The problem with the Beijing Olympics hydrogen bus fleet — Quartz

China is betting big on hydrogen and using the Winter Olympics as a showcase for the technology. the Olympic torch burned a hydrogen flame, and more than 1,000 hydrogen fuel cell vehiclesemitting only water vapor and hot air, criss-cross the roads between the Beijing Olympic venues.

To power the hydrogen fuel cell bus fleet, oil company Shell has worked with Zhangjiakou City Transport to develop a 20 megawatt (MW) green hydrogen facility in Zhangjiakou, northwest of Beijing. It is one of the largest green hydrogen electrolysers in the world, and one of two in Zhangjiakou, a ski resort where many Olympic events are held. Shell expects the facility to supply around half of the Olympics’ green hydrogen needs.

Sinopec, an oil and gas company also known as China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation, will also supply hydrogen for the Olympics. While Sinopec hasn’t specified what kind of hydrogen will be at their pumps, the Chinese oil major is building a nationwide network of more than 1,000 hydrogen pumps and filling them with hydrogen from fossil fuels—whose carbon emissions can reach 3 to 6 times higher than simply burning gasoline in a conventional combustion engine. Its first green hydrogen installation in Inner Mongolia should not go live until 2022.

Green vs Gray Hydrogen

The hydrogen used in fuel cells to power transport does not emit greenhouse gases. But emissions are generated during the production of hydrogen. There is a dangerously wide gap in emissions between different types of hydrogen, which goes against the promise of hydrogen as a “green” fuel.

Green hydrogen is produced in electrolyzers, which use electricity to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen. When electrolyses are powered by wind or solar energy, the carbon is not emitted to produce the hydrogen, thus delivering on its promise of being better for the environment than fossil fuels. Currently, of the 25 million tonnes of hydrogen produced by China, only about 1% is green hydrogen.

About 62% is black hydrogen, made by burning coal, the most carbon-emitting fossil fuel. When hydrogen is produced from coal, each kilo of hydrogen produced leads to 18-20 kg of C02 emissions, according to a study cited by the industry outlet Reload.

One kilogram of gasoline when burned emits approximately 3.5 kg of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. This means that hydrogen vehicles fueled with black hydrogen are associated with 6 times more CO2 emissions than a standard petrol bus. (Not including emissions generated by gas extraction and refining or coal mining.)

Another 19% of China’s annual hydrogen production is grey, produced from natural gas, which emits 8 to 12 kg of CO2 for every kg of hydrogen produced.

China argue that the use of black and gray hydrogen is necessary to supply the market and bring down prices as the industry increases its capacity of green hydrogen, in accordance with the priorities of the State. So, despite the current lack of green hydrogen supply, China is continuing its demonstration projects supported by government subsidies. Since last year, there are more than 35 hydrogen projects across China, largely fueled by gray or black hydrogen.

Hydrogen buses are already falling out of favor

As the emerging hydrogen fuel cell industry finds its way, there will be applications for hydrogen, but its potential role in ground transportation may fade as electric batteries become more popular. improve.

The argument for hydrogen buses and trucks was that they could be refueled in minutes, and the high energy density fuel cells meant they could power vehicles for longer distances than vehicles. heavy electric battery powered. However, the batteries are getting bigger and can recharge faster, as fast as 15 minutes. A study in Nature argued that it is time to invest in electric rather than hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and pumping stations.

Falling battery prices mean electric vehicles could prove more efficient and cheaper. Indeed, Montpellier, France, abandoned a plan for 50 hydrogen buses (and a corresponding green hydrogen electrolyzer) last month, after determining that electric buses would be six times cheaper.

This alternative is one that China already dominates – the country has more than 400,000 electric buses, more than anywhere else in the world. And he is already exporting them all over the world.

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