REUTERS: Why Asia’s largest economies support hydrogen-fueled cars

Sep 24, 2019 – China, Japan, and South Korea have set ambitious goals to bring billions of dollars worth of fuel cell vehicles to their roads by the end of the next decade, Reuters reported in a research note.

To date, FCV fall far behind electric vehicles. Critics argue that they may never amount to more than a niche technology.

China, the world’s largest car market, where about 28 million cars are sold annually, plans to commission more than 1 million FCV by 2030. Now there are only 1,500 such vehicles in this country, and most of them are buses.

Japan, which sells more than 5 million cars a year, wants to increase the number of fuel cell cars to more than 800,000 from 3,400 now.

South Korea, whose car market is only one-third of the Japanese, has set a goal of 850,000 cars of this type by 2030, although as of the end of 2018 less than 900 such cars were sold.

Among the arguments of FCV backers is the exceptional purity of this technology because water is the only by-product of the hydrogen engine, as well as the ability to quickly refuel a fuel cell, compared to hours of charging that an electric vehicle requires.

Many supporters in China and Japan believe that hydrogen transport complements electric transport rather than competes with it. In general, hydrogen is seen as a more effective choice for heavy vehicles that travel long distances, so special attention is currently being paid to development of city buses.

Only a few automakers have made fuel cell cars commercially available. Toyota Motor launched the Mirai sedan at the end of 2014, but has sold less than 10,000 units worldwide. Hyundai Motor has been offering the Nexo crossover since March 2018, and has sold just under 2,900 units worldwide. Sales of its previous hydrogen-powered Tucson model totaled about 900 units. Honda Motor‘s Clarity model can be rented, while Daimler AG‘s Mercedes-Benz GLC F-CELL was delivered to only a few customers from the corporate and public sectors.

Demand for hydrogen-powered buses is slightly higher. Both Toyota and Hyundai have offers in this segment, and they have already begun to sell fuel cell components to bus manufacturers, especially in China.

Several Chinese manufacturers have developed their own buses, in particular, state-owned SAIC Motor, the country’s largest automaker, and Geely Auto Group, which also owns the Volvo Cars and Lotus brands.

The lack of a network of expensive hydrogen refuel stations is usually called the main obstacle to the spread of hydrogen transport. At the same time, the main reason for the lack of such infrastructure is that there is not enough transport on the roads to make it profitable.

Consumer concern about the risk of explosions is also a serious obstacle, and residents of Japan and South Korea are protesting against construction of hydrogen plants. This year, two people were killed in a hydrogen tank explosion in South Korea, after which the explosion also occurred at a hydrogen station in Norway.