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Energy

World's first liquid hydrogen carrier ship launches in Japan

Kawasaki Heavy's vessel will transport the next-generation fuel from Australia

The Suiso Frontier, the world's first liquid hydrogen carrier, is unveiled Wednesday at a port in Kobe, Japan. (Photo by Maho Obata)

TOKYO -- Japan's Kawasaki Heavy Industries debuted on Wednesday the world's first marine carrier that transports liquefied hydrogen, using technology that will vastly expand cargo capacity of the green energy source.

A crowd of 4,000 people gathered at Kawasaki's shipyard in Kobe for the naming and launch ceremony of the Suiso Frontier -- a name adopting the Japanese word for hydrogen. The vessel, measuring 116 meters long, will be fully completed next fall.

Kawasaki will later add tanks that will carry the hydrogen. By liquefying hydrogen at minus 253 degrees Celsius, the cargo can be compressed to one-800th of its gaseous volume.

The carrier will transport to Japan hydrogen produced in Australia from cheap coal, with trial shipments due to begin before March 2021.

Kawasaki's carrier will could be a game changer in a market poised to rapidly expand. Global demand for hydrogen will grow by a factor of more than 50 to around $3.75 billion in 2030, according to an estimate from market research firm Fuji Keizai.

Hydrogen, which produces no carbon dioxide when burned, is a promising fuel when it comes to reducing the carbon footprint. Middle East tensions are also driving demand for alternative energy sources.

Japanese trading house Marubeni and Electric Power Development, a domestic utility known as J-Power, have partnered with Kawasaki on the project, with energy major Royal Dutch Shell also on board.

Richard Court, Australia's ambassador to Japan, attended the launch ceremony, while Toyota Motor Chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada participated in the event as well. Toyota unveiled its latest version of its Mirai hydrogen fuel cell-powered sedan this October.

JXTG Holdings, Japan's largest fuel wholesaler, produces hydrogen from liquefied petroleum gas in Yokohama. The company supplies the fuel for 41 hydrogen stations across the country.

One obstacle keeping hydrogen from taking off has been the cost. Power generation using liquefied natural gas and coal remain significantly cheaper. For hydrogen to be as cost competitive as LNG, a global supply chain and mass shipments will have to be realized. Kawasaki plans to commercialize the liquid hydrogen vessel around 2030, and will develop larger vessels.

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