Why Asian giants are backing ‘clean’ rival to electric vehicles

Safety fears have led to protests outside a hydrogen fuel cell power plant in Incheon, South Korea. (Reuters)
Updated 25 September 2019

Why Asian giants are backing ‘clean’ rival to electric vehicles

  • Hydrogen’s proponents point to how it can be made from sources including methane, water, even garbage

VANCOUVER: 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.

But to date, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) have been upstaged by electric vehicles, which are fast becoming a mainstream option due to the success of Tesla Inc’s luxury cars as well as sales and production quotas set by China.

Critics argue FCVs may never amount to more than a niche technology. But proponents counter hydrogen is the cleanest energy source for autos available, and that with time and more refueling infrastructure, it will gain acceptance.

China, the world’s biggest auto market with 28 million vehicles sold annually, is aiming for more than 1 million 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. So far, fewer than 3,000 have been sold.

Hydrogen’s proponents point to how clean it is as an energy source — water and heat are the only byproducts — and how it can be made from a number of sources, including methane, coal, water, even garbage. Resource-poor Japan sees hydrogen as a way to greater energy security.

They also argue that driving ranges and refueling times for FCVs are comparable to gasoline cars, whereas EVs require hours to recharge and provide only a few hundred kilometers of range.

Many backers in China and Japan see FCVs as complementing EVs rather than replacing them. In general, hydrogen is seen as the more efficient choice for heavier vehicles that drive longer distances, hence the current emphasis on city buses.

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

Toyota Motor Corp. launched the Mirai sedan at the end of 2014, but has sold fewer than 10,000 globally. Hyundai Motor has offered the Nexo crossover since March last year and has sold just under 2,900 worldwide. It had sales of around 900 for its previous FCV model, the Tucson.

Honda’s Clarity Fuel Cell is available for lease, while Daimler AG’s GLC F-CELL has been delivered to a handful of corporate and public sector clients. Buses are seeing more demand. Both Toyota and Hyundai have begun selling fuel cell components to bus makers, particularly in China.

Several Chinese manufacturers have developed their own buses, notably state-owned SAIC Motor, the nation’s biggest automaker, and Geely Auto Group, which also owns the Volvo Cars and Lotus brands.


A Sinai desert community in Egypt leads the way in agritourism

Updated 29 February 2020

A Sinai desert community in Egypt leads the way in agritourism

  • A Sinai desert community in Egypt leads the way in agritourism
  • It hosts a learning center that has partnered with universities to promote a new form of educational tourism

CAIRO: “Community is everything, surround yourself with beautiful souls and watch what happens. So much love, I feel it bubbling out of my chest,” writes Madison Cooper.

The experienced yoga instructor and assistant manager at The Kings Arms pub and music venue in Salford, UK, said this when describing her experience in the Habiba village, a remote beach community in the middle of Egypt’s South Sinai desert.

It was this feeling of peace and tranquility that brought Cairo-born Maged El-Said and his Italian wife Lorena to the Egyptian port city of Nuweiba to settle and eventually start the Habiba community in 1994.

The community is a village that hosts an eco-friendly beach lodge, an organic farm, the Sinai Palm Date foundation and a learning center partnered with universities and organizations around the globe to promote a new form of educational tourism by hosting professional certification courses in permaculture and agriculture ecosystems.

More than 90 percent of Egypt’s land is covered by deserts, Sinai being part of the Eastern desert that occupies more than 20 percent of the country’s surface area, with very few populated villages and cities along the Red Sea coastal strip.

“I am sure there is enormous potential to invest in our huge deserts. The hidden value is in the people if we learn from each other the best way of integrating management of resources,” El-Said said.

This, however, is easier said than done: El-Said, who is now in his sixties, spent almost 20 years taking “agritourism” from a concept to a meaningful business.

He succeeded in 2009, when tourists started coming to volunteer at the organic farm merely to enjoy the experience of isolated serene living.

Before that, El-Said spent several years doing a series of seminars and workshops and inviting local and international experts in organic farming to discuss the agritourism model.

His first introduction to the field was in Italy, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in Italian language and literature in the 1970s.

Italian agritourism gained traction around the time when the agricultural business became less profitable.

Farmers in Italy were giving up, transforming their farms and farmhouses into vacation homes where tourists could stay and experience farming.

“People come to enjoy the beautiful nature and the serene surroundings, eat clean food and leave with fresh ideas and a new perspective on life,” said El-Said when explaining the concept of agritourism.

While the idea is widespread in the US and many European countries, it remains nascent in MENA. Sporadic trials around the region are currently under way, including a licensing program launched by the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities for farms willing to explore the concept and offer agritourism services.

Expanding the scope of its target community, the Habiba learning center has been working toward hosting a series of certificate program.

Among them are an internationally recognized Permaculture Design Certificate course that provides an introduction to sustainable living systems for a wide variety of landscapes and climates.

The move is intended to attract a more professional interna- tional audience and establish a new breed of educational tourism. El-Said has an ambitious plan for the future, hoping he can establish a desert research hub within his community and start replicating the model in other Egyptian resort cities by the year 2025.

“It is challenging but beautifully rewarding; people are resistant to change, but when they see a working model, it becomes easy for them to follow,” he said.

• This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.