/ |

Japan’s hydrogen energy hype

Much excitement is permeating within the industrial segments related to hydrogen energy, following the government’s announcement in June 2014 of the “Strategic Road Map for Hydrogen and Fuel Cells.” It calls for creation of a “hydrogen-based society” as a trump card to prevent a further global warming and designates 2015 as the “first year”of the age of hydrogen.

In reality, however, the clean image of hydrogen-based energy and its economic viability are much exaggerated.

The government and business enterprises are rushing to building a hydrogen society in order to create huge public works largely funded by government subsidies, and gain rights and interests from them.

Creating demand for a hydrogen fuel and distributing it would require infrastructure preparations of enormous scales like mass-marketing of fuel cell-powered automobiles, building networks of hydrogen supply stations, construction of hydrogen liquefaction plants and creation of transport systems for liquefied hydrogen.

In contrast, the popularization of electric vehicles would not require large investments. Although battery cars represent another candidate for the next generation of motor vehicles, they can rely on facilities already existing throughout the country to generate and transmit electricity and, besides, quick recharging stations can be built for only around ¥5 million each.

As the infrastructure needed for a broad use of hydrogen is virtually non-existent, hundreds of billions of yen would have to be invested in construction of new hydrogen plants throughout the country. In addition, ¥600 million will be needed to build one hydrogen station to supply hydrogen to fuel cell vehicles — 120 times more than the cost of setting up a quick charging station for battery cars.

With an eye on making the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games an arena to showcase Japan’s hydrogen energy technologies, the government is working on plans to run fuel cell buses around the sports facilities and expanding networks of hydrogen fuel supply stations in the four metropolises of Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka and Fukuoka.

Under the plans, the number of hydrogen stations will increase to 1,000 by 2025 nationwide from 100 in 2015, with the government bearing one half of the costs. This alone would represent splashing more than ¥300 billion in the taxpayer money.

In support of the plans, rosy statistics have been released by the government and think tanks. One corporation estimates, for example, that by 2020, the size of the fuel cell auto market will expand to the scale of ¥500 billion while the market for electric power generation using hydrogen will reach ¥900 billion.

Similarly, Deloitte Tohmatsu Consulting Co. forecasts that the sale of fuel cell cars will expand so rapidly that in 2025, 850,000 such cars will be sold in the United States, another 710,000 in Europe and 200,000 in Japan.

Lots of efforts are being made to drive home to the public the clean image of hydrogen as an energy source. The government is feverishly publicizing that hydrogen is the “ultimate clean energy source.” Hydrogen may appear to be the most appropriate substance to be touted as capable playing the principal role in building a carbon-free society because when it reacts with oxygen, only water is emitted. Moreover, some experts claim that if the exhaust heat is utilized in an energy supply system, the overall energy conversion efficiency could reach 90 percent, far surpassing 40 percent for thermal power generation.

These views would be correct if hydrogen was a primary energy source existing independently in nature. But hydrogen is a secondary energy source that must be obtained by reforming the composition and characteristics of hydrocarbons, which are the main components of natural gas and kerosene.

Since carbon dioxide is emitted in the process of producing this secondary energy source, it becomes clear that the government’s claim that hydrogen is the “ultimate clean energy source” is fishy.

Furthermore, hydrogen will have to be liquefied and refrigerated at 253 C below zero in order to be transported. This process would consume large amounts of energy and generate carbon dioxide. Thus it is no exaggeration to say that the claim of hydrogen being carbon free is a sheer fabrication.

Studies are being conducted on directly combusting hydrogen to power cars and generate electricity, rather than using it for fuel cells. Although no carbon dioxide is emitted in this process, nitrogen oxides, which form when nitrogen in the atmosphere combines with oxygen, are emitted, as in the case of gasoline-powered automobiles and thermal power stations.

Another shortcoming is the small size of the hydrogen molecule and a technological solution has yet to be found to prevent hydrogen leakage from pipe seams.

The aforementioned rosy statistics about the impact of the use of hydrogen on the economy are a pie in the sky because they are based on an optimistic assumption that all problems related to technologies and costs would be resolved easily. In other words, it represents a wishful thinking of those hoping to make windfall profits from colossal investments.

