Hydrogen energy has emerged as a promising solution for the global energy transformation and sustainable development. In a recent statement, Ouyang Minggao, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, projected that hydrogen energy could potentially become a 10 trillion yuan industry in the future.
China has made significant progress in the development of hydrogen energy technologies, with several industrial clusters emerging across the country. However, challenges related to storage, transportation, and cost still need to be overcome for the industry to reach its full potential.
Hydrogen energy is considered a secondary energy source that is abundant, environmentally friendly, and versatile in its applications. It has gained recognition as a key player in reducing carbon emissions and transitioning towards a greener energy landscape. China has recognized the importance of hydrogen energy and is actively investing in its development.
One of the notable industrial clusters in China’s hydrogen energy landscape is located in the northern region of Shandong. This cluster boasts the country’s first high-speed hydrogen refueling station and port hydrogen refueling station. With a daily hydrogen supply capacity exceeding 20 tons in 25 hydrogen refueling stations, the cluster has already promoted over 1,000 fuel cell vehicles. Furthermore, the cluster aims to establish a hydrogen energy expressway, hydrogen energy ports, science popularization bases, hydrogen energy parks, and hydrogen energy communities.
Another prominent industrial cluster is situated in Nanhai District, Foshan City, within the Pearl River Delta region. This cluster has attracted over 150 hydrogen energy enterprises and institutions, forming a robust industrial chain with a staggering investment scale of over 60 billion yuan.
To drive the development of the hydrogen energy industry, China has implemented demonstration projects such as “Hydrogen into Thousands of Homes.” These projects aim to expand the application fields of hydrogen energy, increase its usage, and ultimately reduce costs. The comprehensive application of hydrogen energy in transportation, construction, and energy storage has been promoted through five demonstration city clusters and various projects.
China has also made significant advancements in fuel cell vehicle technology. Major breakthroughs have been achieved in integrating proton exchange membrane and fuel cell systems for vehicles, establishing a comprehensive industrial chain. High-power fuel cell systems for heavy trucks have gained international recognition and have become a technological highlight in the hydrogen energy industry. Commercial vehicles, including trucks, have experienced continuous optimization in performance indicators such as hydrogen consumption, mileage, and start-up capabilities.
As of April, China had promoted nearly 14,000 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, with over 13,000 of them being commercial vehicles used for heavy operations and long-distance bulk commodity transportation. The rapid development of hydrogenation infrastructure has resulted in over 350 hydrogen refueling stations being built nationwide, making China the world leader in this area.
However, challenges remain, particularly in the storage and transportation of hydrogen. Currently, there are only a few pure hydrogen pipelines in China, primarily serving refining and chemical industries. The distribution of hydrogen energy resources is uneven, with resources concentrated in certain regions, while the consumer market is concentrated in the eastern region. The future demand for medium and long-distance storage and transportation of hydrogen will require significant infrastructure development.
Experts emphasize the urgent need to accelerate the development of hydrogen storage and transportation equipment. Core hydrogen storage and transportation equipment capacity building is currently lacking, and there are numerous challenges in materials, design, manufacturing, safety monitoring, and evaluation.
Furthermore, the cost of fuel cells and hydrogen energy remains relatively high, posing a challenge to wider adoption. Key technologies and materials for fuel cell vehicles, such as carbon paper, catalysts, proton exchange membranes, carbon fiber materials, and hydrogenation equipment, still rely heavily on external sources. Large-scale energy-saving hydrogen production technology and high-reliability hydrogenation technology at 70 MPa need further improvement.
China recognizes the importance of cross-border cooperation and collaboration to address these challenges and accelerate the development of the hydrogen energy industry. Over 30 countries worldwide have already released strategies related to hydrogen energy, making it a key focus for sustainable development. China’s “Medium and Long-Term Plan for the Development of Hydrogen Energy Industry (2021-2035)” aims to establish a comprehensive hydrogen energy industry by 2035, covering transportation, energy storage, industry, and other fields.
While the hydrogen energy industry in China has entered a promising window period, there is room for improvement at both the market and technical levels. Strengthening technological breakthroughs in weak links and raising the overall technical level of the industry are crucial. Collaborative innovation and joint development among various stakeholders are essential for the sustainable and healthy growth of the hydrogen energy industry.