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Felicity Bradstock

Felicity Bradstock

Felicity Bradstock is a freelance writer specialising in Energy and Finance. She has a Master’s in International Development from the University of Birmingham, UK.

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What’s Next For Japan’s Burgeoning Hydrogen Industry?

  • Japan is one of the leading hydrogen nations in the world, although it needs to begin its transition away from blue and grey hydrogen and towards green hydrogen.
  • The country hopes to produce 3 million tonnes of hydrogen annually by 2030 and to become carbon neutral entirely by 2050.
  • This month, the EU and Japan signed a memorandum of cooperation on hydrogen, aimed at enhancing the production, trade, transport, storage, distribution, and use of renewable and low-carbon hydrogen.

Japan is quickly becoming a major hydrogen hub, as it begins to use the fuel in a range of innovative ways. However, to achieve low-carbon pledges, the government must curb blue and grey hydrogen production in favor of the renewable, green version. By developing its existing technology and adapting the market to value green hydrogen, Japan could become a major producer by the end of the decade. 

The tallest hydrogen storage tank in the world is located in Japan, which has long been known for its hydrogen production. It is 14 meters tall and sits outside of Kyoto. The site also houses solar panels, hydrogen fuel cells, and Tesla Megapack storage batteries, all there to power he Panasonic Norihiko Kawamura manufacturing site. Kawamura, a manager at Panasonic, stated, “This may be the biggest hydrogen consumption site in Japan.” He added, “We estimate using 120 tons of hydrogen a year. As Japan produces and imports more and more hydrogen in the future, this will be a very suitable kind of plant.”

The site is located alongside a high-speed railway and a highway making it very well connected. The facility hopes to gradually shift to all-renewable power. It is currently home to the H2 Kibou Field which contains a 78,000-litre hydrogen fuel tank, a 495 KW hydrogen fuel cell cluster of 99 cells, 1,820 photovoltaic (PV) solar panels, and 1.1 MW of lithium-ion battery storage. Panasonic hopes this will become an example for other sustainable manufacturing facilities. 

The facility is equipped with an AI Energy Management System to manage its power, reducing the quantity of electricity that comes from the local grid in favor of different types of renewable energy from the site, where available. Despite significant progress in the construction of a comprehensive renewable energy site, Panasonic continues to rely largely on grey hydrogen, derived from fossil fuels, for its energy. This is mainly because the cost of green hydrogen remains significantly higher than the fossil fuel alternative. 

With Japan planning to become carbon neutral by 2050, it must push for a move away from grey and blue hydrogen in favor of renewable, green hydrogen. The country already launched the world’s first national hydrogen strategy in 2017 and its 2020 Environment Innovation Strategy develops the sector further on the plan. By 2017, Japan was home to 131 hydrogen stations, more than any other country at the time. However, its hydrogen market is still far from fully developed, which requires greater promotion for the multitude of possible uses. 

Japan hopes to produce 3 million tonnes of hydrogen annually by 2030, and 20 million tonnes a year by 2050. Many companies currently have plans to use carbon capture and storage technologies to make this possible, using waste carbon to fuel hydrogen production. However, few have plans to produce renewable hydrogen using electrolysis, meaning that Japan’s hydrogen operations will continue to release greenhouse gas emissions unless the government puts policies in place to shift away from fossil fuel-derived hydrogen towards green. At present, ‘clean hydrogen’ is not clearly defined in Japan, with the government considering subsidizing the production of any form of hydrogen. 

Several Japanese companies have big plans for the future of hydrogen. In 2020, Toyota Motor Corporation announced its strategy to develop a prototype city of the future at the base of Mt. Fuji, using hydrogen fuel cell vehicles for its transportation. It will eventually extend this technology to larger vehicles such as buses, trucks, and other heavy vehicles. Meanwhile, Mitsubishi Power expects to launch its Takasago Hydrogen Park at its Takasago Machinery Works in 2023. It will produce and store hydrogen at the site for use in its operations. Morikawa Tomoko, chief engineering manager of the Gas Turbine Engineering Department, explained “Never before has the world striven toward the use of hydrogen on such a large scale. We are making steady progress toward a decarbonized society as we find ways to make hydrogen a more practical energy source. I am convinced that hydrogen energy will change the world.”

This month, the EU recognized Japan’s role in the future of hydrogen as it deepened its cooperation with the state through a memorandum of cooperation on the innovation and development of the global hydrogen market. The two powers hope to work in partnership to enhance the production, trade, transport, storage, distribution, and use of renewable and low-carbon hydrogen. This is expected to help advance the  EU-Japan Green Alliance

Japan has one of the most advanced hydrogen markets in the world, with plans to establish several large-scale hydrogen operations over the next decade. However, many of these projects continue to rely on hydrogen derived from fossil fuels, which will likely be detrimental to Japan’s climate goals. To advance the hydrogen market in line with climate targets, the Japanese government must offer a clear definition of ‘clean hydrogen’ and promote the production of green hydrogen as opposed to grey and blue hydrogen to ensure that new projects incorporate renewable energy technology into operations as the industry develops. 

By Felicity Bradstock for Oilprice.com

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