The Korea Herald


Hydrogen supply shortage will ease next week: ministry

By Byun Hye-jin

Published : Nov. 26, 2023 - 15:19

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Cars are waiting in line at a hydrogen charging station in Chuncheon, Gangwon Province on Nov. 23. (Yonhap) Cars are waiting in line at a hydrogen charging station in Chuncheon, Gangwon Province on Nov. 23. (Yonhap)

The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said Sunday the recent supply disruptions of hydrogen for automobiles in the central region of South Korea will gradually ease next week.

“(The government has made sure) the hydrogen suppliers have secured extra hydrogen, so we expect the supply glitch will slowly improve starting next week,” said Lee Ho-hyeon, head of energy policy at the industry ministry, in a statement. “Until the situation returns back to normal, we will carry out emergency procedures and make best efforts on the matter.”

Lee visited the hydrogen charging stations at Incheon International Airport and the Everland theme park in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province earlier in the day, according to the ministry.

A total of 23 hydrogen charging stations in the central area of the country -- metropolitan cities including Seoul and Gyeonggi Province, Chungcheong Province and Gangwon Province -- have witnessed supply shortages since last week.

The incident comes after two out of three pieces of local hydrogen supplier Hyundai Steel Co.’s hydrogen production equipment broke down in Dangjin, South Chungcheong Province earlier this month, dropping the output volume in half. The company takes up around 20 to 30 percent of the hydrogen supply in the region.

The charging stations have shortened their closing times from 10 p.m. to 5 p.m. or 7 p.m. since Nov. 21, prompting a long queue with drivers waiting more than 3-4 hours to power up their vehicles.

Experts say the government has failed to invest in hydrogen production, creating a mismatch between the rising demand for hydrogen fuel cell cars -- such as Hyundai Motor Group’s Nexo -- and the poor supply of infrastructure.

“Hydrogen-powered cars usually use ‘by-product hydrogen’ -- residual hydrogen that originates from other chemical processes such as oil refining in power plants,” said Choi Jae-won, a chemistry professor at Gyeongsang National University. “The problem is, the central region has been facing shortage issues because there are not enough production facilities that make hydrogen for cars from the leftover hydrogen.”

Choi noted that private companies like Hyundai Steel Co. need financial support in the form of subsidies from the government to expand investment in hydrogen generators, a sector where they are making low profits.

“The hydrogen business is one of the key drivers of growth in clean mobility requiring the state’s investment in its storage as well as transportation due to its highly explosive nature,” Choi said.

“The government should also consider building hydrogen generators that can produce hydrogen from residual electricity in the provinces beyond the greater Seoul area,” Choi added. “Unlike in metropolitan regions, there is plenty of leftover electricity going to waste. With a state-led project, we could use that to fix the supply disruption.”

According to data from H2HUB, a state-run market tracker for the hydrogen industry, the number of hydrogen-powered cars in Korea increased approximately 38-fold to 33,796 units as of October compared to 2018. But hydrogen charging stations expanded only 20-fold to 255 nationwide in the same period.