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China blows up the market for fuel cell vehicles with two new deals for a total of 333 fuel cell buses, but hydrogen supply still in question.

Clean Transport

Boom! China Adds 333 Fuel Cell Electric Buses

China blows up the market for fuel cell vehicles with two new deals for a total of 333 fuel cell buses, but hydrogen supply still in question.

Like the US, China has been slow to adopt fuel cell electric vehicles, but it looks like things are stepping up in a big way. The cities of Foshan and Yunfu are jumping into the lead with a $17 million order for 300 fuel cell electric buses, just announced by the Canadian company Ballard Power Systems through its Chinese licensee, Guangdong Synergy Hydrogen Power Technology Co., Ltd.

Last June, Bloomberg reported on another Ballard deal for 33 fuel cell modules for buses in Yunfu and another city, Rugao, and the company is also partnering up with the Tangshan Railway Vehicle Company to develop fuel cell modules for trams.

fuel cell vehicles Ballard China

Fuel Cell Vehicles & China

So… that was fast. The only other big fuel cell EV news coming out of China this year was a three-car publicity tour staged by the state-owned auto manufacturer SAIC. However, there have been some signs of movement since China showcased a fleet of only 20 fuel cell cars and three buses for the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008. Two years later, at the Shanghai World Expo, the country showed off 90 fuel cell cars, 6 buses, and 100 tourist vehicles, and our sister site has noted that fuel cell vehicles are routinely included in China’s tax breaks for green vehicles.

In 2012, our friends over at Fuel Cell Today took a close look at China’s R&D program for fuel cell electric vehicles and hydrogen in China and reached this conclusion:

“Financial support from the Chinese government is strong with fuel cells identified as a key future technology and funded accordingly. Chinese companies throughout the supply chain from catalysts to membranes and system integrators to end users are all driving fuel cell adoption leading China to become an international competitor.”

Speaking of hydrogen, the Fuel Cell Today report also dives into China’s clean energy investments, specifically wind and solar. That’s a key issue because, without use of renewable energy to (more expensively) split water and create hydrogen, fuel cell vehicles rely heavily on hydrogen sourced from fossil fuels. To be fair, battery electric vehicles also draw from fossil fuels when they hook up to charging stations that receive a grid mix that includes fossil fuels. However, the degree to which that affects overall emissions is much lower.

With the new China-US climate agreements (this one, too) pushing renewable energy along, the prospects for renewable hydrogen production in China have been improving.

China reviewed the hydrogen sourcing issue in a 2006 report from Tsinghua University, which looked into something called the “post-fossil hydrogen economy,” noting the potential for solar energy. In 2014, the Chinese Academy of Sciences reviewed the state of the hydrogen production scene in “Toward greener hydrogen production in China,” focusing on wind as well as solar powered electrolysis (aka water-splitting) as an alternative.


 300 Fuel Cell Vehicles For China (plus 33)

The new 300-bus fuel cell vehicle deal certainly breaks things open in China. Inked last week, the agreement has an estimated value of $17 million through 2016, with the anticipation of additional royalties beginning the following year. Ballard will provide this to its partners in China:

“The agreement includes supply and sale of fully-assembled fuel cell power modules, ready-to-assemble module kits, a technology license for localization of assembly, supply of proprietary fuel cell stacks and long-term recurring royalties leveraged to unit volumes of locally assembled modules.”

Foshan Automobile Transportation Group’s  Vice Chairman, Chen Xiaomin, had this to say about the prospects for growth for fuel cell vehicles in China:

“We see strong demand for low carbon solutions, and are excited by the opportunity to be first-to-market with a fuel cell bus offering. This deal represents a potential catalyst for further advancement and adoption of fuel cell buses in China.”

The deal also represents a glimmer of economic hope for Canada, which is seeing its fossil fuel industry, in general, and its the Keystone XL pipeline, in particular, go down the drain — the latest development being a firm statement in opposition from Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Here’s B.C Minister of International Trade Teresa Watt looking on the bright side:

“This deal shows that B.C. is ready to meet China’s rapidly-growing clean energy needs and is a world leader in fuel cell technology with the necessary talent and skills to deliver in the global marketplace. This job-generating deal is a great accomplishment for Ballard and our government is a proud supporter of the company’s growth throughout the Asia Pacific Region.”

As for the particulars of the deal, that would be Ballard’s heavy-duty FCvelocity®-HD7 power module in various configurations.

This is the 7th iteration of the HD line, which, according to Ballard, is scalable and high-performing in extreme cold as well as heat and humidity.

Fuel cell vehicles still have a long way to go in order to catch up to battery EVs in terms of cost, and Ballard is addressing that angle with a simplified fuel cell module that has fewer parts. A high-volume production process for several key parts also helps to keep costs down. According to the company, the cost of the HD line has decreased by about 65 percent in the last six years.

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Image (screenshot): via Ballard.

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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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