THP-E187: France’s Pink Hydrogen Obsession and What Happened To Japan’s Hydrogen Ambition?

February 06, 2023 • Paul Rodden • Season: 2023 • Episode: 187

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Welcome to The Hydrogen Podcast!

In episode 187, I disagree with Popular Mechanics take on Japan’s hydrogen society, and France leads the push for nuclear powered hydrogen. All of this on today’s hydrogen podcast.

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I disagree with Popular Mechanics take on Japan’s hydrogen society, and France leads the push for nuclear powered hydrogen. All of this on today’s hydrogen podcast.

So the big questions in the energy industry today are, how is hydrogen the primary driving force behind the evolution of energy? Where is capital being deployed for hydrogen projects globally? And where are the best investment opportunities for early adopters who recognize the importance of hydrogen? I will address the critical issues and give you the information you need to deploy capital. Those are the questions that will unlock the potential of hydrogen. And this podcast will give you the answers. My name is Paul Rodden, and welcome to the hydrogen podcast.

In an article in Popular, Darren Orf’s writes, Japan tried to build a hydrogen society, it backfired spectacularly. Darren writes, in the past couple decades, scientists and engineers have come up with lots of ways to rapidly decarbonize the planet, but some ideas are better than others. Take for instance, hydrogen, thanks to the discovery of electrolysis hydrogen has been a known source of energy for centuries, but Japan became a front runner in that energy source in recent years. Because of its status as a resource poor country. A steady supply of renewable energy isn’t just an important climate initiative, it’s a matter of national security. However, Japan may have taken things a bit too far. In 2017, the country became the first in the world to adopt a national hydrogen plan, and companies like Toyota have committed to constructing futuristic cities powered by the technology.

In 2021. Alone, Japan spent around $800 million on investments in the hydrogen power and fuel cells. But according to the Renewable Energy Institute, Rei, a Japanese environmental think tank, the push to use hydrogen and every conceivable energy sector is actually doing more harm than good. According to the report, the 2017 basic hydrogen strategy is misguided, both in terms of what hydrogen is used for and how it’s produced. Moreover, it promotes the use of gray hydrogen, which does not contribute to emission reductions. Gray hydrogen is the most common form of hydrogen production, which uses the greenhouse gas methane. The 20 page report doesn’t argue for hydrogen is complete removal from the energy mix. And in fact, Rei argues that hydrogen is vital for industries where decarbonisation is particularly tricky. Think aviation, shipping and steelmaking. However, to use hydrogen in place of electrification, via other renewable sources is a mistake. Rei says. The report continues the scope of applications where energy demands can be met with electrification has grown, and the range of areas that need hydrogen have decreased. This has led to a common understanding worldwide, that hydrogen should be limited to applications where it’d be difficult to achieve decarbonisation with other methods. Darren writes, the report identifies Bad Idea applications that have already gobbled up 70% of the country’s hydrogen budget, things like hydrogen cars, refueling stations and residual power systems. Adoption of this hydrogen technology has lagged far behind Japan’s estimations, and the report argues that fuel cell cars will hit just 1/40 of their sales target.

By 2030. This lopsided interest in hydrogen could also be harming the country’s solar panel adoption. As the report notes Japan lags behind European peers when it comes to building out its solar infrastructure. Rei punctures the often reported facts about Japan’s utopian s hydrogen society. It’s unlikely the report will put a stop to mega projects like Toyota is woven city, but those cities might not live in the great energy future they have imagined. Okay, so I came across this article and it really got me thinking. First and foremost, I think the title of this article is extremely misleading. It says it backfired spectacularly, the hydrogen society in Japan, I think that’s false, especially as Popular Mechanics dives in so much into the REI report, where it says that hydrogen is still key in decarbonizing several different industries. The author also says that Japan may have taken things a bit too far. Now, Japan did create the world’s first national hydrogen plan. But now nearly all global superpowers have also adopted a hydrogen plan. They also call out Toyota for committing so much to the hydrogen infrastructure. But now almost every auto manufacturer around the world has some kind of fuel cell application in development. Now, did Japan jump the gun on a few things?

