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Volkswagen-Audi Cooperation with China benefits Hydrogen Economy & Fuel Cell Future

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“We need to bring sustainable energy to every corner of the globe with technologies like solar energy mini-grids, solar powered lights, and wind turbines.”       Ban Ki-moon, former United Nations Secretary General

Free energy from sun and wind was the topic of two previous articles, a minor detour from the actual theme. Nevertheless, sustainable energy is essential for the ecologically responsible generation of electricity to produce hydrogen. The electrical energy could also come from wave-action, even closer to the water which could be electrolyzed for hydrogen production. (More about that in the up-coming articles about my visits to Hydrogenics Corporation.)

China is investing $ 361 Billion in renewable power generation by 2020, jobs for 13 million people- picture from profimedia  — N.B. The “tilting windmills” at the extreme left & right are the result of wide-angle lens distorsion.

(Here again, we are ‘leapfrogging’ the timeline of history, but at times it is better to be contextual.)

Meanwhile, a most unlikely chain of international events was set in motion. No Hollywood movie script could ever top the complexity; the truth is stranger than fiction.

G. Daimler and K. Benz, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, Edouard and André Michelin, Rudolph Diesel, Soichiro Honda, Sir Harry Ricardo, Colin Chapman (Lotus), Enzo Ferrari, Ferdinand Porsche, Geoffrey  Ballard; — most everyone recognizes those names and knows of the contributions these individuals have made to the world of automobiles. But who ever heard about Wan Gang?

In his hometown Shanghai, he was interested in math and science already as a young boy. After public school, he went to work on a farm for six years to earn money for University. Wan graduated in mechanical engineering in 1979 at age 27 and earned a master’s degree in experimental mechanics and structural theories at Tongji University in 1981.

Tongji U. was founded in 1907 as a medical school by German Dr. Erich Paulun. Technical and other faculties were added over time, and the academic sectors of China and Germany enjoyed social, cultural, and scientific cooperation ever since – except during some difficult periods.

In 1985, Wan went to Germany as a visiting scholar and Ph.D. candidate at the Clausthal U. of Technology on a stipend, where he received his ‘Dr. Ingenieur’ with high honors. Being also fluent in German and English, Dr. Wan did research in advanced vehicle drive systems and computer applications for five years, as well as teaching young Ph.D. candidates. His accomplishments and his re-opening of the friendship between the Chinese and German Universities prompted provincial Premier Christian Wulff of Lower-Saxony to award Dr. Wan the Provincial Order of Merit.

As Provincial Premier, Mr. Wulff is on Volkswagen’s board of directors. In 1945, the Province loaned reconstruction money to the bombed-out factory to facilitate for job creation, much like the governments of the USA, Canada, and Ontario Province did in 2009 to General Motors and Chrysler. Volkswagen continues a mutually beneficial relationship with Lower Saxony as its second largest stakeholder.

Coincidence or not, Dr. Wan took a job at the research department of Volkswagen’s Audi brand in 1991. He advanced Audi’s “Advantage through Technology” as program manager of its Technology Development Department. In 1996 he was promoted to manage the R&D division, where he instituted advanced design, construction, and production methods. This earned him one worldwide and two European patents. Dr. Wan is credited with the huge success the Audi A4 model has become for the company.

My own small contribution to Audi (nee DKW) in engine development at an earlier time is described in one of my Amazon-Kindle eBooks. That work resulted in several distance and endurance World Records at Monza. Hopefully, you will forgive me for that self-serving ‘plug’; (Wan and Wand worked at Audi. )

Wan Gang said, “We are now at a turning point — moving from the fossil fuel age towards renewable and clean energy. We are also at a juncture — evolving from industrial civilization towards ecological civilization.”

In 2000, Wan submitted a clean-energy proposal to the Chinese State Council to leapfrog the development of China’s automobile industry. After ten years at Audi, the Ministry of Science & Technology persuaded Wan to return home, where he became assistant president of Tongji U. in 2002 and its President two years later.

Officialdom also added the role of Chief R&D Scientist for the national electric vehicle project, plus China’s Fuel Cell Auto Project to his workload. Not enough, Dr. Wan is also a Council Member for the China-US Center for Sustainable Development. A mere bureaucrat would have been overwhelmed by all that, but after more than a decade of working in the fast-paced auto industry that experience serves him well. He uses his connections to the advantage of several countries: In 2004, a cooperative memorandum was signed between Tongji University and Volkswagen to integrate fuel cell, battery and control systems for the development of a hydrogen-fueled vehicle for China, based on Volkswagen’s Touran electric car.

In the meantime, Professor Wan continued to guest-lecture at Clausthal and at Tongji. His supreme accomplishment was to become China’s Minister of Science & Technology in April 2007. (The first non-communist cabinet minister, to boot.)

Connections with Volkswagen were reinforced again in a 2008 visit to Wolfsburg, resulting in the sponsorship of a hydrogen and fuel cell lab at Tongji U, to accelerate production of zero emission vehicles at Volkswagen and Audi factories in China, which employ 26,000 hardworking people, producing and selling more than one million cars per year in that country.

In April of 2009 Minister Wan and Stockwell Day, then Canada’s Minister for International Trade agreed on a six–point initiative in energy, science, and technology. This is the first round of CanadaChina projects, announced in May 2008, involving 20 projects worth more than $11 million. “Scientific research [see next Saturday’s article about Geoffrey Ballard] plays a critical role in our economy,” said Day; “By funding these important research projects, we are preparing both Canada and China for tomorrow. These projects encourage the important partnership between universities and industry, and close the distance between the laboratory and the marketplace,” Stockwell Day added.

In May of 2012, the United States and China marked 33 years of science and technology cooperation at the Joint Commission Meeting on Science and Technology Cooperation in Beijing, China. Minister of Science and Technology Dr. Wan Gang led the Chinese delegation, while Dr. John P. Holdren, Assistant to President Obama for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, headed the U.S. delegation.

With Wan Gang, China now has the advantage of having a person at the highest level of decision making, who has experience in academic and industrial R&D, honed and proven in the tough world of automotive competition. It is quite possible that China will be the first country to implement the infrastructure investments on the road to zero pollution road transport.

While all of the above-mentioned pioneers have passed on, a new generation of ‘movers and shakers’ is expanding the potential of automobiles as sustainable transportation.

Wan Gang and Alexander Dobrindt signing cooperation agreement during 2016 Hydrogen Congress in Germany, with Angela Merkel in discussion with another official. German Federal Government to allocate € 350 Million for 400 H2 Gas stations by 2023.

Perhaps we are learning that cooperation serves us better than confrontation; that it is easier to build the proverbial bridge instead of a dam. Let us hope that more countries around the world will work together towards advancing the Hydrogen Economy.

As I was proof-reading the above, these news arrived:

California, China sign climate deal after Trump’s Paris exit

Associated Press Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Credit: The Associated Press

California Gov. Jerry Brown, left, shakes hands with China’s Science and Technology Minister Wan Gang after signing a memorandum of understanding of Clean Technology at a hotel in Beijing, Tuesday, June 6, 2017. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Next: Geoffrey Ballard evolves Hydrogen & Fuel Cell History and advances its Future   


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