Japan Must Compete in Global Race to Develop Related Technologies

The use of hydrogen energy, which emits no carbon dioxide when burned, is expected to be a trump card for decarbonization. The public and private sectors must work together to hasten the development of related technologies.

The government intends to revise its “Basic Hydrogen Strategy” as early as the end of May, with the aim of expanding the use of hydrogen. The draft revision presented by the government calls for increasing the supply of hydrogen to about 12 million tons per year by 2040, six times the current level.

The previous target was 3 million tons in 2030 and 20 million tons in 2050, but the government has decided to accelerate the expansion of hydrogen use by setting a new figure for 2040.

The draft revision also calls for a total public-private investment of ¥15 trillion over the next 15 years to build a hydrogen supply network, including transport vessels and industrial complexes. To lower costs, the establishment of a government subsidy system is also under consideration.

It is understandable that the government aims to encourage private companies to invest in the hydrogen sector by setting numerical targets and support measures.

The current strategy formulated in 2017 was the first national hydrogen policy established by a country in the world. Japan’s hydrogen technology is considered worldwide to be at a high level.

However, at present, hydrogen is used mostly to refine petroleum and for other purposes. Not much progress has been made in the use of hydrogen as an energy source.

Overseas, interest in hydrogen is growing at a rapid pace. Europe has compiled a strategy to produce large quantities of hydrogen, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has heightened the sense of urgency over energy security. The size of the investment plan is said to be in the trillions of yen range.

The United States is spending a huge amount of government funds on the development of a hydrogen supply network. China has also begun to focus on developing its hydrogen industry. Japan, which has been a leader in the field of hydrogen technology, must not fall behind other countries.

First, it is hoped that hydrogen will be used in thermal power generation. Power generation companies are developing technology to burn hydrogen mixed with liquefied natural gas. It is hoped that this technology will be commercialized as soon as possible.

In the steel industry, where carbon dioxide emissions are high, feasibility tests are being conducted using a new iron-making technology that reacts iron ore with hydrogen. Industry-wide efforts are needed.

The government should adopt a variety of support measures to expand the use of hydrogen, including the popularization of fuel cell vehicles that run on hydrogen.

Hydrogen is extracted from water through electrolysis, making it a valuable energy source for Japan, which has limited natural resources. However, electricity is required for electrolysis. To accelerate decarbonization, it will be vital to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy as a power source for electrolysis.

The cost of renewable energy is higher in Japan than in Europe and the United States. It will also be necessary to utilize nuclear power generation, which does not emit carbon dioxide either.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 28, 2023)