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March 16, 2019All eyes are on Hydrogen Energy

Accelerated effort towards a Hydrogen Society

On October 23, 2018, the world’s first international conference on the use of hydrogen, Hydrogen Energy Ministerial Meeting, was held in Tokyo. Joining the ministers were over 300 members from the auto and energy industries, the governments, and research. As MHPS is currently driving the practical application of large-size hydrogen gas turbine, its executive vice president and CTO, Chief Technology Officer, Akimasa Muyama, gave a talk titled, “Upstream & Global Supply-chain for Global Hydrogen Utilization .”

There are increasing number of examples of hydrogen application coming out of Europe. In January 2017, the Hydrogen Council, a global initiative to position hydrogen as the new energy, was set up, which started with 13 world-leading companies in energy, transport, and manufacturing. As of September 2018, 53 companies have joined the initiative. With Mitsubishi Heavy Industriesbeing a supporting member of the Council, MHPS is also participating in the initiative as part of the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Group.

Why much expectation is riding on hydrogen energy

Why is there much focus on hydrogen energy? First of all, it’s an energy that greatly contributes to the issue of global warming as it produces no CO2 upon use. Secondly, it offers greater energy security. Japan is heavily reliant on import for the fossil fuel we use. On the other hand, we can expect to reduce the sourcing and supply risks as hydrogen can be obtained from a wide variety of sources, along with greater storage and transport potential.

So how is hydrogen produced? There are mainly three ways to produce hydrogen:

First, we have the hydrogen produced from fossil fuels. These are byproducts from the existing chemical factories as well as from reformulating or gasifying oil, natural gas, and coal.

The second method is to combine the hydrogen derived from fossil fuel with CCUS (Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage). This is the method considered for hydrogen production in the project MHPS is currently engaged in where a feasibility study is underway to convert the thermal power generation facility in the Netherlands which burns natural gas into a 100% hydrogen – fired power generation plant.

The third method is to produce hydrogen from electrolyzing water. If we use renewable energy for the electricity necessary for the electrolysis, no CO2 is emitted even in the production phase.

Muyama (MHPS) shared his projection where, “Given the future trend in hydrogen, I suspect hydrogen from fossil fuel using CCUS will be the common method in the mid-term. The cost reduction and technical advances in the long term will make hydrogen from renewable energy the norm.”

Shifting to hydrogen in power generation

Since the adoption of the Paris Agreement, the global effort to decarbonize or to realize a low carbon society is gathering pace and there is a growing expectation for electrical power generation to reduce their CO2 emission.

“What is the situation for power generation in Japan today?
Although we see a fast growing production of renewable energy from sun and wind, as of 2016, 83.6% of all energy is produced from thermal generation using fossil fuel (LNG, oil, coal, etc.)

Continuous efforts are being made to improve the efficiency of energy conversion from fuels. In the latest system gas turbine combined cycle (GTCC) power generation, the efficiency has reached around 64%, halving the CO2 production compared to conventional coal-fired power generation.

The plan is to continuously develop technology to improve the efficiency in thermal generation as well as expand the use of renewable energy. In addition, there is much expectation for the potential of hydrogen as the fuel for power generation as it can dramatically reduce CO2 emission.

Muyama (MHPS) says, “In the move to reduce CO2 emission in thermal energy generation in Japan, we would probably first deploy the method where we combine burning natural gas and hydrogen together and eventually shift to 100% hydrogen. By using the latest technology in thermal power generation, we must first stabilize the supply by converting fuel to hydrogen, which will evidently allow for CO2-free power generation.”

There are various application and possibilities in hydrogen, but one issue remains which is the cost. In the roadmap for “Basic Hydrogen Strategy,” the Japanese government has set a target of reducing the cost by a 1/3 by 2030 to 3$/kg (current station price: 10$/kg) when the international hydrogen supply chain is set up.

Muyama (MHPS) continued to say that “When you run a 400MW-class gas turbine combined-cycle power generation for a year, the hydrogen consumed will equal 2 million FCVs. The power generation will directly lead to massive hydrogen consumption, which will contribute to the cost reduction.” The use of hydrogen in power generation will reduce the cost of hydrogen production, which will potentially drive application in other areas.



Hydrogen as the Energy Carrier

The potential of hydrogen extends beyond being the secondary energy in power generation to be an “energy carrier” which allows energy to be stored and transported.

As the volume of power generated must be in par with the volume consumed, there may be excess energy produced from renewable generation given the unpredictability of nature. Being able to store hydrogen (gas) converted from such excess energy (power) will contribute to reducing the cost of hydrogen production itself. This process is called P2G (Power to Gas).

If this method is deployed, it is possible to “transport” energy, which is the hydrogen produced from the excess in the renewable power generation in locations where we have enough sunlight, wind, etc. (for example, in remote islands with no power grid or desolate area where energy consumption is limited with potential for excess energy). Being able to convert power generated from low-cost renewable power and other unutilized energy (lignite, by-product hydrogen, etc.) into hydrogen may also be an advantage for import into Japan. There are multiple options in hydrogen carrier which includes liquid hydrogen, MCH (methylcyclohexane), ammonia amongst others, and various research is underway across a range of fields.

The Future for Hydrogen

In June 2019, Japan will host the G20 where the role and the importance of hydrogen will be discussed in the “Ministerial Meeting on Energy Transitions and Global Environment for Sustainable Growth.”

Also, the Tokyo Olympic/Paralympic Games in 2020 will be a stage to showcase the potential of hydrogen energy in our daily lives. To realize a hydrogen based society, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has announced a target for the adoption of FCV, FC bus, hydrogen station as well as introduction of fuel cells in homes.

Globally, MHPS is taking part in a feasibility study in the Netherlands, where a 440MW large-scale natural-gas-fired gas turbine combined-cycle (GTCC) power plant is being converted into a 100% hydrogen-fired power generation plant by 2025. This will reduce the current CO2 production (1.3million tons/year) to almost zero.

When we look at the history of global energy policies, we can see a different source is chosen every few decades, which is reflective of our value during that time period. Energy changes with the times, and society evolves with it.

There is no doubt that the roadmap to realizing a hydrogen society will pick up pace as nations, businesses, and researchers continue to devote their knowledge, wisdom, and expertise for the future.