Increasing deployments of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are propelling demand for hydrogen refueling stations (HRS) in China. According to Interact Analysis’ research for published policies in China, as of the end of 2023, 25 provinces and municipalities across China planned to build more than 1,200 HRS by 2025But what does this actually mean in terms of construction?

According to Interact Analysis’ statistics on hydrogen refueling station construction projects, all provinces and municipalities in China have constructed at least one HRS except Tibet. By the end of 2023, a total of 354 HRS have been built and put into operation in China (excluding mother HRS and dismantled stations), and an additional 50 stations are under construction. China has become the country with the most hydrogen refueling stations in the world, surpassing both South Korea and Japan.

As early as 2006, China’s first stationary HRS (Yongfeng hydrogen refueling station located in Zhongguancun, Beijing) was put into operation, after which a number of hydrogen refueling stations came into operation – mainly in frontrunner regions like Guangdong, Shanghai – for the promotion of hydrogen-powered vehicles. Since 2020, with the launch of demonstration city clusters for the application of hydrogen vehicles, the construction of hydrogen refueling stations has significantly accelerated. More than 80 stations commenced operation each year from 2020 to 2023, with HRS construction particularly speeding up in Shandong, Zhejiang, Hebei, and Jiangsu provinces.

“Vehicles per HRS ratio” varies substantially from region to region

More than 10 HRS are in operation in 13 provinces and municipalities in China, accounting for 84% of the overall total. Guangdong province is in the lead with 68 stations (centralized in Foshan and Guangzhou city), while Shandong, Zhejiang, Hebei, Jiangsu and Hubei all have more than 20 hydrogen fueling stations in operation.

Interestingly, if we compare these stations with the number of hydrogen fuel cell commercial vehicles, we find that the “vehicles per HRS ratio” varies significantly from province to province. Currently, the national hydrogen station ratio is about 58 vehicles per hydrogen refueling station (which means one hydrogen station serves 58 commercial vehicles). Among the top ten provinces/municipalities for HRS in operation, the vehicle per HRS ratios in Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Hubei, Inner Mongolia, and Sichuan are well below the national level, which means in these provinces, hydrogen stations are ahead of the rate of hydrogen fuel cell vehicle deployments. In Zhejiang, HRS were mainly built at gas station sites (multi-fuel stations) by Sinopec and other petrochemical companies, while in Inner Mongolia, which is an important renewable energy base in China, HRS were built as part of the integration of hydrogen production and renewable energy.

In Shandong, Hebei, Henan and Shanghai, the vehicles per HRS ratio is much higher than the national level. In 2023, Hebei and Shandong saw exponential growth in registrations of fuel cell commercial vehicles, becoming the top two provinces for fuel cell commercial vehicles (each had registration of more than 1,000 vehicles). As a result, the surge in hydrogen vehicle sales is propelling demand for HRS in these regions.

HRS construction lags behind the 2025 target

Compared with a construction target of more than 1,200 hydrogen stations by 2025, progress is lagging behind and the number of HRS in operation accounted for only 30% of the target by the end of 2023. As shown in the figure below, HRS construction in Guangdong, Zhejiang, Anhui, Hunan, Tianjin, Guangxi and Hainan is higher than the national average, and Tianjin has reached its planned target of 5 HRS already, while the HRS targets in Hunan, Guangxi and Hainan in 2025 are relatively low (no more than 10 stations).

Based on current construction process, achieving the 2025 goal of more than 1,200 HRS appears challenging. It is also worth noting the planning target in each province is dynamically revised in accordance with actual deployments of hydrogen vehicles and stations. Furthermore, on top of the high construction and operation costs, difficulties and delays in obtaining certificates for operation are also major challenges for HRS development. It is clear that problems relating to “hydrogen fuel cell vehicles without stations” and “HRS without certificate for operation” need to be addressed in order to promote hydrogen vehicle and infrastructure deployments. With hydrogen fuel cell vehicle demonstration projects approaching the deadline of 2025, applications of hydrogen vehicles and construction of hydrogen refueling stations are expected to speed up during 2024 and 2025.

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