The launch date for hydrogen filling stations has been bumped up to accelerate the development of pollution-free vehicles that will run on the gas, officials of a semigovernmental body said Thursday.

The New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization, affiliated with the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, plans to begin operating the next-generation gas stations in the fall of next year, 18 months earlier than planned.

Hydrogen is seen a promising alternative to gasoline because it can be used to generate electricity in a chemical reaction with oxygen. The battery, known as a fuel cell, emits water as its only byproduct.

NEDO also plans to speed up studies with automakers on developing fuel cell vehicles so Japan can catch up to other industrialized nations that have already introduced hydrogen-powered buses.

A pilot station for extracting hydrogen from natural gas will be located on the premises of Osaka Gas Co. in the city of Osaka, and another one for extracting hydrogen from water will be erected on the premises of a Takamatsu, Kagawa Prefecture-based affiliate of Shikoku Electric Power Co., the officials said.