TOKYO (Jiji Press) — A government-led project is under way in Japan to make fuel cell vehicles even friendlier to the environment.
Powered by hydrogen, FCVs are “zero emission” vehicles that emit only water. But carbon dioxide, a primary culprit of global warming, is emitted by FCVs, although indirectly, because the hydrogen is usually produced from fossil fuels.
FCVs emit 79 grams of CO2 per kilometer, comparable with 95 grams for hybrid vehicles, which combine gasoline engines and electric motors, according to the Japan Automobile Research Institute.
The Environment Ministry has launched a project to make FCVs zero-emission vehicles in the real sense of the term, by generating hydrogen for them from renewable energy sources such as sunlight and wind, instead of fossil fuels.
The ministry plans initially to set up 100 sets of renewable energy-based hydrogen supply equipment across Japan by fiscal 2019.
The equipment was completed in July last year after more than four years of demonstration trials held in Saitama Prefecture jointly by the ministry, the prefectural government, Honda Motor Co. and others. It requires a space of eight square meters and a height of 2.4 meters for installation and treats water with electricity generated by nearby renewable energy facilities, such as solar panels and windmills, to produce hydrogen.
Although ¥160 million is needed to build and install each unit, the ministry will cover three-quarters of the cost on behalf of local governments and companies, on condition that they use FCVs as official vehicles. In the first stage of the program, five units will be introduced by the Miyagi, Saitama, Tokushima and Kumamoto prefectural governments and the Kobe city office in Hyogo Prefecture in February and March.
As Japan has a long-term target of cutting its CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050, it needs to combine comprehensive reduction measures.
The use of 100 renewable energy-based hydrogen supply machines is projected to cut CO2 emissions by 830,000 tons per year, more than the total emissions of the parcel delivery service industry.
The ministry plans to set up 47 supply machines, or one in every prefecture, primarily on the premises of prefectural government buildings, by fiscal 2017 and the rest in shopping malls and other locations in the following two years.
“Local governments will take the lead on the installations, in order to show the public that the renewable energy-based hydrogen project is endorsed by governments,” an official of the ministry’s Environmental Management Bureau said.
An official of the Saitama prefectural government said, “With the [hydrogen supply] equipment, residents will be able to see our efforts to become free of CO2.”
Toyota Motor Corp. has already released the world’s first commercially produced FCV, called the Mirai, while Honda is stepping up preparations to put its own version on the market this spring.
The Saitama government runs a Mirai car, with the message “Running on Hydrogen!” written on both sides of its body, on local streets in a bid to enhance public awareness of hydrogen energy. “I feel the eyes of citizens are on us,” a driver said.
But many people still worry about the safety of hydrogen.
“It’s important for us to treat hydrogen very carefully, recognizing that it can explode,” said an official involved at the prefectural government.
The official underscored the importance of local government personnel acquiring know-how on the safe management of hydrogen and helping to improve the understanding of citizens, in order to promote the installation of the renewable energy-based hydrogen supply equipment.