Cars are becoming a household item in today's China, and automobile manufacturing will be one of this country's pillar industries in the near future. There are two headaches for the manufacturers, however, and these are the national deficiency in petroleum resources and environmental pollution. The introduction of automobiles powered by fuel cells could be the solution, as their thermal efficiency is no lower than that of conventional automobiles, and they discharge no pollutants. An engine driven by fuel cells and hydrogen storage research are two of the hottest topics of research for both governmental and industrial leaders in many countries. In the United States, for example, the technology to develop fuel cells is now listed as one of the 27 key technologies vital to national security and national competitiveness. Time magazine puts the making of electricity-powered vehicles atop the list of pillar industries in the 21st century. Canada also regards fuel cells as an industrial mainstay in the new century. Japan deems it to be a crucial technology in the field of power generation for the new century, and Japanese government believes that the competition for its successful development is an international one, having a vital bearing on a nation's fate in the 21st century.
At present, some foreign business giants are vying for the partition of the Chinese market in this aspect via technological encroachment and industrial infiltration. CAS scientists are now taking the lead in developing the key technologies of fuel cells, hydrogen storage and DC-AC transformation. But the problem of large-capacity engines powered by fuel cells is still awaiting a breakthrough. So, it is a top-priority task to develop large-capacity fuel cells and hydrogen technology.
It is planned that the research project is to make the following research breakthroughs in the following aspects during the coming three years:
1. A set of fuel cells up to 75kw in capacity will be developed by heightening the specific power of the fuel cells, working reliability and electrical polarization using air as an oxidant. Based on this, whole sets or units of workable fuel cells might be developed. At the same time, efforts will be made to advance the industrialization of the integral units of fuel cells in this country so that the new product may make its way into the market.
2. The development of air compressors, air humidifiers, valve elements, sensing probes, auxiliary motors and other devices for assembling large-capacity engines powered by fuel cells and the enhancement of their working reliability.
3. At the same time as stabilizing the output characteristics of the engine powered by fuel cells, efforts will be made to develop the technology of AC-DC transformation, so as to provide stable working voltage for normal performance of the engine's accessories.
4. In order to supply a hydrogen source with 75kw in capacity for a fuel cell by methanol reforming and a metallic system for hydrogen storage, the density of integrity will be upgraded in the hydrogen source in hydrogen manufacturing from methanol.
5. In developing the technology of systematic integration for 75kw and 150kw engines powered by fuel cells, efforts will be made to develop the control models for internal energy circulation and mass flow, leading to the acquirement of optimization methods, the system's output and response characteristics, thus forming assemblage norms.
6. The design, fabrication, debugging and trial operation are to be finished on 75kw and 150kw engines powered by fuel cells so as to form a technical platform for related products. The research project's final targets during the 10th Five-year Plan (2001-2005) are: Based on CAS key projects and the formation of a large-capacity technical platform, the project will be closely linked with other projects listed in the national "863" Program, such as the development of electric vehicles with a hybrid driving system; in collaboration with research institutes and automobile manufacturers undertaking special-item R&D projects of the national "863" Program, the project will develop prototypes of automobiles powered by fuel cells with autonomous intellectual rights and up to the current world advanced level, providing cruise vans and large-capacity coaches for mass transport at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing; in cooperation with enterprises engaged in the industrialization of fuel batteries, the project will develop batch production technology for key materials and spare parts; through lowering costs and promoting practicability, the industrialization of potable power sources, permanent units of power generation and engines powered by these fuel cells will be realized step by step. By 2005, the project's annual output value will be more than 80 million yuan. With all-round cooperation among manufacturers, universities and research units, the industrial sections concerned will get access to technical upgrading and product renewal so as to make more contributions to the national economy.
A practical and large-capacity automobile engine powered by fuel cells will be a catalyst for triggering an occupational take-off and a new industrial dimension for mass transport vehicles on land and waterways. Not only will it be able to lay a solid foundation for massive electricity stations to charge fuel cells, but also bring prosperity to China's basic industries. The success of the research project will further diversify the national composition of energy supply and bring about a developmental leap in the Chinese automobile industry, producing enormous economic benefits and social returns.