Foshan’s hydrogen trams lead a silent revolution in China’s green transport

A quiet revolution in transport is under way in Foshan city in southern China’s Greater Bay Area. The Chinese government hopes it will pave the way for public transport to become emissions-free.

SCMP reports that “A tram running 6.6 kilometres from Cangjiang Road to Zhihu in the Gaoming district has been operating since late 2019, powered by so-called “blue” hydrogen produced through breaking down methane gas into carbon monoxide and hydrogen.”

According to the report, “Eventually, when the price of carbon rises to justify swapping to “green” hydrogen – produced by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen, using renewable energy – the tram can become a truly zero-emission form of transport.”

The project’s first phase links 10 stations in a north-south direction, with the capacity for 1,350 passengers in five tram cars during rush hour. A second phase will connect another 20 stations along an 11-kilometre route running in an east-west direction.

An undated photo of Foshan’s hydrogen tram, driven by fuel cells made by Ballard Power Systems. Photo: Handout
One of Foshan’s hydrogen trams

The Gaoming tram will form an integral part of Foshan’s transport network. The east-west running Phase II will eventually link up with a subway line under construction connecting Foshan to the big transport hub of Guangzhou South railway station. According to the SCMP the project will cost 1.07 billion yuan (US$166 million). Local authorities spent 237 million yuan in 2019 alone on purchasing a fleet of 154 hydrogen fuel-cell buses.

Foshan is one of the places leading China in developing hydrogen vehicles as part of its long-term strategic plans, and has the potential to be replicated elsewhere across the country. It is seen as a showcase of China’s capability and determination to harness emerging technology to contribute to peak carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, and carbon neutrality by 2060.

SCMP reports that Foshan is at the forefront of China’s revolution to replace petrol and diesel fuel in public transport with hydrogen fuel cells and electric batteries. Since 2019 every city bus has been powered by either electricity or hydrogen fuel cells. As of March this year, the city has 1,000 hydrogen buses in use, and 24 refuelling stations around the city of 7 million residents .

While “blue” hydrogen is not free of carbon emissions, the trams are cleaner than those powered by electricity generated from coal, which has a carbon footprint double that of electricity produced from the combustion of methane gas. However, the Gaoming tram system captures most of the carbon monoxide before it turns into carbon dioxide. Carbon monoxide and hydrogen are sold separately.

Each ton of hydrogen used in transport can displace 3.4 tonnes of crude oil consumption, avoiding 10.7 tons of roadside carbon dioxide emissions. Hydrogen transport has other advantages over battery-powered alternatives. Gaoming’s trams take just 15 to 20 minutes to completely refuel, instead of three to four hours to charge an electric battery for running the same distance.

Foshan’s air quality has improved, as the amount of fine particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns (PM2.5) has fallen by almost a quarter to 26 milligram per cubic metre in the first six months of 2021, from 2018, the year before electric buses and trams were introduced. The concentration of nitrogen dioxide declined 16 per cent, while sulphur dioxide fell 30 per cent.

Source: South China Morning Post, 18 September2021

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