Panasonic Corp. is transforming a fuel-cell factory in central Japan’s lakeside city of Kusatsu into what could be the world’s first hydrogen-based plant powered entirely by renewable energy.
Norihiko Kawamura, manager of Panasonic’s hydrogen business, said Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s October pledge to make Japan carbon-neutral has been a “tailwind” for Panasonic’s hydrogen-factory project, and that the company intends to use the system by fiscal year 2023. to commercialize and sell it globally. Promotion Office.
Japan was an early leader in developing hydrogen as an alternative to fossil fuels. The country began investing heavily in gas in the 1970s, when the first of several oil shocks exposed its reliance on imported petroleum. But in recent decades, efforts by Japan and other countries to harness the energy source have been slow. Despite increasing investment, the cost of producing hydrogen remains very high, discouraging investment in the infrastructure and technologies needed for more widespread adoption of the fuel.
“What’s different today is that cost isn’t the only factor at play,” Kawamura said in an interview on the Kusatsu site. The national carbon pledges and targets of major customers such as Apple Inc., which aims to make their supply chain carbon-neutral by 2030, are skewing the balance. He said the number of inquiries the company has received regarding its factory solution has increased following Suga’s announcement.
Suga also drew on a flurry of activities in hydrogen from other companies in Japan who are eager to meet emissions limits and make money from the technology. Eighty miles east of Kusatsu in Aichi Prefecture, hydrogen-powered Mirai cars roll along the lines of a Toyota Motor Corp plant while a hydrogen charging station refuels more than a hundred forklifts with gas and clicks.
In December, Toyota teamed up with hydrogen maker Iwatani Corp and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group Inc. and other companies to boost manufacturing supply chains and technologies. Toyota later announced that it plans to sell modular fuel-cell systems for buses, trains, ships and generators, to “strengthen its initiatives as a fuel-cell systems supplier.”
To reduce emissions, many manufacturers have fitted factories with solar panels that charge batteries to generate electricity. But the solution is weather dependent, making it insufficient for many heavy power users who need guaranteed power.
Panasonic’s plant, which makes fuel-cells for homes and condos, will be powered with larger fuel cells using a mix of solar panels and lithium-ion storage batteries that convert hydrogen into electricity. The company plans to market the commercial hydrogen system in Japan, China and Europe and expects to earn about 300 billion yen ($2.7 billion) in sales in 2030.
Nevertheless, technical challenges remain to make the fuel competitive with rival energy sources such as liquefied natural gas and batteries. According to BloombergNEF, so-called green hydrogen made from renewable energy costs between $2.50 and $4.50 per kilogram and that price is unlikely to drop to $1 per kilogram before 2030 to make gas using fossil fuels. The cost could be even higher in Japan, which may have to ship green hydrogen from cheap solar-powered countries such as Australia and Saudi Arabia.
Japan’s advantage as an early adopter is also waning as other nations jump on the hydrogen bandwagon.
According to the BNEF, the number of countries pursuing a hydrogen strategy to produce “almost everything” electrolyzers is on track to double this year. By 2022, shipments of electrolyzers, systems that break water into hydrogen and oxygen using electricity, are set to quadruple with China as the largest and cheapest manufacturer.
Europe aims to increase its renewable hydrogen production six-fold by 2024, and last year unveiled plans to channel hundreds of billions of euros in hydrogen investment. The French government has set aside 7 billion euros ($8.2 billion) to support green hydrogen development over this decade, while Germany has announced a massive 9 billion euro plan as part of its green recovery efforts.
Takaya Imai, a special adviser to Japan’s cabinet on energy and a former aide to former prime minister Shinzo Abe, said in a recent interview that the development of Japan’s hydrogen industry will require more financial support from the government if the country is to remain a leader. . field.
Last year the government allocated 2 trillion yen for investment in green technologies such as fuel cells and batteries to help meet the 2050 target. Imai said funding for decarbonization should be 3 trillion yen annually to support efforts such as building infrastructure and helping small and medium-sized manufacturers bear the cost of switching to hydrogen.
Panasonic chief executive Yuki Kusumi said in an interview earlier this year that he wants to see units that contribute to the environment — such as the fuel cell systems and electric vehicle batteries that the company provides to Tesla Inc. – Becomes a core growth area for the company.
It’s a long road, and Kawamura said the company will spend the next two years testing ways to reduce the cost of hydrogen procurement and production.
“It is challenging and will not bring immediate returns,” Kawamura said. “It’s an investment in the future.”
Source: Business Hala