Brunell Comment: Japanese hydrogen pilot could work in Washington

From Don Brunell

The 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo were referred to as the “Hydrogen Olympics”. Then came COVID-19 and sporting events around the world were put on hold. The summer games have been postponed to 2021. Postponing the Games cost Japan billions and thwarted its efforts to present Japan’s “green growth” strategies.

Like the US, Japan wants to become climate neutral by 2050. While countries like China rely on lithium batteries, Japan’s core is hydrogen. While Japanese researchers develop new technologies that use renewable electricity from wind, solar, and hydropower to produce hydrogen, those projects could work in Washington as well. More on that later.

In the past 18 months, COVID-19 has changed everything. It’s not just the disease itself either – it’s the disruption in the supply chain, wrote Tess Joosse, editor at Scientific American (July 30). The ripple effect of the pandemic continues to “have a major impact on all kinds of industries in unexpected ways that no one could really have prepared for.”

Joosse added: “The Olympic Village, home of the athletes during the Games, should run on it. One hundred hydrogen-powered buses and 500 hydrogen-powered cars were to transport competitors and personnel between the venues. Even the Olympic flame would be carried by hydrogen-powered torches, which would complete the trip to light the hydrogen-powered cauldron in the Tokyo National Stadium. “

When the Olympics opened late last month, only one building in the Olympic Village was actually running on hydrogen and propane was used for part of the torch relay.

COVID-19 hasn’t dampened Japan’s enthusiasm for hydrogen evolution, Keith Wipke, a hydrogen and fuel cell researcher at the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory, told Scientific American. “I have certainly seen no evidence that Japan or any other country has stepped back from its fairly ambitious hydrogen pursuits – if anything, I think they have doubled.”

Japan built the world’s third largest economy on an industrial basis powered by imported oil, gas, and coal. However, its leader concluded that Japan cannot meet its zero emissions target from renewable sources like sun and wind alone, wrote Phred Dvorak of the Wall Street Journal. They rely heavily on hydrogen, mainly because it emits water, not carbon dioxide.

A key problem is that hydrogen doesn’t exist alone in nature, which means it has to be made from compounds like water or fossil fuels, added Dvorak. The most economical production at the moment is from natural gas and coal, but this also produces carbon dioxide. The long-term goal is to make hydrogen “green” by using electricity from renewable energy sources to break down water – but that’s more expensive for now.

Japan Works To Reduce “Green Hydrogen Production Costs” By Breaking Up Water Through Electrolysis; However, electrolysis uses a lot of electricity. A Japanese consortium began building a large (10 megawatt) renewable energy hydrogen production facility, the largest in its class in the world.

It will draw power from a large solar park (20 megawatts) that was built on the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster site. The 2011 earthquake measured 9.0 and the subsequent tsunami caused failure of the reactor system.

Hydrogen produced at the Fukushima Hydrogen Energy Research Field (FH2R) is also used to power hydrogen fuel cells in cars, buses, trucks, and possibly airplanes.

Although the system is also integrated into the power grid as a backup, it should use excess wind and solar power.

If successful, this pilot could find application in central Washington, where hydro, nuclear, wind and solar power produce large amounts of carbon-free electricity. Do you envision a series of green hydrogen production facilities in Washington that produce liquid hydrogen to replace gasoline and diesel?

Hopefully it could happen.


Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, author, and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at [email protected].

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