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China Market Insider New Process Raises Hope for Cheap Hydrogen

| Author / Editor: Henrik Bork* / Ahlam Rais

China's chemical industry has begun to remove one of the major hurdles to commercialising fuel cell. For the first time, a chemical company in China has succeeded in developing its own process for the production of highly pure by-product hydrogen.

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With the ‘China Market Insider’ format, PROCESS reports regularly on the Chinese chemical and pharmaceutical market.
With the ‘China Market Insider’ format, PROCESS reports regularly on the Chinese chemical and pharmaceutical market.
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Beijing/China – Hydrogen, which occurs as a by-product in refineries, has been refined to a purity of 99.999 % by the Shanghai Gaoqiao Petroleum Chemical Company, reports PROCESS China. Shanghai Gaoqiao is a subsidiary of the state-owned Sinopec Group, the largest petrochemical company in China. The use of fuel cells as a more environment friendly drive, especially for commercial vehicles, has been increasingly promoted in China this year.

This summer, the central government in Beijing explicitly included the promotion of fuel cell vehicles in its national development plans for the first time. Industry experts in China's automotive industry see this as the starting shot for massive subsidies and political support programmes in the fuel cell industry.

However, not just in China but around the world, the cost of producing hydrogen is seen as a major hurdle to commercialising the technology. Hydrogen is environment friendly and particularly inexpensive when it is not obtained from primary energy sources such as gas, but used as a waste product from chemical refineries and then refined to the degree of purity required for fuel cells. This is why Gaoqiao Petrochemical's new process is so important to China's auto industry.

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The process was developed by the Shanghai company together with researchers from the Dalian Fushun Petrochemical Research Institute and the Guangzhou Luoyang Engineering Company. This could “greatly reduce the cost of hydrogen for fuel cells in vehicles,” writes PROCESS China.

Shanghai Gaoqiao Petrochemical is one of the leading producers of by-product hydrogen in east China with a current annual capacity of 12.5 million tonnes. As part of the Sinopec universe, the company has no problems with access to raw materials. In total, Sinopec was responsible for three million tonnes, about 14 % of the Chinese production of hydrogen last year.

Since China's state and party leadership has increasingly focused on the development of hydrogen technologies – and this applies not only to fuel cell vehicles, but also to shipbuilding, aviation and other industries – Sinopec has increased its investments in hydrogen production at several locations. The group is also investing in the construction of hydrogen filling stations and is the official hydrogen partner of the Olympic Winter Games in Beijing in 2022.

* Henrik Bork, long-standing China correspondent of the German newspapers 'Süddeutsche Zeitung' and 'Frankfurter Rundschau', is Managing Director at Asia Waypoint, a consulting agency specialising in China and based in Beijing. "China Market Insider" is a joint project of Vogel Communications Group, Würzburg/Germany, and Jigong Vogel Media Advertising in Beijing/China

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