Alternative Energy in China
Fuel Cell Development and Technology
Unlike other economies with a fledgling automotive industry, who for a
century have always focused more on job creation than pollution, China
ambitiously sets a goal for the best and newest industry, aiming for
pollution reduction and energy savings. A visit by Chinese President Hu
Jintao resulted in a memorandum of understanding that might lead to a longer
term contract between Ballard Power Systems (part-owned by Daimler Chrysler
AG and Ford Motor Co.) and Shanghai Fuel Cell Vehicle Powertrain Co.; the
Shanghai government expects to see about 10,000 fuel-cell vehicles on the
road by 2012. Many analysts believe that a central-governed economy like
China’s is in effect more likely to develop a sound infrastructure for
fuel-cell technology, given its aggressive scheme and devotion to the
China hasn't seen much private investment in this sector. Up to 2003, only a handful of private Chinese companies are working on the issue. However, China has seen vast investments from major car and bicycle manufacturers, some of which are already working with local research institutions on fuel cell applications. But hydrogen fuel cell power has daunting technological hurdles that must be overcome before they can help solve pollution or energy challenges. Fuel cells are still extremely expensive and in transportation applications fuel cells are still very fragile. Storing and distributing hydrogen is still difficult, because hydrogen as a gas contains very little energy by volume, and therefore must be either liquefied or stored under extreme pressure in order to deliver meaningful amounts of energy. Finally, hydrogen itself must be extracted from other fossil fuels, or manufactured using electricity and water. So even if hydrogen becomes the clean energy of choice, hydrogen will have to be manufactured using other fuels.
Today, China hosts more than 60 institutions and companies, employing around 350 people working on the technology. As shown in the above figure, most of these organizations are still very much research orientated.
China's ample market and the current limited development in fuel cell technology indicate a lucrative market to foreign investors of this sector. The main opportunities for fuel cell technologies in China are in the development of prototypes of fuel cell engines and for fuel cell fuelling stations. Chinese transport authorities are looking for well-designed buses that suit their individual local environments, maintenance staff training and a high level of service. At the moment, there are two major state technology programs related to fuel cells and hydrogen research in China and some initiatives and projects, partly-funded by the government. China's Ministry of Science and Technology has also revealed their intention to expand research on fuel cell and alternative energy with large investments into related a R&D program.
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