Japan plans ample support for fuel cell car technology

Jun 20, 2014

By Yoko Kubota


The Japanese government is planning to offer ample support to popularize fuel cell vehicle technology as Toyota Motor Corp and Honda Motor Co prepare to launch hydrogen-powered cars in 2015.

The government on Thursday drafted a timeline that spelled out targets and actions over the next 25 years to commercialize fuel cell vehicles and boost use of hydrogen energy in general.

The move comes as Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party considers supporting the technology through subsidies and tax breaks, so that by 2025 fuel cell vehicles can sell for around $20,000 or a little more, the same price as popular gas-electric hybrids.

A fuel cell vehicle, which runs on electricity generated from cells that combine hydrogen with oxygen, emits only water vapor and heat. The vehicles can run five times longer than battery-operated electric cars, and their hydrogen tanks can be filled in just a few minutes.

But they are expensive, and the lack of fuelling infrastructure could get in the way of a successful commercialization. In Japan, just a handful of hydrogen fuelling stations have been built due to strict safety regulations, high costs and the unclear outlook for demand.

The government aims to cut the price for building a hydrogen fuel station by half to around 200 million to 250 million yen ($2 million-$2.45 million) by 2020, the draft showed.

8 comments on “Japan plans ample support for fuel cell car technology

  • Hydrogen is one of the best zero carbon fuels, although it needs to be stored in pressurised tanks.

    As the OP points out, it burns to pure water which is non-polluting. Not only that, but it can be produced by electrolysis of water, using any form of green electrical generation. (Tidal, hydro, wind, solar, geothermal, thorium-nuclear etc.)

    As with other transport and automotive developments, it looks like the Japanese plan to develop and lead world markets, while the obstructive, foot-dragging, carbonaceous Luddites, of big oil and coal, hold back their own industries and economies.

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  • 2
    alaskansee says:

    One of the easiest things to understand and most important to recognise is that Hydrogen is not a fuel, let alone a “zero carbon fuel.” Hydrogen is a energy storage method not energy. If every car was magically changed over night to hydrogen we will have achieved very little if anything at all. Efficiencies of production is a massive part of the equation.

    “Hydrogen” does not exist on it’s own ready to be used into our vehicles, you have to make it in a process that requires real energy for an actual source of energy. If you use a coal fired electricity plant that’s the source of both the energy and the pollution! It would certainly be nice to make it with actual green electric power but that’s a separate problem that needs to be solved for hydrogen to become an energy storage method.

    Perhaps to be more optimistic solar power could be used during off peak times to generate hydrogen for peak times but again not really a car focused fix. Batteries are a big negative in both vehicle and solar panel use, I’d love them to be replaced with a better storage method.

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  • @ alaskansee – One of the easiest things to understand and most important to recognise is that Hydrogen is not a fuel, let alone a “zero carbon fuel.”

    I’m not sure what point you are trying to make here. Hydrogen is a manufactured fuel when it is combined with oxygen – either in a fuel cell or in a rocket engine – just like kerosene or petrol.

    Hydrogen is a energy storage method not energy.

    Using electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen can be viewed as an energy storage method – and a reversible process when combined with fuel-cells – like charging and discharging a battery.

    @ alaskansee – Perhaps to be more optimistic solar power could be used during off peak times to generate hydrogen for peak times but again not really a car focused fix.

    Solar power could be used for electrolysis or in combination with solar thermal heat. Dry tropical areas have huge potential.


    High temperature electrolysis is more efficient economically than traditional room-temperature electrolysis because some of the energy is supplied as heat, which is cheaper than electricity, and because the electrolysis reaction is more efficient at higher temperatures. In fact, at 2500°C, electrical input is unnecessary because water breaks down to hydrogen and oxygen through thermolysis. Such temperatures are impractical; proposed HTE systems operate between 100°C and 850°C.

    At current hydrocarbon prices, HTE can not compete with pyrolysis of hydrocarbons as an economical source of hydrogen.

