The world's first liquefied hydrogen carrier made its official debut at a shipyard in Japan, a small step toward tapping the carbon-free energy potential of the lightest element.

Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd. christened the tanker Suiso Frontier during a ceremony at the Kobe Works yard on Wednesday. The ship will be used for technology demonstration to establish an international hydrogen energy supply chain, Kawasaki said in a press release, by shipping the fuel from Australia to Japan. Construction is expected to be complete by late 2020.

Hydrogen can be produced using water and electricity, and then stored and shipped and re-used to generate power, allowing countries with little space for wind and solar equipment to still receive carbon-free power. It can also help decarbonize a range of sectors, from long-haul transport to steel-making, from which it's otherwise difficult to remove emissions.

However, it's also volatile and flammable, while current production techniques are polluting and costly, the International Energy Agency said in a June report that touted the fuel's potential. Policies and incentives should be put in place now to help reduce costs and scale up the sector, the agency recommended.

The ship will have storage capacity of about 1,250 cubic meters, less than 1 percent of the size of liquefied natural gas carriers. The vacuum-insulated, double-shell tank will be able to hold hydrogen chilled to minus 253 degrees (-423 F), which shrinks the volume of the gas to 1/800th of its normal size. The ship will run on diesel.