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Hydrogen vehicles in focus at import expo

By CAO YINGYING | China Daily | Updated: 2023-11-13 10:28
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Toyota exhibits a heavy-duty hydrogen fuel cell truck at the sixth China International Import Expo. LONG WEI/FOR CHINA DAILY

Technology highlighted at trade show as an alternative method to achieve green mobility

Automakers' sustained investments in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, coupled with government support, are bringing green energy-powered vehicles closer to mass production, poised to realize zero-emissions mobility.

Such vehicles hogged the spotlight at the auto exhibition zone during the sixth China International Import Expo, which concluded on Friday.

As an early adopter of hydrogen fuel cell technology, South Korea's Hyundai Motor presented several hydrogen fuel cell models at the CIIE. Among them was an NEXO that complies with Chinese regulatory standards. It boasts a range of 550 kilometers and requires just five minutes to fill its hydrogen tank, much quicker than what electric vehicles need to get fully charged. The crossover SUV is the world's most popular fuel cell vehicle, with its cumulative sales having reached 30,000 units.

Other hydrogen-powered models at the booth were the N Vision 74 concept coupe as well as a truck and a bus, both of which feature products from HTWO, Hyundai's first overseas facility dedicated to fuel cell systems. The Guangzhou-based facility has an annual production capacity of 6,500 sets.

For the first time, German premium automaker BMW presented a hydrogen fuel cell model at the CIIE. The BMW iX5 Hydrogen boasts a total output of up to 295 kilowatts, which includes a continuous output of 125 kW from its high-performance fuel cell, enabling acceleration from 0-100 kilometers per hour within six seconds.

BMW has tested the hydrogen SUV in various countries this year, demonstrating consistent performance under diverse geographical and weather conditions.

The automaker said that the introduction of the hydrogen fuel cell SUV provides a new alternative energy source, complementing BMW's pure electric drive technology.

Toyota's showcase of hydrogen energy included a variety of products and technologies, spanning the entire hydrogen energy life cycle. The exhibits included the second-generation Mirai and Crown sedans, integrated hydrogen storage modules and a 150 kW fuel cell system, among other innovations.

The Mirai was the best-selling hydrogen fuel cell model until it was succeeded by Hyundai's NEXO. At the Tokyo Mobility show in late October, the Japanese automaker said the construction of hydrogen refueling stations poses a significant challenge and is thereby limiting sales of the Mirai.

As of the first half of 2023, a total of 1,089 hydrogen stations had been established globally. China led in this regard with 351 stations, making up 32.2 percent of the total.

Data from the South Korean market research firm SNE Research reveals that in the first half of this year, global sales of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles amounted to 8,290 units, marking an 11.6 percent year-on-year decrease.

The sluggish sales of hydrogen-powered vehicles have not deterred Toyota from pursuing the adoption of hydrogen fuel cell technology. The company is implementing hydrogen technology in the commercial vehicle sector, such as buses and trucks.

The shift to hydrogen fuel cell technology in commercial vehicles is helped by the smaller and more manageable scale of the market, allowing for rapid scale-up and operation. The higher costs associated with commercial vehicles provide a greater tolerance for hydrogen technology expenses, industry insiders said, adding that vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells can replace conventional heavy-duty diesel vehicles, providing a new solution for energy efficiency and carbon reduction.

Hydrogen technology is currently more suitable for commercial vehicles due to high production costs, relatively sparse hydrogen station coverage and limited consumer market acceptance, said industry insiders.

By the end of 2022, China had sold 13,947 fuel cell vehicles, primarily in the commercial sector, with fewer than 500 being passenger cars.

Currently, hydrogen energy is in a phase requiring government policies for support, according to industry insiders.

Guangdong province issued guidelines to boost the hydrogen industry last week, targeting significant growth by 2025. It includes sales of more than 10,000 fuel cell vehicles, an annual hydrogen supply capacity exceeding 100,000 tons and 200 hydrogen refueling stations. The province aims for a hydrogen industry valued at 300 billion yuan ($41.19 billion) by 2027.

With the support of local governments, Shanghai, Jiangsu province, Foshan in Guangdong province, Beijing, Hebei province and others have developed fuel cell industry clusters.

The China Hydrogen Alliance predicts that by 2025, the nation's hydrogen energy industry will be valued at 1 trillion yuan. By 2050, it said, hydrogen energy is expected to account for more than 10 percent of its overall energy system.

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