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Climate Change

'Turquoise' hydrogen offers Japan new path to decarbonization

Machinery maker Ebara to market solid carbon byproducts

Ebara is making inroads into pumps, compressors and other equipment used in hydrogen systems. (Photo courtesy of Ebara)

TOKYO -- Japanese industrial machinery maker Ebara is working on a new method to produce "turquoise" hydrogen, a potentially emissions-free version of the fuel, with the aim of commercializing it around 2026 to tap the global push toward decarbonization.

Most hydrogen produced today is extracted from fossil fuel sources through an extremely carbon-intensive process. But turquoise hydrogen is produced from methane contained in natural gas and biogas through a decomposition process called pyrolysis. Carbon produced in the process is in solid form, meaning it is not released into the atmosphere. 

The Tokyo-based company has teamed up with the National Institute for Materials Science, Shizuoka University and materials maker Taiyo Koko. The project is commissioned by the government-backed New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization.

The existing method extracts both hydrogen and carbon in the same reactor. Ebara looks to extract them separately, so it can obtain different types of solid carbon without impacting hydrogen output. A large-scale trial will start as early as next spring.

Solid carbon can be used in a variety of applications, from carbon black for strengthening tires to carbon fibers for cars and airplanes.

"We are weighing partnerships with carbon manufacturers as we aim to eventually start selling high-quality solid carbon," said Shinya Yoshihama, who handles marketing at Ebara.

Hydrogen production also can be classified as "green" -- generating the fuel by using renewable energy sources -- or "blue," which involves extraction from fossil fuels and uses carbon capture and storage technology to mitigate emissions.

Green hydrogen production generates no carbon dioxide, but is costly due to the amount of energy required, while the difficulty of carbon storage facilities remains an obstacle to blue hydrogen. Turquoise hydrogen has attracted attention as a lower-cost option to make the fuel without carbon emissions, depending on the source of the electricity used in heating the methane.

Ebara, which manufactures pumps and other equipment for hydrogen systems, launched a hydrogen business project in August last year directly overseen by the company's president. It sees turquoise hydrogen as key to its goal of contributing to a "sustainable society."

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