The Tokyo Metropolitan Government is setting up a ¥40 billion fund to promote the use of hydrogen energy and promote Japan’s ecological technologies ahead of the 2020 Olympic Games.

The fund, according to the draft fiscal 2015 budget, is intended to cover the cost of building hydrogen stations, promoting fuel cell vehicles and providing fuel cells for business and industrial use.

Experts view hydrogen as a prime energy source because it does not emit carbon dioxide when burned and emits only water as a byproduct. It also contributes to energy security because hydrogen can be sourced from all over the world.

There are high expectations for hydrogen, but there are also many hurdles to overcome, including how to lower the cost of using it. Here are some questions and answers about Tokyo’s campaign.

What is the metro government’s goal?

Tokyo Gov. Yoichi Masuzoe pledged last year to promote the use of hydrogen energy as much as possible by 2020.

“Our duty is to make hydrogen energy more widely used by the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics,” said Makoto Fujimoto, director of planning in the metro government’s environment bureau in the Urban Energy Management Division.

“But it’s not that we’re doing it just for the Olympics. It’s to promote the energy, make it sustainable, and bring about a ‘hydrogen society’ in Japan in the future.

“We believe Tokyo needs to be the pioneer and the driving force for Japan. Thus, Tokyo has come up with an original plan. For example, we are trying to introduce the very first fuel cell bus in Tokyo,” he said.

The metro government held five meetings with a panel of academics and businesspeople involved in hydrogen energy last year. They compiled a road map in November and will wrap up the discussions at their last meeting on Friday.

Is the central government also pushing hydrogen?

Yes. The central government last April adopted a new energy policy that includes plans to reduce Japan’s dependence on nuclear power as much as possible while it recovers from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, while simultaneously boosting the use of renewable energy, particularly hydrogen, with a goal of having the gas in widespread use by 2050.

What hydrogen-promoting steps are in store for the 2020 Games?

Tokyo plans to have 6,000 FCVs and 100 fuel cell buses operating in the capital during the Games.

The buses will be used to transport athletes between the Olympic Village and the stadiums and other venues where they will compete.

The process started with the November debut of the Mirai, the world’s first commercial FCV.

The Toyota Motor Co. sedan sells for about ¥7 million, but the central government is offering a ¥2 million rebate.

Honda Motor Co. plans to release a FCV in fiscal 2015 and Nissan Motor Co. will follow suit in 2017.

What other hydrogen-related plans are afoot?

Tokyo plans to set up 35 hydrogen stations by 2020, especially near Olympics- and Paralympics-related stadiums, so the venues will run on hydrogen power, just like the buses and other vehicles.

But Fujimoto said it is difficult at the moment to find land for building hydrogen stations in areas where Olympic venues are being planned.

The first station was set up by Tokyo Gas Co. in December in Nerima Ward. Other stations will open in the next few months in the western suburb of Hachioji, as well as in Suginami and Minato wards.

According to Fujimoto, Tokyo will continue searching for land to build new hydrogen stations by 2020.

How realistic is the “hydrogen society” goal?

“Although the Olympics and Paralympics will offer a good opportunity for Tokyo to get more people to use hydrogen (energy), it is only the very beginning of a much longer plan to bring about such a society in Japan,” said Harumi Hirai, senior economist at the Institute of Energy Economics, Japan, in Chuo Ward, Tokyo.

“I think Tokyo’s plan can be realized by 2020, but Japanese society as a whole needs to understand more about hydrogen energy in the long term,” he said, noting the hydrogen supply chain differs from that of gasoline and diesel fuel and that building hydrogen stations is much more expensive and thus harder to glean a profit from — a factor that makes firms hesitant to enter the market.

Compared with regular gas stations, hydrogen stations require compressors and hydraulic accumulators to help pool hydrogen in their tanks, making them much costlier and more hazardous in terms of safety, Hirai said.

“To make hydrogen energy something anyone can use, the whole society (must get on board) — from the national to the municipal level,” he said.

What key considerations are needed to create a hydrogen society?

Hirai said there needs to be “a clear vision of how and from where hydrogen will be (acquired), and concrete measures of how governments — both central and local — would continue to subsidize the use of hydrogen.”

He also said that it was quite meaningful for Tokyo to be working on Japan’s first trial promotion for hydrogen because other municipalities can learn from the effort.

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