The Yomiuri Shimbun--Fuel cell vehicles (FCV) with zero emissions are being hailed as the ultimate ecological cars. The spread of FCVs hinges on hydrogen stations (see below) providing fuel, but strict safety regulations are hampering their spread in metropolitan areas with high land prices.
At the urging of FCV stakeholders, therefore, the Natural Resources and Energy Agency is reassessing the requirements for establishing a hydrogen station.
“I try to refuel the car during the optimum time, but if there’s a traffic jam, it can take about an hour round-trip to the hydrogen station,” a senior administrative staffer at the Tokyo metropolitan government said with a sigh.
The metropolitan government is promoting the use of FCVs and has introduced six of the vehicles into its official fleet since February 2015. It plans to acquire more in the new fiscal year.
The Yomiuri Shimbun
However, Shinjuku Ward, the home of the metropolitan government, has no hydrogen stations. Staffers currently have to drive 15 kilometers round-trip to refuel at a hydrogen station in Suginami Ward.
The metropolitan government provides a subsidy of about ¥180 million for building a hydrogen station. It aims to have 35 hydrogen stations in Tokyo by the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, but there are now only six in the capital. The spread of hydrogen stations nationwide is also slow, with only 33 stations in existence, according to the agency.
Aichi Prefecture, the home of Toyota Motor Corp., which put the Mirai FCV on the market in December 2014, has Japan’s highest number of hydrogen stations with 10. It is followed by Tokyo and Kanagawa Prefecture with six hydrogen stations each.
In the Kansai region, there is only one hydrogen station each in Osaka and Hyogo prefectures.
The biggest obstacle for building a hydrogen station is the High Pressure Gas Safety Law and its regulations. Normal gasoline stations are required to have their gas pumps at least four meters away from public roads, but hydrogen station pumps must be at least eight meters away.
According to the agency’s high-pressure gas safety section, this is the necessary distance to ensure safety in case hydrogen leaks from the pump and ignites.
High land prices
The eight-meter clearance requirement is a high hurdle in urban areas where land prices are high.
Iwatani Corp., a major trading company for industrial-use hydrogen, opened a hydrogen station in April near Tokyo Tower in Minato Ward. According to the company, a Toyota affiliate company promoting the use of FCVs provided the about 1,000 square meters of land.
A hydrogen station operator in Tokyo explained the current conditions, saying: “This is mainly an advance investment in a promising field. It’s quite difficult to have a hydrogen station as a viable business in urban areas with high land prices.”
One way to alleviate such problems is by using a low-cost mobile hydrogen station. There are plans to have six more hydrogen stations in Tokyo within the current fiscal year, and one of them will be a large tanker truck fitted with a hydrogen fuel pump. It will commute to a refueling base to restock on hydrogen.
However, it only has enough hydrogen to refuel about four cars, so it can only be a temporary station.
The agency is therefore studying ways to ease the eight-meter clearance from public roads. One way is to allow the hydrogen fuel pumps to be closer if a protective wall is installed facing the road.
The Toyota Mirai retails for ¥7.23 million. With subsidies from the national and Tokyo governments, it can be purchased for about ¥4.2 million, but sales are not likely to increase much given the low number of hydrogen stations.
Tokyo University of Science Prof. Takeo Kikkawa, a specialist in energy industries, said: “To greatly increase the number of FCVs and fuel cell buses, many more hydrogen stations must be provided at the same time. Bold steps must be taken, such as providing Tokyo city-owned land for hydrogen stations.”
■ Hydrogen stations
A facility that refuels the hydrogen in fuel cell vehicles (FCV). Made from city gas, the hydrogen is compressed and stored in the station’s tanks. Due to the possibility of hydrogen leaking during refueling and causing a fire, the safety regulations are stricter than for normal gasoline stations. The Toyota Mirai FCV can run for about 650 kilometers on a full tank that costs about ¥5,000.Speech
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