back to article Japan makes Prius palatable with road map to hydrogen cars

Japan has outlined a 25-year roadmap to get hydrogen-powered cars onto its roads, hydrogen-powered machinery into its factories and fuel cells into millions of homes. The nation's Ministry, for Economy Trade and Industry, recently outlined the plan, which has three phases. In the first, the nation aims to commercialise a …

  1. Daniel Palmer

    H-Station sounds like the name of a shop that sells porno and/or sex toys...

    Anyhow, hope this works out better than electric cars. The one electric charging point around here (rural Japan but not too far from built up areas like Tokyo) has turned into an employee parking space due to no one ever using it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Sounds more like an isolation centre for smackheads.

      but still it's a good idea, and something others should be copying.

      Large citys are forever struggling with the problem of air quality, but no-one seems to bother about switching away from Diesel to something less harmful.

  2. Scott Earle

    Prius attracts ridicule?

    Here in Thailand, a Prius costs less than a Honda Accord, and so I don’t see the ridicule aspect of it myself. It’s a perfectly cromulent car, and gets a genuine 24km per litre on a long journey.

    My wife wanted an Accord, but I made her get the Prius as it’s totally better value for money. She has since conceded that it’s a great car.

    Of course I recently bought a 3.2L Ford Ranger for myself (which is even cheaper than the Prius), to offset the Prius’ reduction in CO2 emissions.

    1. Alain

      Re: Prius attracts ridicule?

      Priuses sell quite well here in France as well. I guess that government incentives for electric and hybrid cars help. They now amount to a sizeable share of the taxis in Paris.

      No ridicule in this, really.

      1. ratfox Silver badge

        Re: Prius attracts ridicule?

        Yes, it's especially great for taxis, which tend to get stuck in the traffic. Not sure what the spite is about? Must be an Australian thing.

        1. TRT Silver badge

          Re: Prius attracts ridicule?

          Quite a large flat loading area, comfortable seats, spacious cabin, deathly quiet at most speeds, fairly high tech in-car electronics, reversing cameras, cruise control... what's not to like?!

          1. Martin Budden

            Re: Prius attracts ridicule?

            what's not to like?!

            It's fugly. I am the first to admit that this attribute is far less important than all those great features you listed, but hey you did ask ;-)

          2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

            Re: Prius attracts ridicule?

            what's not to like?!

            The advertising, at least here in the States, which is obnoxious enough to discourage me from wanting one.

            The smug "I'm saving the world" attitude of some Prius drivers, as they happily consume far more than the average human.

            I admit they make more sense than the "luxury" hybrids that just use the electric motor to be even more ridiculously overpowered. (Of course, by my standards even the base Prius is overpowered, with a p/w ratio that's about 133% of, say, a 1990 Honda Civic CRX. What, am I going to tow a boat with the thing?)

    2. TJB47

      Re: Prius attracts ridicule?

      I would possibly say the Prius is the best car I have ever had. I have had quite a few over the years and many engine sizes. This car grows on you believe me. Performs faultlessly, definitely economical and quiet and certainly enough power on open road and around town. So not sure about the ridicule comment, although it did initially strike me as funny looking , it has grown on me.

  3. Khaptain Silver badge

    Go Japan Go

    I truly hope that they succeed on several levels :

    * That they really do manage to produce a mass production Hydrogen Engine.

    * That they succeed in breaking the Oil cartels by doing so.

    * That it begins a new positive industrial era...our current one is pretty grim....

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Go Japan Go

      You may hope, but where will the energy come from for electrolysis of water to hydrogen & oxygen?

      If we consider each country's energy trade balance then I start to see a problem. Exclude fossil fuels, and who has now, or might realistically have a surplus of energy of any kind? Even in countries with high levels of wind resource (eg the UK) these still contribute fractional levels to domestic energy needs, so the chances of wind producing (net) exportable power are small. The only other scaleable renewable energy is not homogenously distributed, so if solar energy is used then the energy powers will be the desert belts of the globe (because they not only have the best solar resource, but also vast areas of land with no alternative uses). So in your H2 world the likely energy powers are the countries of the Middle East and North Africa. And who will pay for the capital intensive solar capture, electrolysis, storage and transport of H2? In part the existing oil-based sovereign wealth funds, in part the banks. Who has the expertise in managing energy transport, shipping, distributing and marketing chemical fuels?

