Elon Musk may think hydrogen-powered vehicles are rubbish, but Toyota Motor Corp. and a cadre of Japan's leading manufacturers are betting otherwise — and not just on cars.

With the blessing of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Toyota is at the forefront of Japan's efforts to use hydrogen and fuel cells to power cars, heat homes and keep factories running. Other companies pursuing the technology include Panasonic Corp., Toshiba Corp. and JX Nippon Oil & Energy Corp.

Japan's enthusiasm for hydrogen contrasts with growing momentum for electric cars in the U.S. and Europe, where automakers from Volkswagen AG to General Motors Co. are working on dozens of models due to be released in the next few years. It's one of the few ways the nation can both cut emissions and its reliance on imported fuels as it winds down nuclear power following the meltdown at Fukushima.