Leading Container Maker Sees Profit Jump in Hydrogen Business

Specialized Containers to Store and Transport Green Hydrogen Rising in Use
Container ship in Shanghai
A container ship at the Yangshan Deepwater Port in Shanghai. (Qilai Shen/Bloomberg News)

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The world’s biggest manufacturer of shipping containers sees a surge in revenues from its hydrogen business in a sign the clean fuel is starting to gain commercial traction.

China International Marine Containers Group Co. makes electrolyzers that can produce hydrogen, as well as storage containers for the gas. It generated about 1 billion yuan ($139 million) of sales from those activities last year, according to the company’s Vice President Li Yinhui.

That could more than double by 2025, he said at an event in Shenzhen this week, where the company debuted a new electrolyzer designed to operate better with fluctuating power flows. CIMC says the technology will be vital in making green hydrogen, a variety of the carbon-free fuel that’s produced from intermittent wind and solar generation.

Green hydrogen is viewed as crucial to decarbonizing heavy industries including steel, cement and chemicals, as well as potentially playing a role in transport and clean energy storage. China accounts for about 72% of global capacity to produce electrolyzers, which use electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen gases, according to BloombergNEF.

State-owned CIMC has been making containers for hydrogen transportation since 2006, and then bought an electrolyzer factory in Yangzhou in eastern China in 2022. The plant can produce about 1 gigawatt a year of electrolyzers, making it China’s seventh-largest producer. Hydrogen is still just a tiny part of CIMC’s business, however, accounting for less than 1% of the main listed unit’s revenues in 2022.

CIMC’s new electrolyzer uses more advanced materials, which allows them to keep working safely when the equipment operating load falls to as low as 20% of full capacity. Other electrolyzers have to switch off when electricity drops to avoid the risk of flammable gas exploding, said Lv Aiguo, an executive vice president with the company’s hydrogen-production unit.

China Petroleum & Chemical Corp. last year blamed operational problems at its green hydrogen plant in Xinjiang, the world’s largest, on electrolyzers not being able to handle fluctuations in power coming from intermittent renewable sources.

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