Amid the global green-energy rush, Japan has been vigorously developing hydrogen energy, in the hope of lowering its heavy reliance on imported petroleum and natural gas.
Hydrogen energy figured prominently amid the litany of renewable energies exhibited in the World Smart Energy Week 2018, held in Tokyo last month, alongside solar energy, wind power, lithium battery, biomass energy, and fuel cell. The Japanese government is scheduled to put in place a sizable renewable-energy network by the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 before completing a hydrogen supply network by 2040.
Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) envisions gradual drop in the prices of hydrogen fuel and fuel cells, with hydrogen price reaching 30 yen per cubic meter by 2030 and 20 yen by 2050, in addition to selling 40,000 hydrogen-fuel sedans by 2020, 200,000 by 2025, and 800,000 by 2030.
Moreover, it is pushing hydrogen-fuel buses, with the aim of deploying 100 such buses in Tokyo by 2020 and 1,200 by 2030. Technology breakthrough in hydrogen production, or a more cost-effective method for hydrogen import, is critical for the achievement of the goal, though, as such bus consumes hydrogen 45 times that of sedan.
The schedule, however, lags behind that of Europe and China, with the former targeting sale of 9,000 hydrogen-fuel buses by 2025, when China's Zhengzhou City, capital of Henan Province, alone sets a goal of 5,000 buses. Although the slower pace gives the industry more preparation time, it runs counter to cost cut at expanded scale.
To cut hydrogen price, the Japanese government also plans to push massive hydrogen consumption in the industrial and commercial sector, so that hydrogen can become a ubiquitous fuel, similar to petroleum or natural gas.
Japan plans to transport small amount of hydrogen, which used to be an industrial byproduct with low utilization value, to coal- and natural gas-fired thermal plants, for use as fuel via IGCC (integrated gasification combined cycle) technology during the transitional period. With the commercial value of hydrogen rising constantly along with technological progress, some power plants have used renewable energy to produce hydrogen before mixture with natural gas, thereby lowering fuel cost.
Japan hopes to expand local production of hydrogen and its consumption, thereby lowering hydrogen cost for not only local usage but also export, so as to substitute for expensive imported fuel and create a clean environment.
(First figure is a schematic diagram, courtesy of Zero Emission Resource Organisation via Flickr CC BY 2.0)