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South Korea Formally Enters the Race to Become the First Hydrogen-Powered Society
2019-11-14   |  Editor:et_editor  |  1721 Numbers

South Korea will be pushing for the realization of a “hydrogen-powered society” through a series of initiatives involving public-private partnerships. First and foremost, the Korean government will accelerate the efforts to manufacture more models of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) and build out the related infrastructure such as hydrogen production plants and fueling stations. In the long run, the government intends to have hydrogen complement or even replace oil and natural gas as a major energy source that can support the foundation of domestic industries.

President Moon Jae-in, who outlined the national hydrogen program at a press conference on October 15, said that his administration aims to make South Korea the global leader in future automotive technologies by 2030. He also believes that innovative and clean energy technologies including hydrogen fuel cells will be widely adopted across the country at that time.

The signatory countries of the 2016 Paris Agreement are now devising ways to substantially cut their carbon emissions. Replacing conventional gasoline and diesel vehicles with those running on renewable and emission-free energies has become a major component of their climate strategies. Both Britain and France have already declared that they will ban the sales of gasoline vehicles by 2040. Likewise, India and China as the two largest developing nations have also introduced measures to limit the number of traditional fuel vehicles on the road.

In his speech on launching the national hydrogen program, President Moon pointed out that the first task to the realization of a hydrogen-powered society is to raise the domestic production of FCVs. According to the coverage of this topic by Nikkei Asian Review and the Korean Herald, the Korean government has set a goal of producing a total of 6.2 million FCVs domestically by 2040. Along with this target, the government also plans to integrate FCVs into the public transportation system and subsidize the development of the related infrastructure.

Private enterprises in South Korea have been following closely in the footsteps of the expanding global hydrogen economy. In 2013, Hyundai Motor emerged as the world’s first car maker to achieve mass production for hydrogen FCVs. The cumulative sales of Hyundai’s first fuel cell model came to just 1,000 units in 2018. Nevertheless, the company now hopes to sell more than 10,000 units of its second fuel cell model, the Nexo, in 2020.

Regarding the supporting infrastructure, the Korean government has indicated that it will be raising the number of hydrogen fueling stations in the country from the current 15 to at least 1,200 by 2040. In early November, the government’s Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries announced the completion of the construction of a hydrogen production plant located on the west coast of the country. The manufacturing process of the plant uses marine microorganisms to convert carbon monoxide into hydrogen. With an annual production capacity of 330 metric tons, the plant can supply enough fuel for around 2,200 FCVs every year.

In addition to ramping up the production of FCVs, the Korean government will establish demonstration sites in three cities for testing the feasibility of adopting hydrogen as the only energy source for generating utility electricity. These sites will be selected by 2022. If the pilot project is successful, the government will then move forward with its ambitious scheme of having 10% of the country’s cities, towns and counties powered by hydrogen by 2030. The adoption of hydrogen fuel will continue after that threshold has been reached, eventually covering 30% of all cities and towns by 2040. To ensure the successful implementation of this scheme, the government also plans to subsidize 50% of the infrastructure development costs as major property developers and firms from other industries proceed with the construction.

The technology of hydrogen fuel cells has already expanded into applications other than automotive. For instance, some oil tankers built by Samsung Heavy Industries are partially powered by fuel cells. A report from the Japanese research firm Fuji Keizai forecasts that the scale of the global fuel cell market will reach around US$46.1 billion in 2030. This would be 23 times larger than in fiscal 2018. Besides FCVs, hydrogen fuel cells are present in other types of transports such as buses and boats as well as being used in industrial machinery. The report also mentions that the demand for fuel cells is anticipated to rise rapidly in South Korea and China.

Apart from South Korea, Japan also wants to establish a hydrogen-powered society and will be showing off its array of hydrogen-based mobility solutions at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. However, Nikkei in its coverage of this topic points out that even though FCVs are touted as being just as eco-friendly as electric vehicles that run on lithium-ion batteries, they still have many developmental challenges including safety issues, the lack of fueling stations, and high costs. Hence, the rest of the world will be paying attention to South Korea’s progress in developing its FCV market.

On the subject of the hydrogen economy, South Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Energy cited a report from McKinsey showing that the global market for hydrogen-related technologies will grow at an average rate of 6% annually from US$129 billion in 2017 to US$2.5 trillion in 2050. Another report on South Korea’s roadmap for developing the hydrogen economy also states that the scale of the country’s hydrogen market will grow to around 70 trillion won in 2050.

 (This article is an English translation of news content provided by EnergyTrend’s media partner TechNews. Photo credit: Anton via Flickr CC BY 2.0.)