March 16, 2017 10:00 am JST

Japan's engineering giants aim to make clean energy cheap

IHI and Chiyoda are developing hydrogen power plant, fuel stations

Chiyoda is developing low-cost technology to deliver hydrogen to fuel cell vehicles.

TOKYO Plant engineering companies IHI and Chiyoda are devising cost-efficient ways to utilize hydrogen as an energy source -- a potential breakthrough for broader use of the carbon-free energy.

IHI aims to bring an ammonia-fueled hydrogen power plant online around 2020. The system will directly burn a mixture that is one part ammonia and five parts methane gas for a 20% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. Ammonia, a compound of nitrogen and hydrogen, can be compressed at ambient temperatures, making it easier to transport.

IHI plans to spend around 1 billion yen ($8.69 million) this year to set up a gas turbine, ammonia tank and other equipment at a research and development site in Yokohama. Trial operations are scheduled to begin in the fiscal year starting April 2018.

Chiyoda, meanwhile, is developing fuel stations that will be able to supply fuel cell vehicles with hydrogen at low cost. The company is also targeting completion by 2020. Development of these fuel stations involves synthesizing a compound known as methylcyclohexane (MCH) -- which can be stored and transported at an ambient temperature -- from hydrogen and toluene. MCH can be compressed to one-five-hundredth of its original volume for transport by tanker or other means.

To transfer the hydrogen to vehicles, each fuel station will feature special equipment developed using proprietary technology. This equipment is expected to have a per-unit processing capacity of 30 cu. meters per hour. Chiyoda eventually hopes to combine multiple units to process 300 cu. meters per hour, as it takes 50 cu. meters of hydrogen to fill a single vehicle. The company will spend 200 million yen to 300 million yen to install test equipment at an R&D site in Yokohama this summer.

With the Paris climate change agreement entering into force last fall, hopes for hydrogen energy utilization are growing. But the high cost of installing a hydrogen station -- more than four times that of a gasoline station -- has slowed momentum. Japan, for example, has fewer than 100 hydrogen stations.

(Nikkei)

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