The government aims to set a standard for hydrogen intake systems for fuel cells by fiscal 2002 to spur the production of pollution-free vehicles, sources at the Ministry of International Trade and Industry said Wednesday.

Automakers have come up with a variety of hydrogen intake systems in their quest for emission-free cars. The ministry hopes that mandating one particular format will encourage competition among carmakers and streamline infrastructure development, the sources said.

Fuel cells generate electricity from a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen but emit water as their only byproduct, making them clean power sources.

The ministry will request that domestic carmakers and foreign companies that have already developed prototypes of fuel-cell vehicles submit data on their performance in two years.

The government will adopt the most effective intake design, focusing on fuel economy, durability and cost, the sources said.

Gasoline and methanol are seen as promising sources of hydrogen for fuel cells, but injecting the gas directly into such vehicles may result in an explosion, industry sources say.

Various methods being developed for generating and handling hydrogen include storing it in a special alloy that can be loaded onto cars, and installing removable devices in which materials decompose to produce the gas, the sources said.

Basic infrastructure to support fuel-cell vehicles, such as hydrogen stations, is planned to be in place by fiscal 2005. By 2010, the government aims to have fuel cells generating up to 2.2 million kw of electricity, which is equivalent to the amount that can be generated by two nuclear reactors.

Power demand rises

Electric power demand from large-lot industrial users in Japan rose 4.9 percent in March from a year earlier, extending its rising streak to eight months, the Federation of Electric Power Companies said in a monthly report released Wednesday.

Power demand from such users totaled 22.18 billion kwh, the federation said. The report covers Japan’s 10 major electric power companies.

The federation also announced power demand from industrial users rose 1.4 percent in fiscal 1999, which ended March 31, to 816.92 billion kwh, the first increase in two years.

Power demand from industrial users is seen as an indicator of economic activity, as power consumption tends to rise when the economy is robust and fall when it is weak.