advisory body for policy making, a role that positions higher than a minister and offers him a voice in the nation’s forthcoming planning. “We need to move extra in the direction of fuel cells.”

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That means the government will obligate resources to developing such vehicles, he said. While China plans to phase out the long-time subsidy program for the maturing EV industry next year, government funding for fuel-cell vehicles may stay in place to some extent, Wan said.

Shares of some hydrogen-related corporations rose. Jiangsu Huachang Chemical Co., which grows hydrogen pumping stations, was progressive as much as 4.3 percent Thursday in Shenzhen. Shanghai Tongji Science & Technology Industrial Co. and Lanzhou Great Wall Electrical Co., which are both investors in the fuel-cell vehicle industry, rose in Shanghai.

What’s the difference between fuel-cell vehicles and electric cars?

In usual EVs, lithium-ion batteries store electrical energy supplied by the electric car charging stations and use that to power the vehicle which driven by electric motor. Hydrogen fuel cells use a chemical reaction to produce energy, converting hydrogen stored in the vehicle into electricity, while emitting only water vapor. Hydrogen’s superior energy-to-weight ratio over a lithium-ion battery advances itself useful for lengthier journeys.

Notwithstanding the support of industry giants like Toyota Motor Corp. and the advantages of fuel-cell vehicles, they refill faster and are more appropriate for driving lengthy distances than all electric vehicles.  The technology hasn’t got the attention it deserves due to expensive prices.

But China has the strength to revolution all her system to make hydrogen-powered vehicles a national importance, the type of revolving point the industry has been waiting for years.

For Wan who is a mechanical engineer trained in Germany, the shift towards hydrogen is a natural step in getting a vision of having electric cars take over inner-city traffic, while buses and trucks filled with hydrogen tanks journey the nation’s main roads for long-distance travel.

The approval of fuel-cell vehicles has been sluggish notwithstanding China having a plentiful supply of hydrogen, Wan said. There are only about 1,500 such vehicles in use today, likened with more than 2 million purely electric vehicles, he said.

The U.S. Has a Fleet of 300 Electric Buses. China Has 421,000

It’s not just China. Hydrogen fuel cells have managed to improve grip globally not just as a result of high costs. One of the key components is platinum and also because of the lack of structure and the difficulty of keeping hydrogen.

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Formerly there’s the issue of hydrogen’s flammability, as showed by the recent fire at a refueling station in Norway.

“We will find out the factors that have been deterring the progress of fuel-cell cars,” Wan said.

The determinations are in progress in Japan, with ideas to increase the number of fuel-cell automobiles on its roads to 40,000 by 2020, though NEF approximated that sales so far aren’t near to that target. In Europe, Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz unit introduced a fuel-cell version of its popular GLC SUV. In the U.S., the California Fuel Cell Company is trying to uphold the technology, with partial success.

While in China, buses seem to be predominantly ready for fuel cells, which use a chemical method to change hydrogen into electricity, releasing only water vapor. China is by far the world front-runner in using electric buses accounting for 99% of them globally last year, according to researcher BNEF -- but they’re generally used in cities for short distances.

Hydrogen cars are capable of moving more than 500 kilometers 310 miles on a full tank, as opposed to about 200 kilometers for electric cars. That offers a large chance since there are five long-distance buses in China for every inner-city one, based on Wan’s explanations.

China is supporting the embracing of hydrogen vehicles in designated experimental areas as it sets up an ecosystem that includes hydrogen making, storage, transportation and refueling, Wan said. Distant commercial vehicles aren’t presently well-matched to trip on batteries only because of weight and range limits, according to a BNEF report last month. Fuel cells would be a good play if the government reduces limitations on hydrogen-refueling setup.

Outside hydrogen, Wan pronounced skepticism about the idea that computers will totally substitute the need for humans in the driver’s seat.

“I believe that individuals still hunger to drive or take a sense of control,” Wan said.

He also believed he doesn’t imagine China giving a national prohibition on the sale of gasoline cars as local authorities will be left to make their own decisions. The present dual-credit scheme, which look like the cap-and-trade systems being installed globally for carbon discharges, will linger, but it will slowly be changed to a carbon trading system, he said.

China needs all carmakers to meet the least requirements for manufacturing new-energy vehicles, as well as fuel-cell autos. Carmakers that don’t meet the allocation can buy credits from competitors that surpass it.

China Is issuing the Carmakers in the globe an Electric Ultimatum. “We have a duty to decrease pollution gas discharges,” Wan noted.

Originally posted 2019-06-13 13:15:07.

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