The Fukushima prefecture has been a ghost town since late 2011. Though the levels of radiation have gone down to more than acceptable levels, people have refused to come back to the area, mostly fearing the radioactive contamination of ground water.
The area, however, has become a centerpiece for renewable energy and a model for zero carbon or decarbonization prototyping. No longer is it just a series of swamps and abandoned houses. Mostly isolated because of many ditches, dams, and walls, most of the sump pumps and drains that used to dot the town have been removed. And the town that hosted the world’s second-worst disaster after Chernobyl will soon be the center of a new effort for decarbonization — using an electrolysis program developed by Toyota for its Mirai (which means future) hydrogen powered vehicles.
Since early June 2021, Toyota Motor Corporation has been working with the Fukushima Prefecture in its area development program that will eventually bring back town in the area back to life, literally, with the development of new future cities using both hydrogen produced in Fukushima and hydrogen-related technologies developed there.
The automaker, having developed more efficient methods and newer and faster electrolysis equipment to produce hydrogen by electrolyzing water using the FC stack and other technology from the Mirai. Toyota installed these equipment at the Denso Fukushima Corp. plant, and before the end of this month the equipment will be switched on as part of the company’s efforts to build a model for the consumption of locally produced hydrogen to power one of the plant’s gas furnaces.
“Carbon is the enemy, not the internal combustion engine”
At an annual employee event in Toyota Japan just this January, outgoing Toyota CEO and President Aiko Toyoda said that “carbon is the enemy, not the internal combustion engine” to highlight the company’s various ways to achieve carbon neutrality for both the company and its customers. The Fukushima hydrogen initiative is part of Toyoda’s directions.
Toyota has always believed that hydrogen is a “critical fuel for promoting initiatives aimed at reducing CO2 emissions to contribute to achieving carbon neutrality.” In its corporate directions for carbon neutrality it insists that the promotion and use of hydrogen not only through fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) including passenger cars, commercial trucks, and buses, but also through the widespread use of fuel cell-powered products. “To this end, Toyota is working with various industry partners in the areas of producing, transporting, storing, and using hydrogen,” it said in a statement.
“Fukushima is to serve as a technology implementation venue to promote its widespread use going forward,” a Denso engineer told CleanTechnica, highlighting how Toyota has been collaborating with the Denso Group to use hydrogen along with renewable energy to decarbonize its own plant operations. Apart from its FCEV line-up, the car maker has been using hydrogen for FC stationary generators to power its production lines at plants. It has also promoted transporting activities, such as the development and manufacturing of FC trucks for hydrogen transportation.
The hydrogen utilization at Denso Fukushima is subsidized by the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO). NEDO is and independent development agency promoting research and development of industrial, energy and environmental technologies, and is Japan’s largest public management organization for the deployment environmentally sound industry practices.
In the future, Toyota hopes to contribute to expanding options for producing hydrogen using biogas generated from livestock manure in Thailand in addition to developing electrolysis equipment.
Features Of The Electrolysis Equipment
During the 2017 Tokyo Motor Show, Toyota released the Sora Fuel Cell bus concept which was planned to be used at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. It then demonstrated Sora FC bus as an official transporter of visitors to the show from various pick-up and drop-off points in Makuhari Messe at the 2019 Tokyo Motor Show.
The fuel cell stack of the Sora comes from the Mirai, which is undoubtedly the most developed of hydrogen FC powerplants in any vehicle. The electrolysis equipment, for the Fukushima project the latest of this newly developed equipment that takes advantage of both the technology Toyota has cultivated over many years of FCEV development. It also utilized the knowledge and expertise Toyota has gained from a observing and testing the FC stack in a variety of usage environments around the world.
According to Toyota, the cells used in the Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) electrolysis stack are highly reliable, backed by the mass production and usage results of more than seven million cells (enough for approximately 20,000 FCEVs) since the first-generation Mirai was launched in December 2014.
Toyota has used titanium for the stack separator. This was used to improve the durability that is required of electrolysis equipment because of the metal’s high corrosion resistance. Titanium maintains nearly the same level of performance even after 80,000 hours of operation so that it can be used safely over a long period of time.
“More than 90 percent of FC stack components for FCEVs and FC stack production facilities can be used/shared in the PEM electrolysis stack production process. This will allow for mass production to achieve a cost level that enables its widespread use. Furthermore, it significantly shortens the development period by using the technology, knowledge, and experience accumulated over many years of FCEV development,” a spokesperson for Toyota’s FCEV engineering team said.
Toyota will publicize the details of this hydrogen utilization model to expand the its implementation to many communities as well as to various industries and regions.
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