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The Japanese Companies Pursuing a Hydrogen Economy

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The Japanese Companies Pursuing a Hydrogen Economy

As the government moves to put its updated hydrogen strategy into practice, more and more Japanese companies are entering the industry.

The Japanese Companies Pursuing a Hydrogen Economy

The Suiso Frontier, the world’s first liquified hydrogen carrier, docked in Kawasaki Heavy Industries’ Kobe shipyard in Oct. 2020.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons/ Hunini

After the revision of the Basic Hydrogen Strategy on June 6, the Kishida administration has attempted to put the updated strategy into practice. On September 25, the Sixth Hydrogen Energy Ministerial Meeting will be held as part of the Tokyo Green Transformation (GX) Week, hosted by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) in conjunction with the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO). The Japanese government plans to invite ministers and world leaders in the energy and environment fields who have worked to achieve decarbonization goals to the Tokyo GX Week. 

By hosting the Hydrogen Energy Ministerial Meeting, the Kishida administration intends to promote the hydrogen industry in Japan. In line with the government’s efforts, Japanese companies have sought to accelerate their hydrogen businesses. As evidence of that, quite a few companies will gather at another international conference and exhibition, Connecting Green Hydrogen Japan 2023, to be held in Tokyo from October 17-18.

Participating companies include Tokyo Gas, Marubeni, ENEOS, Air Products, Siemens Energy, Hitachi, JERA, Linde, Uniper, Nippon Yusen, and Orica. Notably, the finance sector will join the conference as well. Major Japanese financial institutions, such as the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation (SMBC), MUFG Bank, Mizuho Bank, and Nomura are supposed to make presentations on the “role of public and private sector investments in hydrogen energy transition.” 

The above-mentioned companies will also join the exhibition in order to promote their hydrogen business projects. Technically speaking, the hydrogen energy industry can be divided into the following three phases: hydrogen production, hydrogen transportation (and storage), and hydrogen usage. A variety of Japanese companies are involved in different phases of the hydrogen energy business.

Producing Hydrogen

When it comes to domestic production of hydrogen, Iwatani is a pioneer in Japan. Iwatani began its sales of hydrogen in 1941, and started Japan’s first large-scale liquid hydrogen production plant in 1978. Iwatani completed Japan’s first full-scale hydrogen-refueling station in Torishima, Osaka, in 2002, and opened Japan’s first commercial hydrogen station in Amagasaki, Hyogo, in 2014. 

Meanwhile, ENEOS, Japan’s largest oil refiner, has dealt with by-product hydrogen generated at oil factories. 

Showa Denko creates low-carbon hydrogen and ammonia through plastic chemical-recycling technology. In collaboration with Showa Denko, Toshiba utilized hydrogen energy generated by the waste plastics recycling technology for the world’s first “hydrogen hotel” in Kawasaki City, Kanagawa Prefecture. Toshiba also contributed to the creation of the world’s largest-class hydrogen production, the Fukushima Hydrogen Energy Research Field (FH2R), at Namie Town in Fukushima Prefecture. 

Air Water succeeded in creating turquoise hydrogen from biogas made from cow excrement in Shikaoi Town in Hokkaido. Goto Floating Wind Farm of Nagasaki Prefecture has sought to create green hydrogen by utilizing renewable energy generated by offshore wind farms around the Goto Islands. 

Transporting Hydrogen 

In addition to domestic production, global supply chains of hydrogen and hydrogen compounds, such as ammonia and  methylcyclohexane (MCH), are being established by Japanese companies involved in the hydrogen industry.

Kawasaki Heavy Industries, collaborated with J-Power, Iwatani, Marubeni, Sumitomo Corporation, Shell Japan, and Australia’s AGL Energy, developed the world’s first liquified hydrogen carrier, Suiso Frontier, which succeeded in transporting liquified hydrogen from Victoria, Australia. 

ENEOS opened a small plant to produce green hydrogen in Australia and transport it as a liquid in the form of MCH by combining hydrogen and toluene. 

Nippon Yusen and its partners, such as IHI, have developed commercial vessels equipped with ammonia-fueled engines. IHI succeeded in reducing carbon dioxide emissions by over 99 percent in the combustion process of liquid ammonia as a method of CO2-free power generation technology. 

JERA has also been committed to establishing an international supply chain of ammonia in cooperation with foreign companies, such as Yara International. 

Using Hydrogen for Energy

In the field of hydrogen energy usage, Toyota started to sell Mirai, the world’s first fuel cell vehicle (FCV), in December 2014, while keeping its 5,680 FCV-related patents open for public use, free of charge. In 2016, Honda started to sell its Clarity Fuel Cell and Nissan announced its e-Bio Fuel Cell. 

In July 2023, British comedian Rowan Atkinson (best known for playing the character of Mr. Bean) showcased the hydrogen-fueled Toyota Yaris, strongly advertising FCVs worldwide. 

From 2024, Honda will launch a new fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) in Japan and North America. 

However, sufficient hydrogen stations are necessary for the promotion of FCVs, and therefore, Japanese companies have tried to increase the number of hydrogen stations.

In addition to using hydrogen energy to power automobiles, it can also be used for industrial purposes. Japanese steelmakers have thus been involved in promoting the hydrogen business in Japan. In particular, it is imperative for steelmakers to reduce CO2 emissions in iron and steelmaking processes through the use of hydrogen. Applying hydrogen reduction technology to blast furnaces in ironmaking processes – and utilizing hydrogen instead of iron ore – would contribute to reducing CO2 emissions by at least 50 percent. Hence, Japanese steelmakers, such as Nippon Steel, JFE Steel, and Kobe Steel, have been committed to projects on the development of this technology in collaboration with the Japan Research and Development Center for Materials.

As for fuel cells for family use, ENEFARM, the world’s first residential fuel cell, began to be sold in Japan in 2009. ENEFARM is a co-generation system that produces power at home via a chemical reaction between hydrogen extracted from natural gas and oxygen in the air. This can be used to supply hot water and heating at home. Major companies, such as Panasonic, Rinnai, Noritz, Aisin, and Itochu Enex have sold ENEFARM in Japan. 

The Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry reported that more than 450,000 ENEFARM fuel cells were sold by September 2022, and the price has dropped from 3 million yen to less than 1 million yen (around $7,000) on average. Fuel cells for co-generation systems have been sold for industry and office use as well.

The Hydrogen Economy Is Coming

In the middle of a global energy crisis, it is important for Japan and the international community to improve energy security by making the best of clean energy, including hydrogen and ammonia. 

Furthermore, hydrogen-related technology has profound implications for Japan’s security policy. The dual use nature of hydrogen and shipbuilding technology has profound implications for Japan’s future national security strategy. 

Kawasaki Heavy Industries, one of the largest defense companies in Japan, has been developing a carrier capable of holding 160,000 cubic meters of liquified hydrogen, much larger than the 1,250-cubic-meter-capacity Suiso Frontier, the world’s first liquified hydrogen carrier. The length of the new gigantic liquified hydrogen vessel under development is 346 meters, longer than the world’s largest aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford (337 meters). 

Likewise, hydrogen technology from Kawasaki Heavy Industries has been used for rocket launches at the Tanegashima Space Center and adjacent facilities as Japan’s largest liquid hydrogen storage tank. 

Whether motivated by their own profits, the energy security of the country, or the decarbonization goals of the Paris Agreement, more and more companies are motivated to promote the hydrogen economy in Japan and the world. Energetic commitments to the hydrogen industry by Japanese companies clearly indicate that the arrival of the hydrogen economy and hydrogen society is not a mere dream.