China's Fuel-Celled Future

Ahmed Mustafa
May 24, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2017


Fig. 1: A hydrogen fuel cell bus. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Coinciding with the country's economic rise, China is now the worlds largest carbon emitter, producing 9.2 gigatons of carbon dioxide as of 2013, 1.5 times that of the United States. [1] Given this figure, the country is now taking stronger steps to reduce its carbon footprint, and become a global leader in adopting low carbon technologies.

Under its 2015 Paris Climate Agreement obligations, China agreed to lower its carbon intensity of the economy by 60-65% of 2005 levels by 2030, in addition to goals such as having non-fossil fuel energy sources constitute 20% of energy by 2030 as well. [2] One such technology China has increasingly adopting is hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Fuel cell vehicles offer benefits such as high energy conversion and near-zero emissions, including carbon dioxide. Such vehicles operate by combining hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, driving car motors. Fuel cell vehicles utilizing hydrogen to produce electricity yields no greenhouse gases emissions, only water vapor. [3] Thus, in progressively adopting and subsidizing fuel cell vehicles, China recognizes its opportunity to reduce carbon emissions.

Current Projects

China has partnered with the United Nations Development Programme to further develop a low carbon economy. One of the project's primary goals is to increase production and adoption of fuel cell vehicles in the country. Current barriers to widespread adoption of fuel cell vehicles in the country include reliability of stations for refueling, in addition to station financing viability, along with limited regulatory frameworks from the government, all of which the project seeks to address. [4]

Another joint project between China and the United Nations Development Programme attempts to pilot a hydrogen economy in Rugao, Jiangsu Province, with hydrogen constituting a large fraction of the city's energy source. The project looks to improve the city's hydrogen storage, transportation, and refilling capabilities. Furthermore, Rugao is hoping to apply the hydrogen technology to the transportation sector in fuel cell vehicles, and plans to develop or purchase up to 5 demonstrative fuel cell buses, like the one shown in Fig. 1, to demonstrate the technology's viability and guide future sustainability efforts. [5]


While China has ramped up efforts to decrease carbon dioxide emissions, adoption of technologies like fuel cell vehicles will take time to scale up. As China weighs banning traditional internal combustion engine vehicles, recent efforts to advance hydrogen powered technologies give hope to a low carbon-fueled future.

© Ahmed Mustafa. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] Z. Liu, "China's Carbon Emissions Report 2016: Regional Carbon Emissions and the Implication for China's Low Carbon Development," Belfer Center, Harvard Kennedy School, October 2016.

[2] R. Clémençon, Raymond, "The Two Sides of the Paris Climate Agreement: Dismal Failure or Historic Breakthrough?," J. Environ. Dev. 25, 3 (2016).

[3] P. Ahmadi and E. Kjeang, "Realistic Simulation of Fuel Economy and Life Cycle Metrics for Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles," Int. J. Energy Res. 41, 714 (2017).

[4] "China Project Document," United Nations Development Programme, August 2016, p. 12.

[5] "Hydrogen Pilot Economy in China," United Nations Development Programme, July 2016, p. 10.