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Electric or hydrogen cars? Explainer: Why Asia's biggest economies are backing hydrogen fuel cell cars

Resource-poor Japan sees hydrogen as a way to greater energy security.

China, Japan and South Korea have set ambitious targets to put millions of hydrogen-powered vehicles on their roads by the end of the next decade at a cost of billions of dollars.

Ambitious targets

China, the world’s biggest auto market with some 28 million vehicles sold annually, is aiming for more than 1 million hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) in service by 2030. That compares with just 1,500 or so now, most of which are buses.

Japan, a market of more than 5 million vehicles annually, wants to have 800,000 FCVs sold by that time from around 3,400 currently.

South Korea, which has a car market just one third the size of Japan, has set a target of 850,000 vehicles on the road by 2030. But as of end-2018, fewer than 900 have been sold.

Why Hydrogen?

Hydrogen is a clean energy source as water and heat are the only byproducts,

It can be made from a number of sources, including methane, coal, water, even garbage.

Driving ranges and refuelling times for FCVs are comparable to gasoline cars, whereas EVs require hours to recharge and provide only a few hundred kilometres of range.

Roadblocks

Only a handful of automakers have made fuel cell passenger cars commercially available.

A lack of refuelling stations, which are costly to build.

There are not enough FCVs to make refuelling stations profitable.

Consumer worries about the risk of explosions.

Heavy subsidies are needed to bring prices down to levels of gasoline- powered cars.

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