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Hydrogen power in Japan poised for boost from new supply tech

Kawasaki Heavy aims to sell country's first liquefier by 2020

A Toyota fuel cell vehicle. Liquefied hydrogen is easier to transport and can be immediately used as fuel for cars or electricity generation.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Kawasaki Heavy Industries looks to bring the first hydrogen liquefier made by a Japanese company to market around 2020, Nikkei has learned, a development that could spur wider use of the fuel in power generation and cars.

The heavy equipment maker has been developing equipment that liquefies the gas by cooling it to minus 235 C. Although the liquid requires specialized ships to transport, it offers high purity and can be immediately used in fuel cells and power plants, according to the company.

Liquefaction allows hydrogen to be transported in bulk by shrinking its volume to one-eight hundredth of its gaseous state. Hydrogen produced as a byproduct overseas -- at a chemical plant, for example -- could be shipped to Japan as clean energy.

Kawasaki Heavy's prototype equipment improves liquefaction efficiency by nearly 20% compared with existing models, and increases daily output to 25 tons from 5 tons. The company will begin selling the equipment after further testing.

Using its expertise in natural gas liquefiers and storage, Kawasaki Heavy will offer everything from tanks to piping for a hydrogen energy supply chain.

Buyers will likely include energy companies. Construction costs for a hydrogen liquefier producing 5 tons daily range from 3 billion yen to 4 billion yen ($27.3 million to $36.3 million), according to Kawasaki Heavy. The company aims for annual hydrogen-related sales of over 100 billion yen in fiscal 2030.

The adoption of hydrogen energy is still to come. The Hydrogen Council, a global initiative led by Royal Dutch Shell and Japan's Toyota Motor, estimates that investments of $190 billion in production and transport infrastructure is needed to create a worldwide "hydrogen society" by 2030.

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