Boom! China Adds 333 Fuel Cell Electric Buses

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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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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

Tina Casey has 3149 posts and counting. See all posts by Tina Casey

7 thoughts on “Boom! China Adds 333 Fuel Cell Electric Buses

  • Are China and other countries going to continue to develop fuel cells? Definitely. Are these fuel cells likely to end up in mass produced cars and buses? No they’re not. It just does not seem possible for them to obtain an economic advantage over batteries or even series hybrids using convential generators. But millitaries are very interested in compact energy systems that could potentially have less mass and a smaller logistal tail than how diesel is currently used. And their ideas of just what is economic tends to be a bit different, as they frequently invest in a special class of economic goods that are specifically designed to destroy value worse than even a team of Volkswagen pollution control engineers.

    So will will continue to see hydrogen cells being proclaimed as being for the cars and buses of the future when they are actually for the benefit of the “smallest unit of aggression possible” vehicle, and other millitary purposes:

    • More fool cells. Sigh.

    • I was interested to see Ballard proposing trucks and trains as fuel cell options. (and why not commercial ships) These are modalities where weight and size are not a consideration, and where the long term nature of transport makes recharging problematic. It would be interesting to see the economic model for them.

      • Trains are the perfect electric vehicle. I’m surprised the diesel part of them has survived as long as it has in the USA. They have a fixed route and it is easy to string wire over them.

        • Except that a wiring is much more expensive than using a hydrogen locomotive and having a fueling station en route. That’s why Ballard is building hydrogen trains. – Economics.

          • not…wiring is much cheaper than running fuel lines….not even getting into the hydrogen thingy…..

          • Sooo, using a H2 locomotive is cheap?

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