Hydrogen is a versatile energy carrier that will serve the transition to a zero-carbon economy in many industries. It is already widely used in the chemical and refining industries. The first implementations can also be found in the metallurgical, energy, glass and cement industries.
The most mature and widespread applications of hydrogen can be found in the field of transportation - from forklifts, cars, buses and trains, ships to airplanes and space rockets. The development of this technology will be supported by EU funds, which has focused on hydrogen in its energy transition strategy.
About 90 percent of hydrogen is produced and used in the fertilizer and refining industries. Hydrogen is also produced as a by-product in the chemical industry. The future lies in producing hydrogen from renewable sources - primarily by electrolysis, but also by biomass gasification
Only 15 percent of global hydrogen production is used off-site and transported as compressed gas or cryogenic liquid. This implies investment in infrastructure - from storage, pipeline transmission to liquefaction or transport as compressed gas.
Hydrogen valleys are regional ecosystems. The development will be based on the local production of hydrogen, which is transported over short distances. The basis is local demand based on the production of energy from renewable sources. This changing perspective will include education, research and development, implementation and industrial applications.
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Japan has a decades-long history in research and development of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies. One of the most interesting applications may be a stationary microgeneration unit. The technology involves the simultaneous production of electricity and heat. Micro-CHPs process natural gas in a reforming process. Electricity is then generated in a fuel cell and the heat from the steam is used to heat domestic water and to heat a building.
A landmark project was the large-scale Japan Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Demonstration Project (JHFC). The project installed nearly 3,000 domestic micro-CHP systems using fuel cells between 2005 and 2008. Since then, the market has grown strongly, with around 290,000 micro-CHPs installed and the cost of the most popular devices falling by almost 70 per cent.
In 2009, the Ene-Farm programme was launched to popularise micro-CHP fuel cells. The premise of the programme was to demonstrate the operation of micro-CHP with PEM and SOFC fuel cells. By the end of 2018, nearly 300,000 fuel cells had been sold under this programme, including PEM fuel cells (made by Panasonic and Toshiba) and SOFC fuel cells (made by Aisin Seiki).
With government subsidy support, a consortium of major Japanese energy suppliers and fuel cell manufacturers began commercial sales of hydrogen fuel cell micro-CHP systems under the joint brand Ene-Farm from 2009. Distribution and installation were handled by regional gas suppliers. Japanese companies have developed a system to produce hydrogen from mains gas and LPG. City gas, from which sulphur has been removed, is fed into a fuel processor where three chemical reactions take place. Hydrogen is produced by reacting steam and methane, which is the main component of city gas. Carbon monoxide, a by-product of the reaction, is reduced to a safe concentration of 10 ppm.
Domestic micro-CHPs with fuel cells generally have an output of no more than a thousand watts. Such a system does not usually cover the entire energy demand of a flat or detached house, but it contributes significantly to reducing electricity consumption and ensures that hot water demand is fully covered. As cogeneration units producing hot water and electricity, fuel cell micro-CHPs have a high level of overall energy efficiency. Compared to supplying energy through conventional electricity grids, domestic fuel cell micro-CHPs provide primary energy savings of about 23 percent, and CO2 emission reductions have been estimated in Japan at an average of 38 percent compared to farms without such a device.