It’s entirely possible. But just because they’re first to market doesn’t mean they’re wrong. They just may be ahead of their time. And I think it’s also important to put in context, why Japan initiated their hydrogen plan, and not to discount the Fukushima nuclear disaster in that plan. After that happened, Japan had an emergency need for energy and had to rely on coal. And also, while this article talks so much about the use of gray hydrogen, that is still leaps and bounds cleaner than burning coal for energy. Now, with all this being said, I think it’s also important to note that a reevaluation should be due to look at the last five years since the national hydrogen plan was developed in 2017, and reevaluate where that hydrogen should be allocated. So then do I think Japan’s hydrogen society has backfired? Not at all. I think now more than ever, is a great time to push forward.

Next, in an article from, Kate Abnett writes, France leads push for EU to boost nuclear produced hydrogen Kate writes, France is leading a campaign for the European Union to recognize low carbon hydrogen produced from nuclear power and its renewable energy rules. But some member states oppose the idea for fear of undermining efforts to quickly scale up wind and solar ministers from France, Poland and the Czech Republic and six other EU countries wrote to the European Commission this week, urging it to open up EU renewable energy targets to include hydrogen produced from nuclear energy. EU countries and lawmakers have been preparing for negotiations next week on the law, which will guide the pace of Europe’s renewable energy expansion this decade. Eu Parliament’s lead negotiator has asked for next week’s talks to be delayed because the European Commission has still not published rules to define renewable hydrogen more clearly, which were scheduled for late last year. This according to EU officials on Friday. Scaling up emissions free hydrogen is key to the EU’s plan to cut co2 industries like fertilizers and steel production. Most of the hydrogen European industry is now used is produced from co2 emitting coal and gas. Hydrogen can also be produced from electricity. So the EU wants to set sectoral targets for hydrogen made from renewable electricity. The nine countries letter seen by Reuters said the EU should include nuclear energy, which is low carbon but not renewable. In a quote from the letter, which was also signed by Romania, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Croatia, Slovakia and Hungary.

We shall create equal incentives for renewable and low carbon hydrogen, renewable only objectives would indeed limit the speed of the development of our hydrogen economy. France has historically produced about 70% of its electricity from nuclear energy. The other signatory countries either already use nuclear power or plan to build their first reactors. At least nine EU countries oppose the idea among them, Germany, Denmark, Austria and Luxembourg. This according to officials. They argue the EU targets should solely focus on renewable sources like wind and solar to incentivize the massive expansion of renewables needed to cut Europe’s reliance on hydrocarbons, and a quote from one EU official who warned against diluting the renewables targets. It’s about renewables nuclear is not a renewable form of energy. Negotiators aim to approve the law in the next few months but disagree on other issues, including whether the EU should commit to get 40 to 45% of its total energy from renewable sources by 2030. Okay, so some interesting news on the ongoings of the hydrogen economy in Europe. Should we consider hydrogen electrolyzed from water but using nuclear energy be considered low carbon or renewable? Recently, I sat down with Joe Batir who is host of the OGGN podcast energy transition solutions. Now Joe is an expert in geothermal energy. And in this podcast, we talked about the applications of using geothermal energy to create hydrogen instead of wind and solar.

And I equated it similarly to nuclear power in that geothermal and nuclear power always have a source of energy where wind and solar are intermittent. To me using nuclear energy to develop hydrogen for mobile applications is a no brainer, and is one of the easiest, quickest ways if you have a reactor now to set up your hydrogen infrastructure. And what’s surprising me is that of the nine countries opposing the idea. The first one they list is Germany, which you would think of all the countries in Europe that would want to have more hydrogen available, it would be Germany as they seem to be buying it from anyone and everyone willing to sell it to them. And also, if you think geographically, the countries that are wanting this to go through, including Romania, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Croatia, Slovakia and Hungary, are countries that very much need to set up energy independence, especially with the turmoil going on right now, with Russia and Ukraine. Well, I’m going to be very interested to see what the EU decides next week, assuming they actually reach a decision next week. If that’s the case, I will make sure to report it to you.

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