EXCLUSIVE | Beijing’s hydrogen body admits Chinese electrolyzers can’t compete with Western machines – yet

According to a report in Chinese from the Beijing-based China Hydrogen Energy & Fuel Cells Industry Innovation Strategic Alliance (CHEFCIISA) trade association.

The European machines “are much more advanced in heat recovery technologies” and manage gas flow better than their Chinese counterparts, increasing overall efficiency and economic benefit, the document, titled China Hydrogen Power and Fuel Cell Industry Development Report 2021.

European control systems are superior, resulting in better balanced loads, and degrade at a slower rate, resulting in longer lifespans, he adds.

CHEFCIISA explains that Chinese-made electrolyzers have thicker separators in the electrolyzer stacks – 1mm, compared to less than 0.5mm in the West – which results in lower current densities and therefore lower efficiencies.

Chinese machines also tend to use inferior base materials than European equipment. For example, Chinese electrolyzer electrodes tend to be made from porous nickel, while Europe has already made progress towards a “high performance nickel-based alloy”, the report says.

“China still has a long way to go in terms of hydrogen production efficiency,” says CHEFCIISA.

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The China Hydrogen Alliance – a rival trade body – estimates that locally produced machines will be able to achieve a lifespan of 100,000 hours by 2030, up from around 60,000 hours today.

In February, Bloomberg analyst NEF revealed in a report that Chinese electrolyser systems were up to four times cheaper than their Western counterparts – $300/kW compared to $1,200/kW – and that Chinese OEMs had started to export their machines to the United States and Europe.

Similar price gaps in the solar industry in the 2010s saw the European solar manufacturing sector, which was previously the world leader, collapse in the space of a few years, while cheaper Chinese modules have flooded the market.

But the CHEFCIISA report suggests that Western chlorinator makers needn’t worry about repeating history — at least, not yet. Chinese OEMs are aware of the shortcomings of their products and are working to improve their technology.

For example, CNTHE, China’s third-largest electrolyser maker, is developing a pressurized alkaline machine that would increase hydrogen production from each MWh of electricity and be more sensitive to the ups and downs of wind power and solar than traditional non-pressurized alkaline electrolyzers generally manufactured by European manufacturers.

Beijing also has a number of domestic R&D projects to advance its hydrogen industry, including projects to increase the efficiency of locally made alkaline and PEM (proton exchange membrane) electrolyzers.

To encourage the development of electrolyzers and the economies of scale that can further reduce prices, several cities and provinces now offer generous subsidies for the production of green hydrogen.

For example, Guangzhou City and Sichuan Province offer cheap electricity to electrolytic hydrogen producers, while Zhoushan Island, near Shanghai, will both subsidize the electricity used and pay 20% of the cost. of the electrolyser system.

Hack Heyward is a Mandarin-speaking American economist based in Shenzhen, China. Hack specializes in clean energy and has worked on hydrogen energy and fuel cell vehicle projects around the world.