INSIGHT: We visited GWM’s impressive Hydrogen Tech Centre in Baoding, China

Published May 2, 2023


Baoding, China – Hydrogen has long been touted as an alternative to fossil fuel and despite much of the attention being focused on electric vehicles, companies like GWM are spending an enormous amount of time and money on research and development to make it a viable alternative.

GWM recently launched a hydrogen energy strategy that focuses on the “green+intelligent” mobility idea that makes “building a sustainable and beautiful society characterised by hydrogen energy” as its ultimate goal.

According to GWM Vice-President Mu Feng, by converting 1 million vehicles to run on hydrogen fuel cells in China, carbon emissions would be reduced by 510 million tons in one year.

To that end, GWM will this year launch the world’s first SUV with Class C hydrogen fuel cells and launch a project that will see 100 49-ton hydrogen energy trucks on the roads as well as building 100 hydrogen refuelling stations.

“We will become a leader domestically in terms of the number of core power components promoted and ride into the top three in global hydrogen market share by 2025,” said Zhang Tianyu, chairperson of GWM FTXT.

As part of its ongoing efforts, GWM has been on a recruiting drive to secure some of the leading world hydrogen energy technology R&D experts from Europe, America, Japan and other countries, a clear indication that it sees hydrogen as a serious alternative fuel option.

According to GWM, it has been completely independent in intellectual property rights of the six core technologies and products of stack and core components in fuel cell engines and components, IV hydrogen storage cylinders, high pressure hydrogen storage valves, hydrogen safety and the liquid hydrogen process.

According to TWI – a membership-based organisation providing authoritative and impartial expert advice, know-how and safety assurance through engineering, materials and joining technologies – “the only by-product of hydrogen is heat and water and, unlike biofuel or hydropower, hydrogen doesn’t require large areas of land to produce. In fact, Nasa have even been working on using hydrogen as a resource, with the water produced as a by-product being used as drinking water for astronauts”.

We visited GWM’s impressive Hydrogen Technology Centre at their head office in Baoding and left suitably impressed by what they’re doing.

The entire facility is clinically clean and there’s no doubt about the state-of-the-art technology we saw, much of it completely foreign to an average person like most of us.

There are large computer screens, offices behind glass walls, various displays, clever engineers and scientists exchanging information and a general impression of things being taken very seriously indeed.

Sure, we have an interest in alternative energies, especially locally, because of Eskom’s inability to supply uninterrupted power and their reticence to take green and alternative energy sources seriously, but when you take a deep dive into hydrogen technology the mind simply boggles and almost shuts down.

The facility was completed in June 2018 covering an area of 20 000 square metres at a cost of RMB 570 million (R1 517 419 943).

It has a physics and chemical laboratory, hydrogen storage test area, fuel cell test laboratory, vehicle test laboratory and they are in the process of installing a liquid storage hydrogen station equipped with the first domestic hydrogen storage cylinder six-axis winding machine and also the first 105Mpa (megapascal) high pressure hydrogen cycle test equipment.

It’s the largest laboratory in China and the vehicle test laboratory is divided into a powertrain lab and a revolving drum test table.

At this stage there are still a few obstacles to hydrogen, such as the cost of producing and storing it as well as the supply chain infrastructure and the fact that it’s highly flammable when compressed into a liquid, but clearly GWM is putting a lot of effort into making it work and predictions are that in the next decade or so you’ll be able to fill up your tanks and leave no CO2 footprint while driving.

Getting to know hydrogen

According to the American Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, “hydrogen is a clean fuel that, when consumed in a fuel cell, produces only water. Hydrogen can be produced from a variety of resources, such as natural gas, nuclear power, biomass, and renewable power like solar and wind. These qualities make it an attractive fuel option for transportation and electricity generation applications. It can be used in cars, in houses, for portable power, and in many more applications.

“Hydrogen is an energy carrier that can be used to store, move, and deliver energy produced from other sources.

“Today, hydrogen fuel can be produced through several methods. The most common methods today are natural gas reforming (a thermal process), and electrolysis. Other methods include solar-driven and biological processes.”

IOL Motoring

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