Hydrogen, touted by many sources as the carbon neutral "energy of the future", has been receiving more and more attention lately in both environmental circles and the popular press. Although not everyone is convinced hydrogen is the solution to our problems, many countries and corporations are pushing ahead with research into hydrogen-based technologies such as home-based hydrogen refuelling stations, hydrogen cars and hydrogen planes, meaning that it will likely become at least one of the solutions.
In many cases, it is the Japanese who are at the forefront of hydrogen development. While the Japanese are probably most famous for hydrogen cars such as Honda's sleekly styled FCX Clarity or Mitsubishi's Nessie SUV concept car, they are also leading the way in development of hydrogen infrastructure. While not as "sexy" as the cars themselves, it is the infrastructure that will decide how useful hydrogen can be. And here too, Japan is leading the way with the establishment of the world's first hydrogen generation power station at low temperatures using a methanol-water mix.As we mentioned in our previous post, "Downtown Tokyo Ready For Electric Cars", Japan has already begun building advanced infrastructure in preparation for ramped up sales of commercial electric vehicles with a joint venture between Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) and the Otemachi Marunouchi Yurakucho District Redevelopment Project Council, offering "high-speed battery chargers that will enable a car to run for about 40 kilometers for every five minutes charged."
As for infrastructure to enable the creation of a hydrogen society, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) is at the forefront of work to ensure that the necessary infrastructure has been laid down for the eventual commercialization of hydrogen with its Japan Hydrogen & Fuel Cell Demonstration Project (JHFC) , part of the Cool Earth-Innovative Energy Technology Program. The JHFC have created eleven hydrogen stations in Japan, and the one in Kawasaki City is the world's first to use methanol reforming at low temperatures to create hydrogen for use in fuel cell vehicles.
The station was developed by Japan Air Gases Co. in conjunction with the Air Liquide Group, as a demonstration of the potential of hydrogen for commercial power and energy. The Kawasaki facility can produce enough hydrogen to refuel one passenger vehicle in about 40 minutes, and up to five cars or one bus can be refueled at a time.
Although the methanol used in production is undoubtedly created from fossil fuel sources, there are a number of ways to create methanol and we certainly hope that METI will also be promoting alternative methanol sources in order to allow for carbon neutral hydrogen production, an essential step if hydrogen is to form a part of a future sustainable society.
For more on hydrogen energy and infrastructure see:
"Major Breakthrough" in Hydrogen Production: Video Interview with Daniel Nocera
The ‘Hydrogen Fridge’: A Home-Based Hydrogen Refueling Station
Honda Delivers First FCX Clarity Hydrogen Novelty Over-Sized Car Keys
Boeing Flies First Ever Hydrogen Fuel Cell Plane