Combating Climate Change: Commercialising Clean Transport
Since the 1990’s, China’s rapid growth has rested on the expansion of heavy industry and urbanisation. Rising private wealth has also escalated demand for private and public transportation. Today, coal and oil combustion constitute 90% of China’s total energy use, carbon dioxide (CO2) levels and ozone concentrations exceed nationally specified limits, and the nation faces the continuing challenge of mounting air pollution.
China and UNDP have been working together through the Global Environment Facility since 2003, to reduce urban CO2 emissions through the introduction of innovative buses that run on a hydrogen fuel cell system. Put simply, the commercial introduction of this pioneering new clean technology – which would mean that buses would be able to run on the energy that is created when hydrogen is mixed with oxygen – in China’s mega-cities is an innovative solution to China’s urban air pollution problems. Successfully implemented, these buses would also give China the edge in fuel cell transportation and advanced battery and hybrid vehicle design.
As the world’s largest bus producer and public transport consumer, this project focused on China’s potential to make cutting-edge clean energy technologies commercially viable not just domestically, but worldwide. Under Phase I (2003-2007) of the project, UNDP helped China to obtain fuel cell buses and assisted the government in demonstrating the merits of this new technology in Beijing and Shanghai. Three Daimler fuel cell buses were imported from Germany. Initially used in commercial operation from June 2006 to October 2007, these buses clocked up more than 92,000 kilometres and led to a reduction of 99 tonnes of CO2 emissions in Beijing alone. Hydrogen refuelling stations were also constructed and showcased, as well as research undertaken to document the value of fuel cell buses. In recognition of these efforts, the project received the 2006 International Partnership for the Hydrogen Economy Technical Achievement Award.
- Put simply, the commercial introduction of this pioneering new clean technology – which would mean that buses would be able to run on the energy that is created when hydrogen is mixed with oxygen – in China’s mega-cities is an innovative solution to China’s urban air pollution problems.
Since the beginning of Phase II of the project (2007-11), UNDP has been helping to ensure that fuel cell buses become a common sight on the streets of China’s big cities. Co-funded by the Chinese government, domestic companies, UNDP and the Global Environment Facility, this phase has continued to demonstrate how fuel cell buses can reduce greenhouse gas emissions in urban areas. Public transportation companies have been helped to obtain buses and training efforts are being directed towards activities that will ensure that technology suppliers are able to identify cost reduction opportunities conducive to the development of a large scale international market for fuel cell and hybrid public transport infrastructures. Information gathered during Phase I has been utilised to enhance scientific and technical understanding towards the concept of large scale fuel cell, and other alternative means of propulsion.
In terms of CO2 emissions, Phase II of the project has resulted in a further 83 tonnes in Beijing, and a total of 108 tonnes in Shanghai being saved. Public transit operators have also gained experience in organising and managing larger fleets of fuel cell buses in the future.
An important element of the project has been increasing awareness of and support for fuel cell buses among government, private sector investors, the media and other key groups. In doing so, fuel cell buses were used as commuter and VIP reception vehicles during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games (three buses) and the 2010 Shanghai World Expo (six buses). These high profile initiatives were used to educate passengers and audiences on the benefits of having a reduced dependency on imported oil, for air quality and human health, as well as the global climate and the economy. Workshops have since helped to demonstrate the advantages of fuel cell technology to other interested cities and the outcomes and lessons learned under the project have been showcased in a number of international fuel cell vehicle forums, workshops and presentations.
The project is also strengthening policy and planning capabilities within public transit companies and relevant government agencies, focusing on defining a detailed strategy for the commercialisation of fuel cell buses on a large scale in China. A certification programme has been established and national market entry regulations on Clean Energy Vehicle Manufacturers and Products was released by the Ministry of Industry and Information in July 2009. Initial policy research on the development and application of fuel cell buses, and regulatory research on the improvement of the industrialisation of fuel cell buses has also been completed.
While still in the early stages, the prospects for the adoption of fuel cell buses on a national scale in China are positive. Not only have pilot projects and research shown the potential for commercialisation, but the government and private sector have taken strides towards providing suitable policy and industrial frameworks for future markets.