Some people say that even from a geopolitical standpoint, Japan is not fit to become a hydrogen society. European countries, for example, have closely meshed networks of pipelines that supply natural gas from Russia and they can easily obtain hydrogen with a simple method of reforming natural gas. The abundance of facilities to generate electricity through renewable energy sources, like solar and wind power, will make it possible to obtain hydrogen by using excess electricity to electrolyze water almost free of cost.

These processes are not feasible in Japan, which doesn’t have gas pipelines or excess electricity. As a result, it faces the high costs of obtaining hydrogen by reforming expensive liquefied natural gas and liquefied petroleum gas imported from the Middle East. There is no prospect in sight of the costs of producing hydrogen dramatically falling.

The recent fall in crude oil prices has reduced the cost competitiveness of hydrogen as an energy source. Moreover, hydrogen cars costing ¥7 million each cannot be expected to be sold in large volumes in the most competitive, Asian auto market.

If the present trends continue, fuel cell automobiles made in Japan may survive solely with large subsidies provided by the government and may be sold and used only in Japan.

In the long run, it is essential to continue research on fuel cells. Development of an alternative material to platinum, which is used as catalyst in the production of hydrogen but is the cause of the high costs, is necessary.

While a number of domestic organizations are engaged in such research projects, the government appears to be making the foolish move of providing subsidies to spread immature technologies that have not yet reached the level of practical use. This could turn out to be a repeat of a similar folly the government committed in the promotion of solar power generation.

Politicians, bureaucrats and business circles are all rushing to the hydrogen-related projects, for which huge investments will be made, on the pretext of “reducing reliance on Middle Eastern oil” and “creating a low carbon society.”

Ultimately, the taxpayers would have to pick up the bill for the public works projects the government will undertake blindly without assurance for their economic viability.

This is an abridged translation of an article from the January issue of Sentaku, a monthly magazine covering political, social and economic scenes.

  • The wild card in hydrogen technology is a company called *Solar Hydrogen Trends*, which claim to be able to use Low Energy Nuclear Reaction (LENR) to break apart the oxygen atoms in water into multiple hydrogen atoms, and do it at a very low cost. You can Google the company directly or Google *The Fusion Revolution* for details. Solar Hydrogen Trends claims that burning this low cost hydrogen gas for electricity would reduce our wholesale electric bill to just .3 cents per kilowatt hour. They claim “The technology provides a multifactorial hydrogen reactor with elevated hydrogen production due to a set of sixteen (16) physical and chemical processes, acting simultaneously on the hydrogen bonds. The hydrogen reactor uses water as main fuel and its emissions are 100% clean (clean air).”

    • R0ninX3ph

      I can almost guarantee that if it is supposed to reduce the cost to such a low amount, power companies would just instead pocket the profit difference and continue charging what they do now.

      • I think there is room for us to save money on power and still have the power companies and government make lots of profit too.

    • Starviking

      Colour me very skeptical. Where are the neutrons in this fission reaction? How are they causing such light atoms to fission? Light atoms need extra energy to fission – this should be an energy-eating process.

      On the other hand, you can pass electricity through water and get hydrogen and oxygen – which is what is probably happening here.

    • Sam Gilman

      Yay! I googled as you asked and I had a nice laugh. Thank you.

      The “Chief scientist”, one Konstantine Balakiryan, in addition to developing this scientifically impossible process which he has at various times described as “nuclear fission”, “nuclear fusion”, “electrolysis”, and “a chemical reaction”, has also claimed to have solved roulette and designed jeans to market to Kourtney Kardashian.

      My particular favourite was how Solar Hydro Trends claimed that this was their laboratory. Only it turns out it’s a stock photo of a bottling plant in China.

      My journey involved a tour of some very strange websites – part of a whole Free Energy woo fest that I didn’t know existed. Some of the website page designs are inevitably eye-stabbing.

      I love and hate the Internet. Full of cranks and people desperate to believe in them – when it’s harmless, it’s so much fun.