      Oh, dear, sounds like we're back in the very same place you don't want to be - raw energy in the hands of the Arabs, the usual crooks in charge of the money, Exxon, BP et al doing the operations and marketing. And as icing on your cake, at any global scale, of course, saturating deserts with sufficient solar collectors to fuel the energy needs of the fast growing developing nations and the import dependent developed countries will significantly alter the albedo of these regions, and contribute to a rather clearer form of AGW, although I suspect the hippies will ignore this.

      There is an alternative, and that's nuclear. Lots, and lots of nuclear. For the UK, even if we cut total energy demand by 50%, we'd still need to build six times as many nuclear power stations as we currently have to support an H2 economy - something of the order of 90 reactors. On a global scale we'd need to use either (or both) fast breeder reactors or thorium to make sure there's enough nuclear fuel to go around, and the total system costs would be astronomical.

      1. Khaptain Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: Go Japan Go

        I must admit that until reading your reply that I had assumed that hydrogen was in abundance, wrong... and therefore a good thing. I had always thought that the only difficulty was in the storage...

        I also didn't realise how much energy was required to "synthesise" it either... I read a quick paper on why it is not economically viable and I digress, it is not a justifiable solution at the moment.

        Shit, I go back to square one....

        One of these for me ------------------------------------------>>>>>>

      2. Captain DaFt

        Re: Go Japan Go

        "You may hope, but where will the energy come from for electrolysis of water to hydrogen & oxygen?"

        Obviously, once hydrogen production has increased consumption of oil and natural gas so much that they run out even more quickly than anticipated, we'll all be forced back to safe, non-nuclear coal!

        Then wondering where all the smog is coming from since everything is using non-polluting hydrogen.

        (of course, if they ever harness the power of sarcasm, people like me will power the future!)

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Go Japan Go

          "Obviously, once hydrogen production has increased consumption of oil and natural gas so much that they run out even more quickly than anticipated, we'll all be forced back to safe, non-nuclear coal!"

          All those town gas plants coming out of mothballs and being revived(*). All that lovely coke to burn on our hearths

          (*) "Town gas" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coal_gas - mostly h2, with some co and other nasties in it.

          (*) Note that there aren't many town gas plants left, even as museum pieces.

          H2 is a nice idea but a lousy implementation. Apart from the inefficiencies of making it, it's hellishly difficult to keep under pressure without badly damaging the containment vessels - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrogen_embrittlement

          _If_ (and I really do mean "if") technology exists to economically produce h2 from nuclear sources and water then it's a lot easier to progressively tack on carbon atoms and make synthetic petrol/diesel. There are twice as many hydrogen atoms in a litre of diesel as there are in a litre of liquid hydrogen and you don't have to worry about cryogenics or extreme pressures.

      3. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Go Japan Go

        "On a global scale we'd need to use either (or both) fast breeder reactors or thorium to make sure there's enough nuclear fuel to go around, and the total system costs would be astronomical."

        Given the total costs vs those of coal (and the environmental costs of coal) I think you'd find thorium would be a lot cheaper.

    2. GettinSadda

      Re: Go Japan Go

      "I truly hope that they succeed on several levels :

      * That they really do manage to produce a mass production Hydrogen Engine.

      * That they succeed in breaking the Oil cartels by doing so."

      Oh dear, oh dear!

      Have you any idea where commercial hydrogen comes from? It does not come from electrolysis as that is far too inefficient. It is made from natural gas, by companies such as Shell, BP and ExxonMobil. Guess which companies are pouring vast quantities of money into lobbying for a future based on hydrogen?

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Go Japan Go

        "Have you any idea where commercial hydrogen comes from? It does not come from electrolysis as that is far too inefficient. It is made from natural gas, by companies such as Shell, BP and ExxonMobil."

        Which is why those whizzy h2 busses that Boris is currently flaunting around London have an end-to-end milage less than half that of a standard diesel bus.

  4. Chemist

    "During this phase Japan expects to buy foreign Hydrogen while also boosting domestic production capacity with as-yet-unspecified electrolysis technologies the plan says it will be important to discover."

    So that'll be hydrogen produced from methane ( by-product carbon dioxide) and wishful thinking on electrolysis. Good luck to them but it sounds very wooly

    1. ratfox Silver badge

      You don't produce breakthrough technology by only relying on what's already available, I guess…?

      1. Chemist

        "You don't produce breakthrough technology by only relying on what's already available, I guess…?"

        Indeed you don't - on the other hand wishing doesn't make it so. There needs to be some rationale and evidence that a breakthrough is possible. - you know, is it thermodynamically possible.

