Tapping Hydrogen’s Energy Potential
Japan seeks to decarbonize its economy by leveraging hydrogen energy in transportation, industry, power production, and other fields. Japan formulated the world’s first national hydrogen strategy in 2017. The Environment Innovation Strategy, rolled out in January 2020, has included hydrogen in technological innovation efforts to achieve global carbon neutrality by 2050 (see Figure 1 (3)). Japan had around 131 hydrogen stations as of July 2017, more than any other country. It is progressing well in such areas as liquid hydrogen carrier development.
Japan must nonetheless overcome several challenges for hydrogen to become a full-fledged energy source. It will, for example, need to broaden applications to encompass ships, trains, trucks, and other transportation modes, and build a ubiquitous hydrogen eco-system. It will also be important to make hydrogen amply affordable by building a global supply chain and constructing onsite storage facilities in Japan and other systems while validating hydrogen production setups. Because the hydrogen strategy is long-term, it is also vital to bolster research and development, including by strategically cultivating human resources.
Trends in Mobility
Early in 2020, Toyota Motor Corporation unveiled plans to build a prototype city of the future at the base of Mt. Fuji. Toyota’s e-Palette autonomous battery-powered vehicles would be central to transportation there, with the company trialing mobility-as-a-service and other advanced technologies. Toyota spearheaded market expansion for fuel cell vehicles by commercializing the Mirai passenger car. It plans to broaden its line of long-range buses, trucks, and other heavy vehicles (see Figure 2). The company is also prioritizing electric vehicles, and aims to innovate batteries and harness materials informatics in the years ahead.
International shipping needs global rules. Japan launched the industry-government-academia Shipping Zero Emission Project in 2018 in line with the International Maritime Organization’s greenhouse gas reduction strategy, which seeks to eliminate emissions by 2100. The project encompasses a scenario for transitioning to liquefied natural gas by embracing carbon recycling and another scenario for expanding the adoption of energy from hydrogen and ammonia, the goal being to roll out the first generation of zero-emission ships by 2030 (see Figure 3).
Hydrogen/Mobility Technology Development
Japan led the world in developing and validating long-distance hydrogen transportation technologies. Full-fledged penetrations of hydrogen and decarbonization will necessitate cutting costs by relentlessly innovating hydrogen production, transportation, and storage technologies. Highly-efficient water electrolysis, artificial photosynthesis, highly-efficient hydrogen liquefiers, low-cost and very efficient energy carriers, and proton-conducting solid oxygen fuel cells are on the cards.
Electric vehicle ranges need to increase, so the energy densities of storage batteries must improve. All-solid-state batteries and fluoride-based and other innovative batteries offer considerable promise. Key requirements for fuel cell vehicles include compact cells, high reliability, and low costs. Such innovations as platinum-free catalyst and membranes with new proton transport mechanisms seem promising.
Assisting young researchers
The New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) is overseeing the Zero Emissions Creators 500 program, which seeks to assist 500 young energy and environmental researchers at universities over five years by bringing them together with corporate research institutes and other entities.
One challenge in developing energy and environmental technologies is a limited pool of entities offering startup assistance and funding. This is because of large initial investment requirements, lengthy technology verification lead times, and the difficulty of projecting market growth. NEDO is the secretariat for the Japan Open Innovation Council (JOIC), which conducts events matching startups seeking to benefit society through energy and environmental innovations with players seeking business and technology collaboration and venture capitalists.