Japan’s METI to Request 30 Billion Yen for Hydrogen Supply System for Fuel Cell Vehicles

29 Aug 2012

Japan METI Offices

Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) is to request 30 billion yen (approx. $0.4 billion) in the next fiscal year budget, part of which is to be spent on the development of a cost-effective hydrogen supply system, reports The Mainichi newspaper. This is to support the widespread introduction of fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV) – seen as a crucial means to reduce the country’s dependence on imported oil.

METI will also back the construction of around 100 hydrogen refuelling stations in four major metropolitan areas – clustered around Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka and Fukuoka – for the commercial introduction of FCEV from 2015. These stations were previously agreed in a January 2011 Memorandum of Understanding signed by ten Japanese oil and energy companies and domestic automakers Toyota, Honda and Nissan.

The question METI is now addressing is how the hydrogen will be stored, distributed and supplied to these stations. An efficient, low-cost hydrogen supply system will be necessary for the ‘pump price’ to prove attractive to consumers, which in turn will be necessary for the construction of further hydrogen stations on a fully commercial basis.

If its 2013 budget appropriation is successful, METI will provide major assistance for research and development of such a system.

Japan has a rising oil import bill, exacerbated by the move away from nuclear power following the Fukushima nuclear incident in March 2011. The country is countering this by replacing oil with natural gas as far as possible: natural gas, while still largely a foreign import, is both cheaper and cleaner. It can also be easily reformed to produce hydrogen. Switching Japan’s vehicle fleet from reliance on an oil-derived transportation fuel to a natural-gas-derived fuel is expected to save a considerable sum of money. It will certainly allow for significant gains in energy efficiency, maximised by the use of fuel cells and the distribution of a pure hydrogen fuel (leaving the weight of the carbon fraction behind), and a marked reduction in carbon emissions from transportation will be realised.

According to the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, Japan also has significant surplus industrial hydrogen – possibly enough to fuel as many as 5 million FCEV. Renewable sources are another possibility: METI’s budget request also covers an allocation for creation of power grids to support additional wind power generation in the Hokkaido and Tōhoku regions. The share of renewables such as wind and solar power in electricity generation will expand into part of the vacuum left by the curtailing of nuclear power, and the generation of hydrogen by renewably-driven electrolysis may well be necessary for grid balancing.

Hence sourcing hydrogen will not be a problem and, with a cheap and effective hydrogen supply system as the final link in the chain, Japan will be in a position to confidently await the commercial release of FCEV in 2015.

Photo of METI offices by D. T. Johnson


Further reading: Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles: The Road Ahead

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