Japan, a firm commitment to a hydrogen society

27 April, 2020

  • A local consortium has just presented the world’s largest hydrogen production unit

Japan is a small country with very special territorial characteristics. It has no national reserves of fossil fuels, which is why it has always needed to import large amounts of energy resources and to rely heavily on coal and nuclear energy.

Following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011, all nuclear reactors were gradually closed due to safety concerns and social rejection since the incident.

At the end of 2017, the government of Japan formulated a basic strategy for the promotion of hydrogen use with the aim of becoming the only hydrogen-based society in the world.

However, plans have already been announced to convert the abandoned areas of Fukushima into a renewable energy centre, where new solar plants, wind farms and a power transmission network will be built to supply Tokyo with electricity.

Although the area around the facility remains unsafe, according to the Nikkei Asian Review, Japan is developing a plan to turn the area into a haven for renewable energy.

Seamless commitment to hydrogen

Japan can be considered the most enthusiastic country in the world and the country that is making the most efforts for the development of energy from hydrogen, a vision that is shared by the government and the local automotive industry.

“Hydrogen, as a primary source and, more importantly, as an energy carrier, must be cheaper and more affordable”, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said last year in Davos, “My government aims to reduce the cost of producing hydrogen by at least 90 percent by 2050”.

Government plans in Japan aim to reach 200,000 fuel cell vehicles by 2025 and 800,000 by 2030, to be powered by a network of 900 refuelling stations (nine times more than today).

However, people are still wondering why Japan is so interested in developing a technology that is still in its infancy. The answer is clear: “Japan’s small, mountainous and densely populated islands are not suitable for large-scale production of renewable electricity, while after the crises in Fukushima Daiichi in 2011, the country has little appetite for nuclear energy”.

The world’s largest hydrogen production plant

Japan’s commitment to energy generation from hydrogen is evident, as reflected in some of the projects already underway.

Most recently, a Japanese consortium created the Fukushima Hydrogen Energy Research Field (FH2R), a hydrogen production unit based on 10MW class renewable energy, the largest class in the world.

FH2R uses renewable energy, which is subject to major fluctuations, so the plant will adjust to supply and demand on the electricity grid to maximise the use of this energy, while establishing a low-cost green hydrogen production technology.

At the end of 2017, the government of Japan formulated a basic strategy for the promotion of hydrogen use with the aim of becoming the only hydrogen-based society in the world. This strategy includes an action plan until 2030 and a vision for the future (year 2050) that aims to reduce the cost of green hydrogen leading to carbon neutrality.

The most important challenge facing Japan in the current testing phase is to use the hydrogen energy management system to achieve an optimal combination of production and storage and power grid supply and demand balance adjustments all without the use of storage batteries.

The hydrogen society, the legacy of the Olympic Games

The Tokyo Olympics, finally to be held in 2021, have already been dubbed the first hydrogen games.

The start of the games has been delayed until July 23, 2021 because of the pandemic ravaging the planet, but what is clear is the legacy they intend to leave the world.

The governor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government said in 2019 that the aim of the games was to “leave a hydrogen society as a legacy”, after recalling that the legacy of the first games organised in Japan (1964) was the construction of the high-speed train network that still offers incredible value and service.

Thousands of fuel cell cars and about 100 additional fuel cell buses are planned for commissioning during the games, and new hydrogen fuel stations are being built.

Japan is aware that this will be a great opportunity to focus attention on hydrogen as a viable source of clean fuel, as the whole planet will be watching what happens there.

The country’s policy-makers believe that, as countries adapt new technologies to meet climate change offsetting goals, having this example will go a long way towards establishing more concrete policies in the future.

Symbolically and for the first time in history, the Olympic torch will be lit with a hydrogen flame.

Woven City, the city of the future

Another example is the development of the city of the future that Toyota wants to build by the end of 2021. The Japanese industrial giant wants to transform an old car factory into a “prototype city of the future” where it will test autonomous vehicles, smart home technology, robotics and new mobility products.

The site is located at the base of Mount Fuji and will be designed by renowned Danish architect Bjarke Ingels. It will house up to 2,000 people, including Toyota employees and their families who will live there, and will feature the company’s hydrogen fuel cell technology.