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A global supply chain to drive the hydrogen society

Japan has completed the first transport tests of hydrogen liquefied by sea around the world, within the framework of an ambitious project with which it aspires to commercialize a supply chain from that energy source.

The project’s base of operations, which has attracted attention for its scale, unprecedented so far, is on an artificial island located near the airport of the Japanese city of Kobe, in the west of the archipelago, where the Suiso Frontier berth is located. , the world’s first liquefied hydrogen freighter.

The initiative has the support of the Government of Japan and Australia and is led by a consortium of seven Japanese companies led by Kawasaki Heavy Industries, which seeks to replicate its success as a builder of liquefied natural gas freighters with hydrogen.

“I think liquid hydrogen will play a huge role as we move towards carbon neutrality,” says Motohiko Nishimura, Deputy General Manager of Kawasaki Heavy Industries’ Hydrogen Strategy Division.

Japan is among the governments that have included hydrogen in their energy strategy to reduce polluting emissions. The country expects that this gas, which does not emit carbon dioxide when burned, will represent around 1% of the territory’s energy generation by 2030 and will increase in subsequent years.

Address polluting production

Hydrogen has long been used as a fuel in the aerospace industry. Its main uses are the refining of oil and the production of chemicals, while its demand in general sectors such as transport or energy generation continues to be limited, among other reasons due to its ecological implications.

There are many ways to produce hydrogen, but the most widespread are through coal or natural gas, which means that obtaining this source of clean energy implies generating carbon dioxide (CO2). How to capture, store or manage CO2 without releasing it to the atmosphere “is a very important point,” acknowledges Nishimura.

The hydrogen used in the project is produced from lignite, a type of coal, mined in the Latrobe Valley in the southern Australian state of Victoria. Carbon capture and storage technology is being used there. CO2 is absorbed by water, which becomes carbonated water that is stored in an aquifer.

The hydrogen obtained there is liquefied and transported to Japan in the aforementioned cargo ship. The first transport tests began in June and the ship successfully traveled the 9,000 kilometers of distance for 16 days until it unloaded the hydrogen in Kobe.

The tests will continue to be developed during 2022 to verify the validity and safety of the technology used and study its commercialization feasibility, which aims to begin in 2030.

The Suiso Frontier currently has a capacity for 1,250 cubic meters of hydrogen, but work is already underway on a larger freighter that has four tanks, instead of one, and allows that quantity to be multiplied up to 160,000 cubic meters.

The tanks keep liquid hydrogen at -253 degrees Celsius, below -162 degrees Celsius, which allows the cargo to be compressed to 1/800 of its volume in the gaseous state, so it “performs ten times better” explains Nishimura.

Reduce costs

The massive acquisition of hydrogen at affordable prices is key to achieving a hydrogen society, a source of energy whose potential has been in the spotlight for decades but which has not yet come to fruition.

The facilities required for their management are more expensive than those of other resources currently used, which places their price approximately twice that of natural gas. The company aims for this supply chain and advances in hydrogen production to help cut the price by 70% by 2030.

For this, Nishimura considers that policies and financing are needed to support the development of hydrogen, and qualifies the demand from the electricity sector as key.

Japan currently consumes several million tons of hydrogen per year, but “only a portion is distributed, between 10,000 and 20,000 tons,” explains the Japanese. The rest is used in oil refining processes or semiconductor production. Consumption is limited to internal use in the factories that produce it.

With the supply chain, the company intends to establish a structure to promote its use on a large scale.

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