      • Professor Konstantin Balakiryan, PhD, is the founder and CEO of Solar Hydrogen Trends Inc. Konstantin was the head of the physics, chemistry, and mathematics department at the Russian University of Friendship in Moscow. “His primary research included study of fast processes in liquids and acoustical resonance; physical phenomena associated with acoustic waves in water solutions from infrasound to hypersound, and the use of acoustics as a tool to investigate other significant phenomena.” He has also has received medical patents, including techniques for enabling rapid healing of displasia. Konstantin Balakiryan speaks Armenian, which is his native language, and is fluent in Russian and Georgian. He can also carry on a reasonable conversation in English, Spanish, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, and Polish. The entire Solar Hydrogen Trends staff has excellent credentials, so those who would dismiss their claims as impossible might want to wait a little to see how this news plays out. Would such smart, well educated people really try to commit a fraud that could only end in their disgrace? At his advanced age, Konstantin certainly values his excellent reputation more than money. I have never tested their device and do not know for sure that it works as advertised, but I certainly do not dismiss their technology, which now has third party verification from at least two respected testing laboratories.

      • Sam Gilman

        Three questions:

        1. Have you verified his credentials? I cannot find any of his scientific articles anywhere. It looks like no one can.

        2. Why does it not bother you that the picture they give of their lab is actually a stock photo of a Chinese bottling factory?

        3. Are SHT not asking for money?

      • Unlike Christopher SHT claims don’t convince me. I need more evidence, first because none of the thousands of LENR experiments don by scientists goes in that direction… Anyway since LENR is not well understood, this is not to reject upfront, just to cross-check…

        There are much more serious claims by Cherokee subsidiary Industrial Heat, validated by Swedish physicist paid by local R&D consortium Elforsk.

        this seem to have triggered the fall of oil price that people try to rationalize.

        Many serious actors not only moves (a dozen do today), but some do it more or less in public… you can document yourself.

        Airbus join LENR-Cities
        Statoil, Steven Chu, and Brillouin at the same meeting
        Pekka haavisto (Finish Green ex-minister) and Brillouin…
        NTVA/TEKNA meeting with McKubre (SRI) , Essen (who tested Cherokee reactor, E-cat), to discuss how to reorient Norway’s economy out of oil

        In LENR-Cities Oxford meeting there was mainstream (financial) press, and UK mainstream academic. I cannot say who, but I advise people to read financial press and not nature/science anymore who is more like the Vatican of science. For academic, I was suprised to know who was there.

        Japan is active, like China.
        Toyota and Mitsubishi have good researchers who collaborate.
        Mizuno and cleanenergy claim much more realistic results than SHT.
        Japan is probably preparing something.

        China have an agreement about a technology transfer structure in Tianjin, with Cherokee (Tom Darden) about that LENr Nickel Hydrogen clean energy…

        I know another Asian country of major importance who prepare something, with a focus on their long term strategy. Stay tuned.

        Since Navy worked for long around LENR (NRL, Spawar), and SRI collaborate with Brillouin, navy and ENEA, I cannot imagine they don’t prepare something to face Cherokee.

        India have blocked research like Russia, after US academic succeed in their smear campaign, but in India and Russia there is huge efforts to pass the blocus.

        CurrentScience of india is published LENR papers in next issue .
        Russian scientists like parkhomov are working hard to replicate Cherokee E-cat and to promote the quality of their research…

        Bill Gates visited in public ENEA and Vittorio Violante the coordinator of LENR researches. Ther is hint in Gates foundation annual letter that he consider tha LENR is the solution for the next 15 years to have cheaper, no CO2, on-demand energy abable to solve climate and energy problem.

        Media don’t relay it seriously, but there is a groundwave among decision makers. The problem for those actors is that there is very influential trolls in academic clubs, on Wikipravda, on scientific comics, in media who inspire terror to decision makers. This is a groupthink to brea and groupthink theory (see Roland benabou on the subject) predict that violence of mindguards against realist increase with evidences.

        Don’t say you don’t have the data. Most is public, and the rest can be understood through weak signals.

        to be clear on SHT, if they have something real, I would be surprised… But this is a period of “never seen before”. so I’m cautious and just ask for evidences. AFAIK there is none. I have better to do than wait for them.

