Japan has set itself the goal of becoming the first hydrogen economy in the world. What has been achieved since the country submitted the world’s first national hydrogen plan in 2017? The H2 user base was further expanded, and the government under Kishida is strongly investing in trailblazing pilot projects. However, the focus remains on the import of blue hydrogen. An update since the H2-international report from July 2021.
A milestone in the expansion of the hydrogen infrastructure actually slated for 2021 was reached by Japan in autumn 2022. As of October, 163 hydrogen fueling stations are in operation. A doubling to 320 stations by 2025 is planned, which is to be 900 by 2040. In April 2022, there were nearly 5,270 fuel cell vehicles on the road in Japan. By 2025, according to the energy expansion plans of the government, it is to be however 200,000, and then 80,000 by 2040. Whether the 430,000 mini CHP Ene-Farm units installed in Japan will really be converted to run on hydrogen instead of natural gas sometime in the future is an open question.
A national electrolysis capacity of 15 to 30 GW is to be built up between 2030 and 2050. The system costs for hydrogen production by electrolysis from renewable energies are to be decreased to 52,000 yen, or about 360 euros, per kW by 2030. The planned massive expansion of capacities for offshore and coastal wind power generation in Japan could help in this. Japan is still clearly lagging behind the EU and China in the expansion of domestic production of green hydrogen.
With the goal of becoming climate neutral by 2050, the government under prime minister of Japan Fumio Kishida is also further heavily investing in the nation’s transition to a “hydrogen society.” “Hydrogen is the key to sustainable development,” stated Eiji Ohira, director general of the hydrogen and fuel cell division of NEDO, Japan’s energy technology agency, at the World Energy Storage Day event recently held in India.
From the Green Innovation Fund of NEDO, 70 billion yen is to flow into development of large electrolyzer projects for hydrogen production, 300 billion yen into expansion of the supply chain, including imports by H2 tankers as well as hydrogen transport and liquefaction technologies. Furthermore, 26 billion yen will go towards the support of demonstration projects for H2 blending in gas turbines – including those abroad.
German-Japanese project in Lingen
With support from the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) of Japan, the world’s first industrial-scale hydrogen-capable gas turbine was built in Lingen, Germany. Using the turbine from Kawasaki Heavy Industries, the conversion of hydrogen back into electricity is to be tested in the natural gas-fired power plant RWE Gaskraftwerk Emsland. The project is one of the first worldwide in which a gas turbine is converting 100 percent hydrogen into electricity on a large industrial scale. The plant with a capacity of 34 megawatts could go into operation mid-2024. In the course of the project, two fuel cell systems developed by Kawasaki are to be employed. The 1 MW versions of both were successfully tested in a demo project in Kobe, Japan. In Lingen, these technological principles will be scaled to industrial level for the first time.
Hydrogen – and transitionally ammonia – is to be a “decarbonized electricity source” that covers ten percent of Japan’s electricity demand by 2050. However, hydrogen is also intended to decarbonize fossil energy production. Old coal plants in Japan are to be converted to operate with a mixture of coal and hydrogen so that they can continue to be run. The advantage for energy companies is that the power plants that would have had to be shut down in view of the CO2 reduction targets will be able to continue operating.
Continued focus on blue hydrogen
On the supply side, the Japanese government is continuing to concentrate on blue hydrogen, which although produced with fossil fuels, can be climate neutral or at least low-carbon with the use of technologies for CO2 capture and storage (CCU/CCS, see H2-international August 2021). However, there is uncertainty whether CCUS technologies (carbon capture, utilization and storage) are cost-effective enough and whether there is enough storage capacity within the country at any rate. Suitable geological formations are situated far from industrial centers, which makes the transport expensive. Some are also subject to earthquakes.
Furthermore, this makes Japan again dependent on energy imports, so the problem of energy security, which has been even higher on the political agenda since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, is not solved. In terms of decarbonization, this is not really progress.
New developments in the H2 demo projects
On the Fukushima Hydrogen Research Field (FH2R) in the coastal town of Namie now stands a 10-MW electrolyzer from Asahi Kasei as well as a 20-MW and 100-MW solar park. In a model project, the locally generated hydrogen is being supplied via a distribution grid to 22 buildings, one school, several supermarkets and fueling stations that can supply 100 fuel cell buses. In the major cities Fukushima and Kōriyama, one to one-and-a-half hours away, the hydrogen is being used as well – in mobile applications enabled by refueling stations and the stationary applications of a public park and a wholesale market. In the currently running second phase of the project, the prefecture is to be further expanded into an “innovation hub” for the hydrogen society, and more and more regional businesses and research institutes will be integrated.
Expanded will also be the H2 information and demonstration center Hydrogen/Fuel Cell Valley, located just outside of Kōfu, the capital of Yamanashi Prefecture. Here on Mount Komekura is a 10-MW solar park, the 1.5-MW electrolyzer from Kobelco, a hydrogen fueling station and another electrolyzer that was installed this year. In several expansion stages, the electrolyzer from Hitachi Zosen is to be expanded to a total capacity of 16 MW and to supply 450,000 Nm3 of hydrogen per year by 2025.
The fuel cell nanomaterials research center and the clean energy research center at the university there in Yamanashi belong to the world’s leading and most respected institutions in the field of materials innovation for fuel cell technology. The technical chemistry institute at TU Braunschweig in Germany (Institut für Technische Chemie und Technische Elektrokatalyse, ITEC) has long maintained close relations with the hydrogen research center in Kōfu. Together with Yamanashi University, it is currently establishing a German-Japanese joint fuel cell technology laboratory. The aim is to optimize water electrolysis, electrocatalysis and hydrogen applications in the field of mobility, particularly through materials innovation.
In Kōfu mid-March 2023, when the FC Expo in Tokyo will be held, is planned a German-Japanese expert workshop on electrolysis technology organized by NEDO and NOW GmbH.
Author:Johanna Schilling, ECOS Consult GmbH, Osnabrück, Germany
Image: PV system with H2 fueling station behind it in Japan