    HTE is of interest as a more efficient route to the production of hydrogen, to be used as a carbon neutral fuel and general energy storage. It may become economical if cheap non-fossil fuel sources of heat (concentrating solar, nuclear, geothermal) can be used in conjunction with non-fossil fuel sources of electricity (such as solar, wind, ocean, nuclear).


    @ alaskansee _ If every car was magically changed over night to hydrogen we will have achieved very little if anything at all. Efficiencies of production is a massive part of the equation.

    Some manufactures seem to think the prospects are viable!

    Hyundai’s leading Fuel Cell technology
    With plans to manufacture 1.000 vehicles by 2015 and 10.000 more the following soon after, our sights are set firmly on bringing fuel cell technology to the mass market.

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  • Hi alaskansee,

    what you are saying is true however I think you may be underplaying the problems of oil, gas and coal extraction. These too are not energy neutral or ecological neutral processes. The advantage of hydrogen as a means of transporting embedded energy is that unlike hydrocarbons it can be made with little damage to the environment, there is no circumstance in which oil or coal can do the same (with the exception of making oil from sewerage etc). The real question is can you make a fuel system that supplies houses and cars with sufficient energy that is sustainable. The maths says you can. Fuel cells may well be part of that mix.

    Even if hydrogen is part of the problem currently – most of our hydrogen is currently produced by fossil fuel companies and they may well want to push this technology instead of batteries so they can maintain their business model into the future. But unlike oil anyone can produce hydrogen. There will be no need to fight wars over its extraction (a cost I note never seems to be factored into the cost of fuel). So your comment about “if you use a coal fired electrical plant…” contains the most important element “if” unlike petrol we actually have a choice how we produce it.

    I personally prefer straight battery technology – ultimately I would like to see ultra-capacitors developed to the point where they can replace batteries as there is very limited lithium (certainly not enough for everyone to drive cars full of it and similar geopolitical/environmental issues potentially that we currently have now with oil).

    Electric cars have the huge advantage that the motor technology is so efficient now, the only thing that could really improve them is making them even lighter (they are already light) they are really, really reliable (one moving part), so the battery which can be dropped in and out without significant design changes to the car itself means that cars themselves will not need constant redesign around new engine gear box configurations. So for me, adding a step between producing the electricity and the device we are storing it seems inefficient, but I’m sure fuel cells will have their place.

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  • Meanwhile, elsewhere:-

    Harley-Davidson invites public to test electric motorbike –

    Iconic motorbike manufacturer Harley-Davidson has revealed its first electric motorcycle. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-27926348

    The bike will not go on general sale, instead the firm will select customers from the US to ride it and provide feedback

    The bike – dubbed Project LiveWire – will travel down the US’s Route 66 visiting more than 30 Harley-Davidson dealerships between now and the end of the year.

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  • Also looking at inspirational figures from history:-

    First Porsche revealed to be an electric car from 1898

    Luxury automaker Porsche has revealed the first car designed by its founder was electric, in a show at its museum in Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen, Germany. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-25934289

    The car, made in 1898, was recently unearthed in an Austrian garage, where it had been stored since 1902.

    Some things go full circle!

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  • They’ll have to put in some sort of counter weight to make the thing vibrate like hell before the average Harley rider accepts it;) the reliability of electric bikes might be a bit out of character also but the vibrating counter weight should take care of that too. Actually its a very good thing they are doing this. Electrifying bikes makes enormous sense, good power to weight ratios you don’t need to haul a lot of batteries about. Range anxiety shouldn’t be as much of an issue simply because after 130 miles of riding I imagine you would be cold and tired, most times and a nice cup of coffee should be welcome, half an hour is not too unreasonable (should be taking a break then anyway). The criticism of soundless bikes is amusing as most fatal bike accidents happen because they are run into someone who wouldn’t have heard them anyway being inside a car and all, not to mention if you really wanted to all you would need is a speaker playing some sound constantly if this was really a consideration – my sound would be that of Beaker from The Muppets “mememememememememe,me, me, me, me, me! *Note the Doppler effect.

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