Japan, the rising star

Big crowd at the German Pavilion, © Peter Sauber Agentur Messen und Kongresse

The 14th International Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Expo took place Feb. 28 through March 2 in Tokyo, Japan. According to the organizers, it is the largest hydrogen and fuel cell show in the world. One regular exhibitor over the past several years has been H2BZ-Initiative Hessen, the hydrogen and fuel cell initiative from the German state of Hesse. It shared space with other organizations at the German Pavilion, which Peter Sauber Agentur organizes each spring. Professor Birgit Scheppat, who chairs the initiative, has been a longtime FC Expo attendee. Below is her report on the pavilion and the entire show.

On three days, FC Expo provided a forum for discussing hydrogen and fuel cells, batteries and smart grids. In 2018, the exhibition space seemed to have grown in size compared to previous years. It was teeming with attendees right on the first day. Every exhibit attracted a throng of them, and seemingly endless streams of people dressed in dark-colored business attire moved around the premises. I think Hannover Messe is the only other event at which I have ever seen such a crowd, once or twice.


Intriguing clash of ideas: Japan vs. the United States

Today was my day for presentations. First, I listened to what Tadashi Mogi from the Japanese economy ministry had to say about the future of hydrogen. Immediately thereafter, Daniel Simmons from the U.S. Department of Energy took the stage. Simmons, with his illustrious title of principal deputy assistant secretary, was the one who presented President Donald Trump’s view. It was fascinating, watching this clash of ideas. On the one hand, you have a society that has a clear vision for its future. On the other, you have a country that wants to revive the past.

But let us stick with the commonalities for a moment. The aim of both countries is to make every sector, be it transportation, housing or production, more energy efficient. However, the plans to achieve efficiency targets seemed to be short on details. The two representatives talked about minimizing fine dust and emission levels, although Simmons regarded these things as less relevant. Hydrogen was one source to warrant consideration, but it was hardly a vital item on his agenda. What was much more important to him was that the United States, which used to be an importer of crude oil in 2000, had turned into an exporter of the black gold and that low-cost shale gas was helping America’s industries. He added that technological progress had led to cheap energy resources. No, not merely affordable or inexpensive resources – cheap ones!

He said that 10 percent of the power generated in the United States was from renewable energies, 29 percent from natural gas, 37 percent from petroleum, 15 percent from coal and 9 percent from nuclear energy. All the while, the number of kilometers travelled by citizens in the United States had increased by 190 percent and total energy consumption by 44 percent. The level of pollutants, however, had decreased by 73 percent. You notice that these outcomes look impressive, but Simmons avoided mentioning anything else than percentages throughout his presentation.

He did announce a new government strategy to improve energy efficiency. It would focus on early research and development, especially battery technology, and include lightweight vehicle design.

Simmons said that there would be an opportunity for deploying hydrogen and fuel cells if, and only if, the prices for these technologies came tumbling down. Then, the United States could see the deployment of 40,000 hydrogen vehicles, limited to California, since no other state is adding hydrogen stations in significant numbers. The federal government also has its eyes set on expanding the country’s outdated electrical grid and enhancing old technologies such as natural gas liquefaction to drive sales abroad. I quote, “Exporting energy is exporting freedom.”

Let us come back to Japan …


Written by Professor Birgit Scheppat

2 thoughts on “Japan, the rising star”

  1. “Exporting energy is exporting freedom.”

    Right. Just ask the folks in Venezuela, Iraz, Kuwait, Ghana…


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