China approves renewable mega-project for green hydrogen

SINGAPORE (BLOOMBERG) - The Chinese region of Inner Mongolia has approved a massive power project that will use solar and wind to produce green hydrogen.

Inner Mongolia's Energy Administration has given the go ahead to a cluster of plants in the cities of Ordos and Baotou that will use 1.85GW of solar and 370MW of wind to produce 66,900 tonnes of green hydrogen a year, the Hydrogen Energy Industry Promotion Association said in a report. Development will begin in October and the projects will be operational in mid-2023, the association said, without specifying the cost or the developers.

The project, which would produce enough hydrogen output to displace about 21 million gallons of petrol a year if it were used for fuel cell vehicles, is the biggest yet to be spearheaded by the government, according to BloombergNEF analyst Wang Xiaoting. China's booming hydrogen industry still has bottlenecks - including how the fuel is stored and used - that need to be tackled in the next five years, Securities Daily said in an article on Wednesday (Aug 18).

Less than 20 per cent of the power from the Inner Mongolian development will go to the grid, with the rest dedicated to green hydrogen. While several projects have been announced in China that combine renewables with green hydrogen, most are intended for electricity generation first, with the hydrogen component just window dressing to help get approval, Dr Wang said.

The project will, however, require at least 465MW of electrolysers to produce that much hydrogen, she said, adding that global electrolyser shipments were just 200MW last year and are forecast to be 400MW this year. "These projects will install more electrolysers than the entire global market in 2021," Dr Wang said.

The biggest Chinese green hydrogen projects so far have come from industrial giants like Sinopec or Ningxia Baofeng Energy Group, which is set to complete a 150MW solar-powered electrolyser array this year at one of its coal-to-chemical plants. China Baowu Steel Group has announced plans for 1.5GW of renewable-powered electrolysers, without providing timing.

While Inner Mongolia has long been one of the leading coal mining regions in China, officials are positioning it as a potential renewable energy hub to export electricity and hydrogen to the rest of the country. The region gets about 3,100 hours of sunlight a year for solar generation, and is located on the main channel of Siberian wind that could power dozens of gigawatts of wind turbines, according to the hydrogen association.