Potentially large amount of hydrogen resource in China could theoretically supply 100 × 106 fuel cell passenger cars yearly. The Chinese government highly values the hydrogen and fuel cell technology. Policies and plans have been put forward densely in the recent five years. Numerous companies, research institutes, and universities are developing proton exchange membrane fuel cell (PEMFC) and solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC)-related technologies. A preliminary local supplier chain of fuel cell-related technology has been formed. However, the lifetime is still a key issue for the fuel cell technology. More than 3500 fuel cell range extender electric vehicles were manufactured during 2016 and 2018, and at the beginning of 2019, there have been more than 40 hydrogen refueling stations including both under operation and under construction. It is estimated the number of fuel cell-based electric vehicles will reach 36,000 by the end of 2020; therefore, lack of hydrogen refueling station has become a key restriction for development of the fuel cell vehicle industry.
1 Potentially Large Amount of Hydrogen Resource in China
China potentially has large amount of hydrogen resources, which could be derived from the by-product of manufacturing different chemical products and from water electrolysis by using abandoned electricity. Table 1 shows six sources which could theoretically produce 15.32 × 109 kg hydrogen in 2016 . When assuming the annual usage frequency of a passenger car is 300 days, its daily range is of 50 km, and 1 kg hydrogen can support a car to drive 100 km, the total theoretical amount of hydrogen can supply 100 × 106 cars to drive for a whole year.
2 The Government Policies and Strategies Concerning the Technology of Hydrogen and Fuel Cell
In order to fully utilize these potential hydrogen resources, Chinese government highly values the technology of hydrogen and fuel cell. Figure 1 shows the national policies and strategies recently put forward, in which the development of hydrogen and fuel cell technology and its market are considered as a key part of these files. For example, the roadmap of the technology development of proton exchange membrane fuel cell (PEMFC) stack for vehicles is briefed in Fig. 2. Both the cost and the performance of fuel cell stack including maximum efficiency, cold start temperature, lifetime and power density have clear targets for every five years since 2015. Table 2 presents the planned amount of fuel cell vehicle and hydrogen refueling station in the next ten years. Table 3 shows the national subsidy policy for fuel cell vehicles published in 2016, which is mainly based on the rated output power of a fuel cell system. Local government also presents subsidy policies separately. For example, the subsidy from the Shanghai municipal government published in 2016 is even higher than the national subsidy as shown in Table 3. In the meantime, the national subsidy policy for building a hydrogen refueling station was also presented in 2014. A station with 200 kg/day H2 filling capacity could acquire a subsidy of RMB 4 × 106, while the subsidy from a local government could reach as high as RMB 8 × 106 for a 500 kg/day station.
3 The Current Status of PEMFC Development
Numerous companies, research institutes, and universities are developing PEMFC-related technologies. Considering the length of this article, Table 4 presents only a small part of Chinese companies according to their expertise. An important progress in 2018 is that a vehicle-based PEMFC stack module reached 5000-hour lifetime. When considering the subsidy policy as shown in Table 2, electric bus normally with a 45 kW PEMFC range extender and electric truck normally with a 35 kW PEMFC range extender are being developed by many vehicle manufactures as shown in Figs. 3(a) and 3(b). Moreover, in 2016, a three-car fuel cell/supercapacitor hybrid tram was developed by CRRC Tangshan Co. Ltd., which was supported by Missions of the Ministry of Science and Technology of China during the 12th “Five-Year Plan,” and in 2017, a line with the hybrid tram model as shown in Fig. 3(c) started its commercial operation in Tangshan City. The total amount of fuel cell-based electric vehicles is more than 3500 from 2016 to 2018.
Government-supported projects are also under way. For example, the national key project “Renewable Energy and Hydrogen Energy Technology” has been initiated for the 13th “Five-Year Plan” by the Ministry of Science and Technology of China since 2016. A task starting from 2018 is concerning the research on engineering fabricating technology of long lifetime PEMFC stack. The targets of the task include average single-cell voltage ≤ 0.7 V at stack-rated output, single-cell voltage deviation in a stack ≤10 mV, lowest cold start temperature is −30 °C, stack power generation efficiency ≤10% after 10,000 h operation, estimated stack lifetime beyond 20,000 h, the stack annual mass production ability ≥1000 units, and stack module manufacturing cost ≤ RMB 5000/kW (based on a production quantity of 10 MW/year).
4 The Current Status of Solid Oxide Fuel Cell Development
More than 60 universities, institutes, and companies are currently dedicated to researches in solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC). The involvement of different research sectors in China is outlined in the review paper . Here, some important organizations are introduced.
As the first organization to develop SOFC in China, Shanghai Institute of Ceramics, Chinese Academy of Sciences (SICCAS) has nearly 20 years’ experience in the research, development, and manufacture of planar-type SOFC. As shown in Fig. 4, a 5-kW SOFC system has been successfully developed and demonstrated. The 5-kW SOFC independent power generation system contains 190 cells with the cell size of 20 × 20 cm2. The system generates 4.77 kW of power using liquefied natural gas as a fuel, achieving electrical efficiency of 36.5% and overall combined heat and power (CHP) generation efficiency of 74.6%.
Center for Fuel Cell Innovation at Huazhong University of Science and Technology developed a 5-KW SOFC independent power generation system and achieved a power output of 4.82 kW. The 5 kW SOFC system prototype is shown in Fig. 5. Through the utilization of module with dual-stack and thermoelectric cooperative control technology, a power generation efficiency of 46.5% has been achieved. Furthermore, the combined heat and power utilization rate has reached 79.7%. The power density of the single cell with large-area is as high as 1.2 W/cm2. The degradation rate is only 0.41%/1000 h, reaching the international advanced level.