        Electrochemical cells by their nature are not 100% efficient, hydrogen production has been worked on for years and the efficiency is still rather low. Although I'm not an inorganic chemist/chemical engineer I do have patents for organic electochemistry and know the large-scale kit and it's limitations

  5. spider from mars
    Thumb Down

    Oh dear

    Time for the standard fuel cell rant.

    The problem is FCV's horrible grid-to-wheel efficiency.

    Compared to a BEV, which just needs to account for grid distribution and the round-trip efficiency of the battery, the losses incurred by producing the hydrogen, compressing (or liquefying) it, distribution, and storage all result in FCVs using between 3-5x as much electricity as a comparable BEV - hence 3-5x the CO2 emissions (given the same energy generation mix - in fact it would be even worse because clean energy sources are currently a limited resource).

    And that assumes you're getting your hydrogen from electrolysis. Commercial hydrogen is produced from natural gas, releasing CO2 in the process. If you run the numbers on this, it can be shown that FCVs emit more carbon than a traditional ICE car.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Oh dear

      "hence 3-5x the CO2 emissions (given the same energy generation mix - in fact it would be even worse because clean energy sources are currently a limited resource)."

      Whilst I'm no fan of renewables, I need to point out that the vast build out of the damned things means that most developed world markets are moving to a world where we (in the industry) expect to see some points of time where wholesale power prices are nil (under the committed FIT regimes we could even see low negative power prices at some times of low demand).

      So from that perspective we expect to have got lots of electrical power kicking around when nobody really wants it, and converting power to gas is quite straightforward. In the medium sized plant we've already got operating in Europe it is working well, converts water to H2O (we blow the oxygen off because it's not economic to do anything else with). The hydrogen can be menthanated and pumped into the gas grid, or at low volumes fed in directly as H2. The simple problem is not really the efficiency issues, it is the asset cost - this is not cheap kit to build, and it is out of the money in a fossil gas world.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Oh dear

        " converts water to H2O"

        Yes, yes, I know that's not much of a feat. But hopefully you do know what I meant to type.

      2. Chemist

        Re: Oh dear

        "The simple problem is not really the efficiency issues, it is the asset cost "

        I can believe that, but are you really suggesting renewable electricity will be so cheap - in spite of demand for it just as electricity - that a large quantity of hydrogen, produced at low-ish efficiency by electrolysis, will be available for a hydrogen economy ( or synthesised methane economy if you like) at a reasonable price ?

        Your post also seemed to be at some odds with your earlier post

        1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: Oh dear

          I can believe that, but are you really suggesting renewable electricity will be so cheap - in spite of demand for it just as electricity - that a large quantity of hydrogen, produced at low-ish efficiency by electrolysis, will be available for a hydrogen economy ( or synthesised methane economy if you like) at a reasonable price ?

          It would certainly require very cheap electricity, produced far enough away from the vehicles being fueled that the most-economic options would be high-voltage DC transmission and/or shipment of synthesized hydrocarbons. (I'd go with propane myself for the latter, since it has some transportation advantages over methane if you don't already have a pipeline available, there's a widespread distribution network and market for it, and it's easy to run existing internal-combustion engines on it.)

          So nuclear, stuff that's geographically constrained like geothermal, and specialty projects like those big solar-thermal plants in the Sahara that people are always dreaming about.

          1. Bakana

            Re: Oh dear

            Well, that might just mean Wind Farms.

            One of the Best places to put a wind turbine is on top of a Mountain and Japan has Lots of those that waren't being used for much else.

            Being a Long, Narrow country probably Increases the potential because of the tendency for wind patterns to flow from Sea to Land in the daytime and Land to sea at night.

            There are also companies working on a Hybrid wind & Tide system that would be anchored offshore and use both Wind and Tidal action to generate electricity.

            1. Alan Brown Silver badge

              Re: Oh dear

              "Well, that might just mean Wind Farms."

              If you carpet the UK in windfarms, you can produce enough electricity to replace two nuclear or coal plants.

              That's not a misprint. The number is two - and the overall cost is substantially more than 2 nuclear power plants because you not only have to take into account the costs of the windfarms (already more than the nukes) but also the cost of building out the distribution grid to handle thousands of individual power sources and resulting unpredictable power flows - which would easily run to several times more than the wind plants.

              If you think NIMBYs are bad about nuclear plants you haven't even begun to comprehend how bad they would be about high voltage distribution lines criss-crossing the countryside.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Let me put the reality back in....

    "Yet with governments around the world increasingly keen on less-polluting energy sources..."

    In reality:

    "Yet with governments around the world increasingly keen on being less reliant on the unstable regions of the world, where they have to use expensive military intervention in order to keep the expensive military machine running....."

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