China set sights on another green energy market – hydrogen
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BEIJING: A decade ago, China used low prices to dominate solar manufacturing, wiping out Western competitors just as worldwide demand for panels started to soar.
The United States and Europe are determined not to let the same thing happen with hydrogen.
As the world sprints to decarbonise, the next round of competition revolves around a device called an electrolyser.
Plug these into clean electricity such as solar power, and it’s possible to extract hydrogen from water without producing any planet-warming emissions.
That’s a crucial step in creating a green fuel capable of decarbonising such industries as steel, cement or shipping.
Companies around the world are already revving up electrolyser production, green hydrogen plants are under construction, and the industry is finally making the leap from pilot projects to industrial scale.
BloombergNEF (BNEF), a clean energy research group, estimates worldwide electrolyser production will need to grow 91 times by 2030 to meet demand.
But many Western clean tech veterans eye the emerging competition with a queasy feeling of deja vu. More than 40% of all electrolysers made today come from China, according to BNEF.
Chinese electrolysers aren’t as efficient as those made in the United States and Europe, but they cost far less-about a quarter of what Western companies charge. Chinese electrolyser companies still largely serve their domestic market, but they’re starting to expand sales overseas.
“I’ve heard too many government officials say we cannot repeat the experience of solar again,” said BNEF hydrogen analyst Xiaoting Wang.
President Joe Biden served as vice-president during the crucial years when China seized the lead in solar manufacturing.
Now he views China as a competitor more than a supplier, and he has made bringing clean tech manufacturing back to the United States a pillar of his climate policies.
The United States is determined not to let China control this new energy boom, and Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act showers money on domestic hydrogen production.
“The reality is, the United States is going to give very generous subsidies to ensure that local suppliers survive,” Wang said.
Europe has its own reasons for wanting a piece of this nascent industry.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has driven home the value of fuel that can be produced within Europe, and it has ramped up the continent’s ambitions for hydrogen.
And yet, some hydrogen advocates say the European Union (EU) isn’t following through, putting it at a disadvantage to both the United States and China.
The union has set a target for green hydrogen production – 10 million tonnes per year by 2030 – but has not yet decided which methods will qualify as “green.”