Chaozhou Three-Circle Co. Ltd. (CCTC) develops the material, manufactures products, and equipment and carries out research and development as well. The application of its hi-tech ceramic products has extended to telecommunication, electronics, machinery, environmental protection, new energy biology and fashion, etc. CCTC branches include electrical, electronic, optical, medical, and structural ceramic manufacturer. Its principal products are anode-supported SOFC cells, SOFC electrolyte membranes, and Stack, which are shown in Figs. 6 and 7, respectively.
G-cell Technology Co. Ltd. is established in Hefei Anhui, China. The company mission relies on the relevant technology of SOFC to provide energy-efficient, environmental protection solutions, and applications. It produces distributed power stations and standby power supply and application of SOFC in environmental protection and emission reduction through for example experimental SOFC stacks with the power output of 1 kW shown in Fig. 8. In this company, Air Brazing technology is used to improve the sealing ability between the SOFC cell and metal support and to achieve the SOFC stack by combination of series and parallel connections .
SOFCMAN Energy Technology Co. Ltd. is established in Ningbo, China. It is focused on the commercialization of proprietary SOFC technology into a growing international market. Its productions include powders, cells, stacks, systems, as well as a variety of SOFC testing equipment and services. SOFCMAN is currently developing a 200 kW SOFC system with a single hot box configuration. Such a system will consist of 192 stack modules. These stack modules are using cells in the size of 14 cm × 14 cm and totals 25 cells as shown in Fig. 9 . SOFCMAN has dedicated itself to making clean, reliable and affordable energy for the world.
Two SOFC research tasks are included in the national key project “Renewable Energy and Hydrogen Energy Technology”. One is dedicated to study on degradation mechanism and lifetime extension strategy for highly efficient SOFCs. The target of the task includes proposition of modeling and simulation method of heat and mass transfer processes and electrochemical processes of single cells, degradation mechanism of single cells, establishment of multi-physical field coupling model for kilowatt-level stack, structure design and validation of single cells with long lifetime, cell power density of 0.6 W/cm2 at 0.7 V, electrical efficiency of ≥60% for a stack of 500W (natural gas or syngas as fuel, current density of 300 mA/cm2), degradation rate of electrical efficiency ≤0.5%/1000 h (duration of ≥5000 h), realization of balance of plant (BOP) modeling and dynamic and static simulation, and proposition of efficiency optimization and thermoelectric control method. The other one is dedicated to engineering development of SOFC stacks. The target of the task includes establishment of design and development system for SOFC with long lifetime, stack power ≥ 1 kW, initial electric efficiency ≥ 60%, electric efficiency ≥ 55% after operation of 10,000 h, expected lifetime ≥ 20,000 h, number of thermal cycles of stack ≥10, degradation rate of electrical efficiency during thermal cycling ≤0.5% per cycle, number of tolerant thermal cycling ≥ 100, realization of engineering technology for SOFC single cells and stacks, and production capacity of stacks ≥500 kW per year.
5 The Current Status of Hydrogen Refueling Station
As shown in Table 5, there are more than 40 hydrogen refueling stations in China including both under operation and under construction, among which are mainly skid-mounted types as shown in Figs. 10 and 11. Station capacity beyond 500 kg/day has gradually become the mainstream. Twin-pressure stations of 70 MPa and 35 MPa have also emerged. According to the prediction of Zhangjiagang Research Institute of Hydrogen Energy Co. Ltd., the number of fuel cell vehicles will reach 36,000 by the end of 2020, which requires 272 hydrogen refueling stations with a filling capacity of 1ton/day for each station. Therefore, the lack of station has become one of the restrictions for the development of the fuel cell vehicle industry.
The potentially large amount of hydrogen resources in China could theoretically supply 100 × 106 fuel cell passenger cars yearly. The Chinese government highly values the hydrogen and fuel cell technology. Policies and plans have been put forward densely in the recent five years. Numerous companies, research institutes, and universities are developing PEMFC- and SOFC-related technologies. A preliminary local supplier chain of fuel cell-related technology has been formed. More than 3500 fuel cell range extender electric vehicles were manufactured during 2016 and 2018, and at the beginning of 2019, there have been more than 40 hydrogen refueling stations including both under operation and under construction. It is estimated the number of fuel cell-based vehicles will reach 36,000 by the end of 2020. However, the lifetime of fuel cell stack will be the biggest challenge for deploying this technology because large power PEMFC stack is considered the best choice to replace diesel engine for heavy-duty commercial vehicles in China. Moreover, in China, hydrogen is still considered as one of the hazardous chemicals instead as fuel, which makes it very difficult and time-consuming when applying for and constructing a new station. The lack of hydrogen refueling station has become a key restriction for development of the fuel cell vehicle industry. Therefore, the policy-makers should realize it is very important and urgent to put more efforts and funding on the research of the durability and the stability of PEMFC stack. It is also urgent for the policy-makers to modify regulations on hydrogen supplying chain to make it easier and cheaper to build hydrogen refueling station and to get fuel with high quality [2–9,13,14].
The author thank Dr. Hengyong Tu (Shanghai Jiao Tong University) and Dr. Wei Wei (Zhangjiagang Research Institute of Hydrogen Energy Co. Ltd.) for supplying some information about hydrogen and fuel cell development in China.