      • I call them a “wild card”. That means it is not 100% proven in my eyes. Do they themselves know if their reactor is real or not? Probably they do. Their staff passes my lie detector test. I believe that they believe that they really have something. Could it be a complex measuring error? Possibly. Could there be factors that make the technology unusable? Possibly. Could they all be pathological liars who are so self-deluded that they think they are telling the truth but are not? Possible, but unlikely. I am hopeful but not confident. Confidence comes after a long period of testing, and we only have a short period to make judgement on. If they can produce electricity with this device and have that verified by a third party, then that will be news. The third party needs to know all the ingredients and verify that the hydrogen is coming from water, not some other source. They say they will have a new test to report in April. I hope they do, but cannot say for certain that it will happen as promised. I just don’t see any reason for them to act as they are acting if they did not have something important. They cannot sell their technology to the US military if it does not work, and that is what they wish to do. Scams are usually run by just one or two idiots who have no real scientific background. These people are qualified, and they claim they discovered the phenomena by accident. That peaks my interest.

      • you have good arguments…
        this is uncertain, but uncertainty is a reason to investigate more, not less.

      • Do you know if the testing of the Solar Hydrogen Trends system was done under laboratory conditions.
        One guy is trying to say the measurements were only done at pool side and with very poor and un accurate testing systems. Revolution Green website
        I do not believe this my self, I don’t think a national testing company would work this way and release results that they were not sure of.
        I don’t care what we are charged for energy, the point is clean energy is very important right now.
        Sounds impossible well so did Cold Fusion / LENR to a lot of people.
        Time and a lot more testing will tell the truth.

      • tyy

        Balakiryan is either a scammer or a complete crackpot.

      • Crazy people exist, but he has a dozen associates with excellent credentials and his credentials are excellent as well. It is difficult for me to understand their company as a scam. There are scams out there like the noble gas engine. Those scams are usually run by just one or two people with no real background in science and no accomplishments. Idiots run scams. These people are clearly not idiots. They want to sell their technology to the US military. Are they really trying to sell an empty bag to the US military? That would be insane. They must believe they have something.

        The too good to be true factor is there. But remember that the massive oil fields of Saudi Arabia were discovered by pure accident. Was that too good to be true? They were looking for water but found oil instead. Solar Hydrogen Trends claims they were looking for a way to remove gold from nature (ore I presume) at high efficiency and produced cheap hydrogen gas instead by pure accident. That interests me. Time will tell what is true and what is not. I am hopeful and open minded, but not confident. Confidence takes time to build up.

    • tyy

      LENR is woo, a lunatic dream at best, and scam at worst. Nothing else.

  • greenthinker2012

    Ammonia NH3 would be a better choice of synthetic fuel. The infrastructure technology has been developed from the farming sector. It is easier to liquify than H2 and stores more energy per unit volume.
    To access the Hydrogen the NH3 molecule is split, releasing Nitrogen gas as a waste product. The Hydrogen can be used in a fuel cell.

  • zer0_0zor0

    Creating demand for a hydrogen fuel and distributing it would require infrastructure preparations of enormous scales like mass-marketing of fuel cell-powered automobiles, building networks of hydrogen supply stations, construction of hydrogen liquefaction plants and creation of transport systems for liquefied hydrogen.

    Given the advantages, what is so difficult about that?

    Toyota will prove the pundits wrong.

    • Starviking

      Hydrogen makes metals brittle. Hydrogen easily escapes from storage because the molecules are small. Hydrogen is produced from hydrocarbons. Storing large amounts of hydrogen requires expensive cryogenic facilities.

      That said, it would be great if Toyota succeeds – but success is in no way guaranteed.

      • zer0_0zor0

        Yeah, those sound like good points. But I think it should be born in mind that with materials like grapheme coming online in the very near future, some of the issues will be dealt with. “Expensive cryogenic facilities” sounds like a bottleneck, though.

        But also, isn’t there two aspects to this technology? The other being that the hydrogen can be generated onboard by breakingdown water through electrolysis once there is technology capable of doing that? Maybe I’m living in a scifi dream…

  • No one is going to believe it fully until they have usable products. They have stated many times that the phenomena is LENR, which may be a combination of cold fission and cold fusion in their case. We do not yet have test results on their spent fuel to see if the neutron count in the metal lattice they use goes up. They are using hypersonics as well as (probably) RF to stimulate the LENR process in a metal lattice. They were trying to find new ways to extract gold from ore and discovered that their device produced copious amounts of hydrogen gas. Andrea Rossi intentionally worked to discover an effective LENR process. They found their process by accident. Their story holds up, and there are over a dozen scientists involved here and at a Romanian university. It may come to nothing, but if it is real, the world will change incredibly quickly. If you think the price of oil has dropped now, wait and see what happens if and when they start selling these devices.