19 May 2007 - 09:26
  • News Code: 104928

If your city’s air was as bad as Los Angeles’--or worse--you might do something about it, too. And if you could do it before half the people bought their first cars, all the better.

Shanghai could become the first city in the world to build an infrastructure to support the use of hydrogen fuelcells, analysts and automakers say.

New technology, China’s rapidly increasing wealth and the will of the Communist Party are converging with an upcoming opportunity for global attention, on the heels of next year’s Beijing Olympics.

“It’s the right time,“ says Chicago-based China business consultant Desmond Wong.

It could happen in as little as three years.

That’s when Shanghai expects to welcome 70 million global tourists for World Expo 2010 and unveil a new eco-city on nearby Chongming Island. It’s the same year that General Motors Corp.--one of China’s largest foreign investors--aims to produce large volumes of fuelcell vehicles, which emit only water, instead of carbon dioxide and other pollutants.

That’s welcome news in Shanghai, where the air is often a yellow-gray, burnt-smelling haze. The US Embassy in China reports that Shanghai’s air quality is roughly equivalent to that in Los Angeles--the worst in the United States.

The Chinese national and Shanghai municipal governments have pledged to address the problem. Chinese President Hu Jintao has called existing development methods “environmentally unsustainable.“

And both governments hope to show off their commitment to a clean environment during World Expo 2010. But critics have speculated that the clean image of the environmental city built on marshland would be snuffed out by the oppressive Shanghai smog.

Shanghai’s gross domestic product is estimated at about $450 billion today, and it’s growing at a rate of about 6.5% a year. That would put it at nearly $600 billion in just three years. And that increasing wealth is driving the world’s fastest-growing car market, which is expected to increase the city and country’s already disturbing pollution.

That’s why many, including Wong, CEO of Sino Strategies Group consultancy, said China will likely move quickly to build a fuelcell infrastructure that is ready for use by the time automakers have fuelcell vehicles ready for sale.

“All the indicators are that China would move in that direction. ... Also, national pride is an issue that will enter into the decisions,“ he said.

 

No Fuel for Fuelcells

Fuelcells, with their clean electricity, are highly appealing to China, where automobiles are quickly climbing the list of pollution sources.

The catch is that the vehicles don’t exist yet on a mass market scale, and neither does a system for fueling them.

While most automakers say fuelcell vehicles are still at least a decade away, at least a few should be available for sale within a few years.

GM plans to put 100 fuelcell vehicles on the road later this year. It’s working with Shell Hydrogen to provide fuel for those vehicles.

 

Volt Charges Ahead

During the Shanghai auto show last month, GM showed a fuelcell version of the Chevrolet Volt concept car and said its goal is to engineer a fuelcell vehicle by 2010 that costs no more than traditional internal-combustion vehicles.

Larry Burns, GM’s vice president of research and development and strategic planning, said during that auto show that it’s not a coincidence that GM chose to unveil its fuelcell version of the Volt at the Shanghai show.

Burns said GM is talking with the City of Shanghai--home to GM’s China headquarters--about the possibility of having the beginnings of a localized fuelcell fueling system established about the same time GM is ready to launch a fuelcell vehicle for commercial sale.

Burns said Shanghai could accommodate 200,000 fuelcell vehicles with just 124 stations.

Shanghai doesn’t have as large of a fueling infrastructure as the United States, making the installation of hydrogen pumps less cumbersome. And since vehicle ownership is growing so rapidly, there will be some expense to expand infrastructure in the near future, no matter what, Wong said.

That actually makes it easier for Shanghai to justify the expense of hydrogen fueling stations, he said.

 

PIN/ FREEP.COM

News Code 104928

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