By Jack Chaben, FCHEA Intern
The prospects for a clean and sustainable energy future in Japan continue to increase as both the government and many private sector companies further their commitments to hydrogen and fuel cells. Japan’s vision is that fuel cells, as a power source for several modes of transportation, as well as stationary and mobile applications, will allow the country to diversify and strengthen its energy infrastructure.
A site of significant support for the utilization of fuel cells, Japan has demonstrated the versatility of the power source. As of 2018, nearly 265,000 ENE-FARM residential fuel cells, with generating capacities of up to 5 kW, have been installed for home use. Japan plans to deploy 5.3 million of these residential units by 2030. The independence from the electric grid these fuel cells provide moves Japan towards a self-sustaining energy future. Fuel cells and hydrogen in the transportation sector have also flourished in Japan through industry innovation and government initiatives; more than 2,800 fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) were on the roads by the end of 2018, led by FCHEA members Honda and Toyota. Industrial use of fuel cells has also continued to advance, with 100 fuel cell-powered forklifts operating in Japan in 2018. Japan’s commitment to fuel cells has accelerated its transition to a clean and sustainable energy future. Developments in the industry throughout 2018 have further demonstrated this commitment.
In January 2018, Japan’s Ministerial Council on Renewable Energy, Hydrogen and Related Issues revealed a new strategy, endorsed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, to allow Japan to lead the global path to a carbon-free society. The strategy promotes the adoption of hydrogen FCVs by reducing the price of hydrogen fuel to as little as one-fifth its current cost by 2050. By pricing hydrogen fuel more competitively against gasoline and liquefied natural gas, Japan can move closer to its target of 40,000 FCVs on the road by 2020 and 800,000 by 2030. To support the large-scale increase of FCVs in the country, the Japanese government also plans to enact new regulatory reforms to accelerate the construction of hydrogen fueling stations – up to 320 stations nationwide by 2025.
Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) is also working to help the country meet its target goal. As of mid-2018, Japan had a total of 100 hydrogen stations open for business. The government also collaborates with industry on this effort. In February 2018, FCHEA members Air Liquide Japan, Honda, and Toyota, together with Japanese infrastructure developers and investment firms, formed Japan H2 Mobility (JHyM), a joint venture to accelerate the deployment of hydrogen stations throughout Japan. In collaboration with the Japanese government, JHyM aims to build 80 hydrogen stations by 2021, for a total of 160 nationwide.
In order to accelerate the deployment of FCVs, in February 2018 METI began to consider easing regulations of fire safety laws that could slow the installation of hydrogen refueling stations. Later this year, new rules may permit gas stations to set up hydrogen refueling terminals alongside gas pumps, integrating the new technology into existing convenient locations.
Japan plans to use the 2020 Olympics as a huge platform to showcase the potential of fuel cells and hydrogen. FCVs will be used as official vehicles at the Games, and there are construction efforts in place for new hydrogen supply systems and pipelines. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government plans to use hydrogen produced in Fukushima to power its efforts.
According to the Sustainability Plans for the 2020 Olympics, hydrogen stations will be installed throughout the country to support the FCVs in service at the Games. Fuel cells will also supply electricity and heat to buildings. In November 2018, Akio Toyoda, the President of Toyota, met with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach to showcase the company’s transportation innovations and plans for the Games, including its Mirai FCV. Through the Olympics, Japan aims to showcase its transition to a hydrogen society.
In May 2018, Toyota announced plans to increase production of fuel cell stacks and hydrogen tanks for FCVs to contribute to the goal of 30,000 FCVs sold globally by 2020. The company partnered with Chia City, Toyota City, Chubu Electric Power, and Toho Gas, in Aichi Prefecture, to launch the Chia City and Toyota City Renewable Energy-use Low-carbon Hydrogen Project. Supported by the Aichi Low Carbon Hydrogen Supply Chain Promotion Association, this collaboration aims to develop a low-carbon hydrogen supply chain to support the deployment of FCVs.
The versatility of fuel cells has enabled Japanese industry to showcase several applications of the power source, beyond light-duty FCVs. Toyota recently reinforced its continued commitment to fuel cell-powered transportation by expanding from its light-duty FCVs to fuel cell buses (FCBs). In March 2018, the company began selling its Sora FCB. The Sora is powered by two 111 kW fuel cell stacks fueled by ten 600 liter hydrogen tanks. Each bus also has a 235 kWh external power supply for use as an emergency power source in case of disasters, illustrating the flexibility of fuel cells. Toyota plans to provide over 100 Sora buses in the Tokyo metropolitan area for the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
In June 2018, Seven-Eleven Japan and Toyota announced a joint project to reduce CO2 emissions at Seven-Eleven distribution centers and operations facilities. Beginning in spring 2019, Seven-Eleven plans to deploy Toyota’s stationary fuel cell generators, rechargeable batteries, and solar panels to power stores throughout the country. The project also plans to integrate a new small fuel cell truck into the distribution process.
Toyota also announced an agreement with East Japan Railway Company (JR East) to create a hydrogen-based mobility partnership between railways and automobiles. Discussions between both companies have included the construction of hydrogen stations on JR East land, the introduction of FCVs and FCBs for local transportation, and the application of fuel cells in railway carriages.
In addition to its efforts promoting fuel cells in the transportation sector, Toyota announced its plans to adopt a Toshiba Energy Systems and Solutions (ESS) facility to produce and supply hydrogen made from renewable energy for its Takahama plant in Aichi Prefecture. The system will control the amount of production and compression of hydrogen using Toshiba ESS’ hydrogen energy management system which includes the ability to forecast supply requirements for fuel cell forklifts.
Other Japanese companies began to turn to fuel cells in 2018 as a new source of clean and resilient power. In March 2018, Kesen Precut Cooperative, a tree and timber production co-op in Iwate Prefecture, installed a new hydrogen refueling system to fuel Toyota’s fuel cell forklifts, integrating the sustainable power source into its operations. The refueling system, FCHEA member PDC Machines’ Simplefuel system, won the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2017 H2 Refuel H-Prize Competition, and uses electricity from solar installations or the grid to produce hydrogen.
Outside of vehicles, interest in fuel cells expanded to the portable power sector. The Japanese firm Lightec received shipment of 500 of FCHEA member myFC’s JAQ Hybrid fuel cell chargers for mobile devices. Lightec will distribute the JAQ Hybrid charger throughout Japan through retail chains and mobile operators’ stores. In December 2018, the JAQ Hybrid charger was Power Sourcing Equipment (PSE)-certified in Japan under the country’s Electrical Appliance and Material Safety Law (DENAN) of METI.
As Japan strives towards a clean energy future, its fuel cell and hydrogen industries have made significant progress through government policies and industry innovations. With its ambitious goals for FCV deployment and hydrogen infrastructure, along with unique mobile and stationary products, Japan has secured a strong start on its path to a sustainable future.