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Japan Gears Up Hydrogen Infrastructure, Fuel Cell Vehicle Development, and an International Conference

Japan, a world leader in fuel cell technology, continues to provide a venue for fuel cell innovation – the Japanese government has embarked on widespread enhancements to national fuel cell infrastructure, Japanese automotive giant Toyota has announced a collaboration with BMW in the development of green vehicle battery technology, and Tokyo is preparing to host World Smart Energy Week set to take place next month.

Japan’s hydrogen station plan

The Japanese government is in the process of making fuel cell technologies more accessible and user-friendly. Recent intensive fuel cell initiatives have taken off for a variety of reasons. The nation, which rivals the United States in fuel cell development (surpassing the USA in fuel cell patents between 2000 and 2010), hopes that these efforts will complement their booming fuel cell industry. Fuel cell development is also hoped to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, as well as decrease Japan’s dependence on nuclear power in the wake of the 2011 earthquake that caused the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant disaster.

The Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) has requested that the fiscal 2013 budget include appropriations for the establishment of approximately 100 hydrogen fueling stations in Tokyo, as well as efforts to develop a low cost hydrogen supply system. JX Nippon Oil & Energy Corp. is leading this endeavor, with plans to open 40 of the hydrogen refueling stations. METI has requested the equivalent of about $400 million be allocated to the project, which it hopes will be completed by 2015. This timeframe coincides with the projected commercial sale release date of several new fuel cell vehicles.

Toyota/BMW fuel cell collaboration

There is exciting fuel cell news from Japan’s private sector as well. Automotive giant Toyota has announced plans to collaborate with BMW in the development of fuel cell technology.  In a statement summarizing the proposed joint fuel cell development project, Toyota explained, “BMW Group and TMC are to share their technologies and to jointly develop a fundamental fuel-cell vehicle system, including not only a fuel cell stack and system, but also a hydrogen tank, motor and battery, aiming for completion in 2020.” The partnership between Toyota, which has been producing fuel cell vehicles since 1996, and BMW, which has been producing fuel cell vehicles since 2002, is an indicator of the auto industry’s increasing role in shaping the future of fuel cell research and development. The industry certainly has an incentive to take the lead; according to a recent Fuel Cell Today report, sales of automotive fuel cells are projected to dominate the entire fuel cell industry once they are released for commercial sale.

World Smart Energy Week conference in Tokyo next month

Next month, Tokyo will host World Smart Energy Week, the world’s leading renewable energy conference, which includes the 9th International Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Expo. The event is one of the largest industry conferences and draws energy innovators from around the world; so far, exhibitors, customers, and curious visitors from 65 countries are expected to attend the conference.  Among the exhibitors will be Fuel Cells 2000, which will be part of the U.S. Pavilion.  The Fuel Cells 2000 team hopes to share insight on U.S. fuel cell policies and advancements, learn about Asian and international fuel cell programs, and make connections for future collaborations and outreach.

Hiroaki Niihara, Director-General of the Energy Conservation and Renewable Energy Department of the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) will be giving a special keynote address.  Also presenting will be representatives from JX Nippon Oil & Energy Corp., the group that plans to open 40 of the hydrogen refueling stations in Japan.

Several automakers, Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Daimler, and Hyundai-Kia, are slated to present on the status of their companies’ fuel cell vehicle progress and commercialization plans.

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