Japan has been interested in hydrogen mobility for several decades. That avant-garde approach means that today it is one of the most advanced countries on the matter. That momentum is driven by the government, as well as automotive manufacturers and infrastructure suppliers. In Europe, German is also seen as a pioneer: the Federal Republic can even boast of being the European leader in number of stations. The country is so well covered that it can now push for an increase in the number of hydrogen vehicles on the road.
Since the accident at Fukushima, Japan has turned away from nuclear to commit to a new energy strategy. A "hydrogen society" is now being developed, but this line of thinking dates back more than a few years. In fact, the first discussions about using hydrogen as an energy source occurred in 1973. The "Moonlight Project" was implemented in 1978 to support research and development and to promote the marketing of fuel cells for transportation. In 1993, the "Sunshine Project" led to, among other things, the 2002 introduction of the country's first two hydrogen filling stations. Initiated in 1993, the "Sunshine Project" led to, among other things, the 2002 introduction of the country's first two hydrogen filling stations. As of 2019, Japan has 115 stations. This number is expected to grow rapidly in the coming years.
The Japanese government's strategic road map for hydrogen was presented in 2016 and supplemented in 2017 by the "Basic Hydrogen Strategy" sought by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, set forth a series of milestones: 160 stations and 40,000 vehicles by 2020 and 320 stations and 200,000 vehicles by 2025. The program is ambitious, but visionary. Now the country must start thinking about its energy independence. To speed up that process, a consortium was formed in 2018: Japan H2 Mobility, which includes about 20 companies, including three automakers (Toyota, Nissan and Honda), oil groups (JXTG Nippon Oil & Energy Corporation and Idemitsu Kosan) and infrastructure providers like Air Liquide. The goal is to centralize investments from private companies and government subsidies to accelerate the construction of filling stations.
In collaboration with the government, the consortium will accelerate initiatives for strategic development of hydrogen stations. Some 80 new filling stations should rise from the ground by 2021, of which 20 built and operated by Air Liquide. "We are thrilled to be assisting Japan, a country where we have been doing business for over a century, with its 'Toward a Hydrogen Society' strategy. Our involvement in the Japan H2 Mobility consortium is a logical extension of our actions on behalf of the hydrogen sector", noted François Darchis, Senior Vice President and Member of the Executive Committee at Air Liquide.
If Japan is a model student in hydrogen mobility, it is also because Japanese automobile manufacturers took an early interest in this energy source. In the late 1990s, they were already producing prototypes for light, fuel-cell powered vehicles. Mainly Toyota (with the Mirai currently) and Honda (with the Clarity) continue to develop them and are looking to have 800,000 vehicles on the roads by 2030. Toyota, which has been a driving force in the movement, is also working on hydrogen trucks and buses, which are still rare in the country.
"We are seeing that the countries where the strategy is the most developed are those which have both strong support from the government and high levels of commitment from automotive manufacturers and the energy industry. To take hydrogen mobility to the next level, there also has to be international impetus, along the lines of the decision made in June 2019 by the Ministers of the Environment of the G20 to intensify exchanges between their countries."
Germany's interest in hydrogen goes back to 2000, when the government decided to gradually abandon nuclear energy in power generation. It confirmed its intent in 2011 by announcing it would definitively close all its nuclear power plants by 2022 at the latest. In 2007, the "National Innovation Program for Hydrogen and Fuel Cells" was formed and a budget of €1.4 billion was adopted for the period 2007-2016. This made it possible to raise the number of hydrogen service stations from 15 in 2013 to more than 60 today
This means that Germany now has the most stations in all of Europe. And it has no intention of stopping there: it plans to have 100 by 2020 and then 400. The financial support from the government, and from the European Union, has been determining in this exponential growth. The H2 Mobility Germany consortium is also contributing significantly to the densification of the network. Of the 38 additional sites slated for the next few months, 34 are part of the "H2 Mobility" network. Air Liquide had already built eight stations in the framework of the "Clean Energy Partnership" (CEP) between 2012 and 2017. Through the consortium, the group continues to provide its technology for the next stations being built in Germany.
While the network's territorial coverage is exemplary, work still needs to be done to boost the number of hydrogen vehicles on the road. German automakers have not yet embraced the technology in the way of their Japanese and South Korean counterparts. However, Bosch, a top-tier auto parts supplier, has teamed up with Swedish company Powercell Sweden AB to produce fuel cells by 2022 at the latest. Daimler released its pre-mass production SUV Mercedes GLC F-CELL and continues to pursue the subject. Meanwhile, Audi (part of the Volkswagen Group) is working on its first "h-tron" model. Finally, BMW, which presented a i8 Hydrogen Fuel Cell prototype, is collaborating with Toyota on future standard production models.
Although light hydrogen vehicles are still under-developed in Germany, the country can be proud of its progress on hydrogen trains. Since September 2018, the world's first two Coridia iLint models, manufactured by Alstom, have been running in regularly scheduled service on a line operated by Landesnahverkehrsgesellschaft Niedersachsen (LNVG) and Eisenbahnen und Verkehrsbetriebe Elbe-Weser (EVB) in Lower Saxony. Starting in 2021, an additional 14 trains will be operated on that regional network. In Hesse, 27 units are expected for 2022.
The rise of hydrogen powered trains
Speaking in more global terms, hydrogen trains are starting to draw attention from a growing number of countries and regions. That is notably the case for France (the government wants to certify hydrogen trains by 2022), the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan and Malaysia. Hydrogen streetcar projects are also in the works in China.
Article published on August 28, 2019