TOKYO -- Japan's JX Nippon Oil & Energy will build a nationwide hydrogen infrastructure encompassing everything from production to sales in order to support fuel cell vehicles and other technologies powered by nature's simplest element.
The company sees new technologies in production and transport as essential in order to bring costs to under half of current levels.
By 2018, it hopes to have developed low-cost production technology. It will roll out 10 production sites in Japan by 2020, including at its seven refineries in the country, so that it can supply the whole nation, from the northernmost main island of Hokkaido to the southernmost island of Kyushu.
Currently, hydrogen is extracted from oil or natural gas and can also be tapped from exhaust emitted by steel- and chemical-making processes, where it is abundant, employing such things as catalysts to separate impurities. The company is working to use special membranes to extract hydrogen in order to improve the recovery rate from 70% to almost 90%.
JX also aims to commercialize technology that will allow hydrogen to be transported as a liquid at ordinary temperatures and pressures. This would allow volume per shipment to be increased 2.5 times compared with current methods that transport the gas as a pressurized gas. The company could also use current gasoline tanker trucks and ships, reducing investment costs.
The company envisions gradually stitching together a network of some 2,000 hydrogen stations spread across the nation. It is opening its first one late this month at a gas station in Kanagawa Prefecture, and by the end of fiscal 2015 hopes to have 40 such locations mostly in the Tokyo area. The rollout would continue as JX watches how fuel cell vehicles are adopted.
Toyota Motor released the world's first commercially available fuel cell car, the Mirai, this month, and Honda Motor plans one next fiscal year. Toyota sees the cars becoming widely adopted in the 2020s. But in order for that to happen, there must be a high level of infrastructure in place.
Industrial gas trader Iwatani sells hydrogen for 1,100 yen ($9) per kilogram, a price that is on a par with the fuel cost of a high-end hybrid. But this is said to be unprofitable. Consequently, the government plans to loosen regulations on hydrogen stations to cut the cost of building them in half.