Former Chinese Minister Wan Gang on EVs: “It’s Hydrogen’s Turn”

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Wan Gang

If you look into the history of the electric vehicle (EV), you are bound to see Wan Gang’s name somewhere. Known as China’s “father of electric cars,” Wan has revolutionized the EV market just within the past couple of decades. He turned China into the largest EV market by tirelessly promoting the environmental benefits of switching to EVs as well as using government subsidies to attract new customers. Overall, his EV mission can be labeled a success.

Wan isn’t done, though, as he now claims, “it’s hydrogen’s turn.”

According to Wan, we need to start moving towards using fuel cells, or what he calls “a hydrogen society.” Fuel-cell vehicles (FCVs) are attractive because they offer much faster refueling than EVs, taking only around five minutes. They can drive longer distances than EVs – over 300 miles – and they give off zero toxic emissions, making them intriguing to eco-friendly consumers.

When discussing fuel cell technology to a room of global auto executives and Chinese officials, Wan simply announced, “It’s the best option for market demands.”

FCVs do not come without downsides, though. The price tag hasn’t necessarily been attractive (e.g. the starting price for the 2019 Hyundai Nexo FCV is set at $58,300), and hydrogen fuel cells themselves come at a high cost because they contain platinum. In addition, storing hydrogen is a complicated process, and reports of a hydrogen fire at a refueling station in Norway earlier this month have also raised doubts.
Wan, however, is not deterred by any of the existing issues; instead, he bluntly stated, “We will sort out the factors that have been hindering the development of fuel-cell vehicles.”

Japan is currently way ahead of other countries in the use of hydrogen, but as we saw with EVs, China could easily become a giant if enough effort and resources are put into it. Sitting as Vice Chairman of China’s policy-making board, Wan said in an interview that China would likely continue providing subsidies for fuel-cell development even if EV subsidies are slashed or eliminated in the coming years.

The U.S. is lagging behind other countries, with most FCVs only being available for rent or lease and most of them only being available in California. The limited success is thanks to the California Fuel Cell Partnership, which is the most prominent organizations aiming to promote FCVs in the country. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, hydrogen is considered one of the “alternative fuels” under the Energy Policy Act of 1992 and therefore Americans who invest in FCVs are eligible for the alternative fuel tax credits.

Research and Markets just released its “Global and China Fuel Cell Industry Chain Report, 2019-2025,” which Wan will be happy with, seeing as it predicts strong numbers for FCVs. The report notes that total FCV sales globally were over 10,000 between 2013 and 2018 and that “global ownership of fuel cell vehicles will surge to 5.01 million units in 2032.” It also indicates that sales revenue is expected to “soar” up to $255.2 billion, which is exponentially higher than the $400 million figure from 2018.

The report also points out that there are “many ways to produce hydrogen fuel since hydrogen is the most fundamental element in nature” and that once FCVs start becoming more prominent, annual sales are expected to exceed 3 million units in or around 2030.