It's no accident that nearly half of the world's electric cars on the road today are in China. According to the International Energy Agency, of the 1.9 million battery electric vehicles on the road, 951 million are found in China.

Wan Gang had a lot to do with that. The former Audi exec is now China's state science and technology chief and helped launch the country's aggressive push toward zero-emission vehicles after he delivered a report in 2000 outlining the country's need to develop an electric-car industry. China heavily subsidized that industry and helped push the world toward electrification.

Now, Wan may have his sights set on hydrogen-powered vehicles. Wan told Bloomberg last week that the benefits of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles would benefit long-haul transportation: buses, trucks, etc.

“We should look into establishing a hydrogen society,” he told Bloomberg. “We need to move further toward fuel cells.”

His opinion carries more than its weight in mere words. Wan said the country may keep in place its subsidies for fuel-cell development, even if battery electric car incentives wane. China's nascent hydrogen fuel cell market is much smaller than Japan's, which leads the world in hydrogen adoption. But that may change if China's government can spur growth for hydrogen fuel cells through incentives the same way they have for EVs in the last 20 years.

2018 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell at hydrogen fueling station [photo: Chris Baccus]

2018 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell at hydrogen fueling station [photo: Chris Baccus]

Toyota, Hyundai, and other companies such as Nikola have developed hydrogen-powered semis and retail vehicles, although infrastructure has lagged behind in many countries other than Japan. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, China had 12 hydrogen refueling stations in operation in May 2018 compared to more than 100 in Japan who has stated that it aims to have roughly 200 by the end of next year.

Wan says the country will move toward building more infrastructure to support hydrogen-powered vehicles.

“We will sort out the factors that have been hindering the development of fuel-cell vehicles,” Wan told Bloomberg.

If China's push toward hydrogen matches its push toward electrification that could net a seismic change for the industry within the next 15 years.