Fukushima trials to explore viability of hydrogen fuel network

Fukushima Minpo

Fukushima and the Fukushima Renewable Energy Institute (FREA) are kicking off a renewable energy project with a view to making the prefecture a hydrogen supply center by as early as 2016.

The project is a collaboration between the prefectural government and the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), the parent of FREA. It will test and refine a model of hydrogen-supply infrastructure, which would then be used in creating a functioning supply center.

AIST has come close to establishing viable technologies for the mass storage and transportation of hydrogen, one of the main hurdles in expediting hydrogen energy. It is now ready to test the model by examining possible infrastructure, including production, transportation and consumption, using the prefecture as the testing ground, the sources said.

It is thought that infrastructure developed could be used in supplying hydrogen to metropolitan areas by the time of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Hydrogen has come into focus in recent years with its ability to provide electricity without creating carbon dioxide, a gas blamed for global warming.

Under current technology, hydrogen is stored in a compressed or liquefied state. But it takes a large amount of electricity to compress it and liquefying it requires chilling it to minus 253 celsius.

Gaseous hydrogen, which is both flammable and voluminous, is unviable for large-scale transportation.

In 2013, using the financial support of the prefectural government, AIST started researching technologies to handle hydrogen in liquid form under ambient temperature and pressure by combining it with toluene to create a liquid called methylcyclohexane. This hydrogen “carrier” can contain the substance in a highly condensed form and ensure its safety during long-distance transportation.

The institute also developed a generator that can extract hydrogen from the carrier and obtain electricity from it.

Under AIST’s model, electricity generated using wind and solar power is used to perform electrolysis on water to obtain hydrogen, which is then combined into the carrier liquid. This is done at FREA.

The liquid is then transported to sites selected for the project, where an AIST-developed generator is used to obtain electricity. The power is then delivered to public facilities.

The project sites will be named by a study group. For now, cities including Koriyama, which hosts a number of AIST facilities, have been mentioned as candidates.

After developing the model, the participants also plan to expand the project sites to include municipalities in the prefecture that are still undergoing reconstruction following the nuclear disaster.

The latest project is being prepared under the central government’s Strategic Energy Plan, which calls for “establishing Fukushima as a center of the renewable energy industry.”

The Fukushima government has set a goal of having the prefecture’s entire energy needs covered by renewables by 2040 or so.

Experts say there have been few efforts so far to try out models for a hydrogen-driven society. As such, the latest project faces some uncertainties.

For example, it may take a long time to test the durability of the equipment to extract hydrogen from the carrier liquid and generate electricity.

“This will be the first time (these tests) will be conducted outside our lab, and therefore we may still have a lot of issues that we are yet to find out,” an AIST researcher said. “I would expect the project will take about three years, including the preparation period.”

This section, appearing every third Monday, focuses on topics and issues covered by the Fukushima Minpo, the largest newspaper in Fukushima Prefecture. The original article was published July 14.

  • Ahmed Shaker

    No advanced nuclear? That really hurts EROI figures.