As Japan solves its power needs it may be solving the problem for Pacific Island Countries as well
- Category: News
- Published: Sunday, 15 November 2015 08:46
- Written by Bill Jaynes
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By Bill Jaynes
The Kaselehlie Press
October 27, 2015
Fuchu City, Tokyo—Toshiba is famous for its electronic devices. Surprisingly, according to representatives at the Toshiba Fuchu Complex in Fuchu City, Tokyo, the company earns less than half of their revenue from sales of those devices. The rest of their revenue comes from energy technology, transportation, and other innovative product lines.
In April of this year Toshiba opened their Hydrogen Energy Research and Development Center. Dr. Tatsuoki Kono, Senior Manager for the New Energy Solution Project, and his staff members gave Pacific Islands senior journalists a tour of the facility this afternoon. Toshiba and the government of Japan are going all in for the technology and are planning to have significantly more hydrogen "fuel" capacity including power plants by the time of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
For Japan, hydrogen power could very well be a very big part of the solution to the problem of reducing fossil fuel importation along with the carbon emissions that come from burning them. Other than coal, Japan lacks significant reserves of fossil fuel and must import substantial amounts of crude oil, natural gas, and other energy resources, including uranium. After the great 2011 earthquake and tsunami, Japan shut down all of its nuclear reactors, which meant it had to import and burn more fossil fuels. As of today, Japan has re-activated only one of its nuclear reactors.
As the hydrogen energy process develops and becomes more affordable it may well be a very big solution for Pacific Islands Countries like the Federated States of Micronesia that also import fossil fuels in order to provide power to their people and their economies. For now the equipment is so expensive that Toshiba has so far sold only one of its self contained hydrogen plants, their H2One Business Continuity Plan model which is housed entirely in the size of one standard 20 foot container. It is pushing toward the release of a larger plant by 2016, the "Remote Island model" in the H2One series.
Japan consists of hundreds of islands and as they solve their energy problems they may well be solving those of their island neighbors.
Despite Japan's rush to significantly increase hydrogen fuel capacity by 2020, it is being very careful. Dr. Kono, who has worked for 30 years with hydrogen technology, said that the biggest challenge for the startup of the Toshiba project was battery development for storage of renewable energy, storage for hydrogen, and government regulations.
Keeping in mind that the German airship, the Hindenburg, which famously blew to smithereens in May of 1937 as it was attempting to dock in Lakehurst, New Jersey, was filled with over 7 million cubic feet of hydrogen, one can easily understand the government's hesitancy to have it stored in one of its cities.
Unlike fossil fuels which as liquids pool on the floor where they are extremely flammable until they eventually evaporate away, Hydrogen is a gas. If Hydrogen leaks from a system it immediately rises into the atmosphere. Just the same, Toshiba designed and built an innovative storage unit and leak detection system that is safe and meets Japan's regulatory guidelines. The project is now proceeding at full tilt.
Hydrogen molecules (H2) can be extracted from fossil fuels like natural gas, gasoline and coal and the process requires electrical power. While hydrogen fuel cells produce only pure water and heat as by-products of their energy production, the process of extracting the hydrogen from fossil fuels emits Carbon Monoxide (CO) and a small amount of Carbon Dioxide (CO2).
Because of this, in the United States there is significant opposition to hydrogen power as a tool to decrease carbon emissions. One lengthy skeptic's report quoted "Energy. gov's" (Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy) statistic that 95% of the hydrogen produced in the U.S. comes from natural gas. He argues that the expensive technology does nothing to eliminate the carbon foot print that burning fossil fuels in combustion engines creates and is too expensive to boot. Further, the natural gas goes away in the process of creating the hydrogen.
Certainly Toshiba has products that convert natural gas or propane to hydrogen but the Toshiba facility has chosen to pour a great deal of its efforts into the extraction of hydrogen from water (H2O ). They are using renewable energy sources like photovoltaic (solar or "PV") energy or wind turbine energy to power the process of extraction when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing. It stores what PV or wind power it doesn't use in a battery for use when the sun isn't shining or the wind isn't blowing. When they have to, they draw power from Japan's fossil fuel powered electrical grid, but they are trying to minimize that need.
In an effort to minimize the power that will be needed from fossil fuel power, Toshiba developed a revolutionary hardware and software package that helps them to monitor exactly how much power is being generated and how much is being used from each power source.
Hydrogen is the world's third most prevalent element. But there has only ever been so much of it in the world and it cannot be created. If hydrogen was being burned in combustion type engines like fossil fuels are then it would be like pouring the world's water down a drain pipe never to be seen again. But that's not what is happening here.
In hydrogen fuel cells, the process of hydrogen being recombined with Oxygen in a process of reverse electrolysis releases electricity that is then used to power vehicles and other electric engines. As mentioned above, the byproducts of that energy production is pure water and heat. Essentially the system tears apart molecules of water and puts them back together over and over again producing energy, heat and water in the process. As in the rest of the universe there is a small amount of entropy, or energy loss from the system. There is very little water loss and no Carbon Dioxide is produced at any stage of the process except for the amount that is emitted from the grid power that is used only when absolutely necessary to supplement power from renewable energy sources.
The process was first suggested in 1830 but nothing much was done with it until the early 1900's. Toshiba is now making great strides in the development of the technology and within the next couple of years it plans to produce its H2Omega system, a fully self contained 4 megawatt hydrogen plant for delivery to customers.
Toshiba hopes to see its technology spread throughout the world as an environmentally friendly, self contained solution to the world's power needs. They don't hope for overnight success. "It took 20 years for hybrid vehicles to be accepted. It may take a long time (for hydrogen to be accepted)," Dr. Kono said.