|Fuel Cell Markets (FCM) recently exhibited at FC EXPO 2006 in Tokyo with an FCM Pavilion stand, with a number of our market partners. Following the exhibition, FCM were invited to give a presentation at a seminar, part of an influential series organised by the non-profit organisation PEM-DREAM.
FCM were most honoured to be invited to present at the seminar, which was held in the Iwatani building in Tokyo. PEM-DREAM’s Ichiro Sakamoto had publicised the seminar widely, and FCM were very pleased to meet representatives from important Japanese companies such as Iwatani, Denso, Yokogawa and Fukuoka Hydrogen Energy Society amongst many others.
Before the presentation was due to start, Akira Tatemoto, General Manager of Iwatani’s Hydrogen Energy Dept., was kind enough to offer FCM’s Heston Harper and David Lockie a test drive in a fuel cell vehicle, to go and visit the Iwatani liquid hydrogen refuelling plant, close to Tokyo Big Sight, where FC EXPO was held. Of course, this generous offer was immediately accepted, and the FCM pair were led to the company’s multi-story car park.
Toyota FCHV and Honda FCX fuel cell vehicles in the Iwatani car park
Test-Driving the Toyota FCHV
To our surprise and delight, not only were we offered a ride in a real-life fuel cell vehicle, we were offered a choice of which vehicle we wanted to experience! For in front of us was not one fuel cell vehicle, but two. Iwatani lease a Toyota FCHV and a Honda FCX from the auto manufacturers for a monthly fee, and we had a choice of which to ride in! We decided to opt for the larger Toyota, and were soon inside and strapped in. It was a hard decision not to choose the Honda FCX, and we hope to get the chance to test drive one of those soon!
FCHV - Fuel Cell Hybrid Vehicle
Inside, the FCHV is as real and well-finished as any automobile turned out by Toyota. This was no laboratory prototype! After a brief inspection of the interior, I glanced over at the central console and to my great surprise found that the FCHV was ready to move – fully started and operating. I had experienced neither a whisper nor a tremor when our driver started the vehicle – it really was that quiet and smooth.
I did not travel in a vehicle in Japan that failed to have a central touch-screen computer that performs a variety of functions. This, however, was by far the most interesting. As well as performing typical automotive computer functions, this display could provide a real-time view of the fuel cell’s performance and operation. Thus, as we pulled off, we could see the power generated by the 90kW fuel cell stack being fed to the vehicle’s two motors. As the journey progressed, we could follow the read-out easily to view the efficiency, power output and remaining fuel, as well as other key variables. One surprise to me (although it shouldn’t have been) was the reversing of the direction of flow of electricity when the vehicle braked. It was actually possible to see the electricity generated from the regenerative braking system going back into the storage battery!
Interior of the Toyota FCHV, showing the centrally-mounted dashboard computer that displays real-time information about the vehicle's systems
The FCHV’s performance was impressive, especially the acceleration which allowed us to navigate Tokyo’s busy streets with ease. The views from the Toyota’s windows were made all the more amazing for me to know that I was moving in a car, but that our only emissions were water vapour.
Rainbow Bridge, Tokyo, as seen from the window of the Toyota FCHV
At the JHFC Ariake Hydrogen Refuelling Station
We arrived at the JHFC Ariake hydrogen refuelling station after a very pleasant and quiet ride. The refuelling station is a joint construction by Iwatani and Showa Shell and includes components from manufacturers such as Nitto Kohki (nozzles).
Nitto Kohki Hydrogen Refuelling Equipment at the JHFC Ariake Station
Both vehicle and refuelling station were part of the JHFC program – a large-scale project in Japan aimed at collecting real world data about operating hydrogen-fuelled fuel cell vehicles in typical environments. More information about the JHFC program is available at the JHFC project website, a link is given below. Needless to say, it is a very interesting program. There are twelve refuelling stations involved in the project, and each is providing valuable data and experience about operating different types of refuelling station. Some stations rely on deliveries of liquid hydrogen generated elsewhere, some use on-site electrolysis, some use on-site reformation of different fuels. Others are connected to other hydrogen infrastructure using a pipeline.
Toyota FCHV in front of the Ariake Hydrogen Refuelling Station, part of the JHFC project
The Iwatani representative who was kind enough to be our guide for the visit told us a little about this project, one interesting point in particular was that the outright aim of the JHFC project is not to find the ‘best’ option, but to gain a wide range of baseline data.
Ariake Hydrogen Refuelling Station - showing Liquid H2 refuelling pump (left) and gaseous H2 pump on the right. You can see storage tanks and hydrogen cooling towers in the background.
The Ariake refuelling station that we visited relied on delivery of liquid hydrogen, but had a very sophisticated system that allowed liquid H2 refuelling where desired, but it also used a recovery system to store gaseous hydrogen and allow gaseous H2 refuelling at a separate nozzle.
The PEM-DREAM Seminar
Soon, it was time to return to the seminar and to give our presentation. We spent some time introducing Fuel Cell Markets and explaining our activities and ethos, which were very well-received.
The presentation then moved onto its main topic – the Network of Networks. This is an exciting project, built and operated by Fuel Cell Markets on behalf of the World Fuel Cell Council e.V. (WFCC) that will create a global communication platform specifically designed to facilitate communication within and particularly between networks, organisations and individuals that are stakeholders in fuel cells or hydrogen energy.
The need for such a global coordinating network was made apparent in April 2005 in Brussels, at a Fuel Cell Europe (FCEu) event held just before the EU’s Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology Platform conference. At this event, the fuel cell networks around Europe concluded that each was learning similar lessons and facing similar obstacles, and that what Europe (and the world) needed was a framework for coordination of activities, projects and information as well as a communications platform that would facilitate the dissemination and cross-fertilisation of successful ideas, projects and models.
The response of those attending the seminar was gratifyingly one of great interest and instant comprehension. The need for such a network of networks becomes all the more clear when one is in Japan, experiencing first hand the type of information and projects that need to be communicated effectively.
The Fukuoka Hydrogen Energy Society is a well-funded network on Japan’s Kyushu island with over 300 members. The value of being able to access output from this productive and world-leading initiative should be immediately apparent!
There were many questions about the presentation, and much interest displayed in both Fuel Cell Markets’ activities and the Network of Networks in particular, and in fact the discussions did not stop until they had consumed us over a table of Japanese food and some karaoke!
FCM would like to thank all those who attended the seminar, PEM-DREAM for organising the event and Iwatani in particular for their generous hospitality and the unforgettable experience of riding in a real life fuel cell vehicle.
David Lockie of Fuel Cell Markets, with Toyota's FCHV
More information about FCM’s experiences, meetings and new contacts in Japan will be made available over the coming weeks, but please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us if there’s something you just can’t wait for.
On a final note, Japan really is leading the way in fuel cell and hydrogen technology, there is much to be learnt from their attitude towards social and environmental responsibility, and from their adoption of alternative energy technologies. Fuel cells and hydrogen fuel are coming, in a very real, tangible and sensible way. Currently though, it looks like most of the fuel cell developments and profits will be rising in the East, with Japan’s “rising sun” flag acting as a most visual reminder to those elsewhere that the early bird who catches this worm will be powerful indeed!