Now that Toyota Motor says it will release mass-production fuel-cell vehicles powered by hydrogen, Japan has set an even bigger goal of making hydrogen a main energy source for the nation’s electric utilities.
The nation’s first “hydrogen energy white paper,” released Monday, calls on the country to become a “hydrogen economy” by adopting the fuel for utility power generation.
The paper was produced by the government-affiliated New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization.
In a fuel-cell vehicle, hydrogen is used to create electricity and to power an electric motor. Hydrogen can also be burned for thermal power.
Japan isn’t alone in looking at hydrogen for utility power. Germany, for instance, has been experimenting with a project to inject hydrogen into natural gas grids.
The new-energy body, known as NEDO, is expected to hold discussions with utilities to produce a more detailed road map for hydrogen-power generation. The government currently envisages use of hydrogen at utilities by 2030.
NEDO experts think that hydrogen could eventually provide about 10% of energy for the nation’s power generation. But there are many hurdles, including the high cost of producing hydrogen and the need for new infrastructure such as tanks and transport equipment.
Japan is increasingly dependent on fossil fuels with the shutdown of nuclear plants following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident. Its dependency on fossil fuels for power generation has increased to close to 90% from around 60% before the accident. More than 80% of the oil and 30% of the natural gas used by Japan is supplied by the Middle East.
Hydrogen can be produced in multiple ways. Currently, most is obtained from natural gas, but it could be made by reversing the process of a fuel cell. A fuel cell takes in hydrogen and oxygen to generate electricity, producing water as a byproduct, and in the reverse process, electricity turns water into hydrogen and oxygen.
In one scenario, hydrogen could be produced when electricity is cheap–during off-peak times–and then used to generate electricity at peak hours.
Hydrogen can also be obtained from low-grade coal that currently isn’t useful commercially, NEDO said. It said Japan could diversify its energy sources away from the Middle East by purchasing hydrogen from countries with abundant hydroelectric power, such as Canada and Russia, or countries such as Australia with rich coal resources.