In this episode of Green Japan we focus on the power of hydrogen - an alternative to fossil fuels that is drawing interest and investment from around the world.
In the city of Kobe, hydrogen produces heat and electricity for a hospital, sports centre and trains - part of Japan's transition to a so-called 'hydrogen society'. Japan was the first country in the world to draw up a hydrogen strategy in 2017. It aims to cut emissions by 46 per cent by 2030, and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
Developing green hydrogen
Hydrogen produces steam when burned, but its green credentials depend on how it is produced. Made from coal or natural gas it emits CO2, which can be captured and stored.
At the Fukushima Hydrogen Energy Research Field - FH2R - one of the world’s largest facilities of its type, they make 'green hydrogen'.
"In this facility, we are researching the production of hydrogen without carbon dioxide emissions as much as possible, by making best use of renewable energy," explains Ohira Eiji, Director General of the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Technology Office, NEDO.
To produce green hydrogen, electricity from renewables is used to electrolyse water, separating the oxygen and hydrogen. It neither uses, nor emits, CO2. Hydrogen has been used in fuel cell vehicles and homes for more than a decade but could play a larger role in any future energy mix.
"In order to achieve carbon neutrality, hydrogen will be used not only for electricity, but also for heat in industry, for example, or as a low-carbon choice since hydrogen is widely used for industrial materials, or as fuel for transport," Eiji says.
"In order to use hydrogen as a regular energy source, it is important to reduce the cost. In Japan, we have set a goal that, in the future, for example in 2050, we will make the cost of hydrogen about the same as the fossil fuels we use today."
One way of lowering the price is to increase production abroad - that means more hydrogen available for import.
"We believe that it (the price reduction) could be resolved not only with one solution, but with many different approaches. For example, introducing more efficient technologies and generating economies of scale. It is also important to create demand for hydrogen. We also need to reduce the price and costs of electricity from renewable energies," Eiji says.
Powering up hydrogen's supply chain
The Hydrogen Energy Supply Chain in Kobe uses hydrogen produced in Australia and then shipped to Japan. Kawasaki Heavy Industries is pioneering the transportation of hydrogen by sea; freezing it to minus 253 degrees Celsius and compressing it into a liquid, developing a full hydrogen supply chain.
A world first, the Suiso Frontier will take 16 days to travel to Australia.
"The mass transport of hydrogen by sea is just about to start. LNG, or natural gas, has become widespread in Japan. This was made possible thanks to mass maritime transportation, explains Nishimura Motohiko, Executive Officer of Kawasaki Heavy Industries.
"In the same way, in order to be able to use hydrogen in an island country like Japan, or in many other cities in Asia, it is important to develop a hydrogen carrier for practical use, and then to develop a commercial ship that is more than 100 times larger than this one," he adds.
Another element in development at the liquified hydrogen terminal is the unique storage capability.
Motohiko says: "As for “storage”, it's important to make it larger, too. The tank we have here is the second largest in the world, but when it comes to commercialisation, it will be 20 times larger than this one...we are now developing cylindrical flat-bottomed tanks like those used in LNG tanks, instead of spherical ones. We are aiming to reduce the cost by using such tanks."
Motohiko sums up: "The introduction of hydrogen has become a pressing issue for global warming, and we feel the weight of our responsibility."