Japan and Australia are expanding their support for hydrogen fuel technology.

Hydrogen-powered automobiles will be featured at the annual Tokyo Motor Show that begins in a week. They were also featured prominently during the Group of 20 environment ministerial held in the resort community of Karuizawa. And they’ll likely be featured when the G-20 foreign ministers gather in Nagoya late next month.

Experts see positive signs for hydrogen technology investments in Asia and beyond, as governments and the private sector seek ways to lower transportation emissions.

“The hydrogen economy was first envisioned nearly 50 years ago, but it has not come to full fruition partly due to high costs and sufficient availability of alternatives,” Navigant Research said in a recent report. “In recent years, however, momentum has been building as a confluence of factors drives increased investment.”

Australia is poised to expand exports of hydrogen fuel to Japan.

The government of South Australia has approved a plan to build a hydrogen production facility near Adelaide. Some hydrogen fuel will be blended with natural gas to lower the carbon dioxide content of Australia’s distributed gas network, but the facility will also add to existing infrastructure to produce hydrogen for export.

The permit “propels the state’s status as a leader in renewable technology and a first mover in hydrogen,” said Ben Wilson, CEO of Australian Gas Networks, the company that aims to build the plant.

To the delight of environmentalists, Wilson’s company said it would use South Australia’s abundant renewable energy resources to split the hydrogen from water via proton-exchange membrane technology. Climate change activists in Australia support hydrogen as a transportation fuel but decry that much of it is produced from fossil fuels.

The new project, slated to begin hydrogen production by the middle of next year, is the latest example of the trend toward “green hydrogen.” An operation in Queensland launched exports of renewable energy-sourced hydrogen to Japan earlier this year.

South Korea has also been identified as a promising market for Australian hydrogen.

Daniel Roberts of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) believes hydrogen’s moment is finally arriving thanks to a “real strong global pull here for importing low-carbon hydrogen” to Japan and South Korea, where the governments have made hydrogen-based transportation “central to their energy strategy.”

Falling costs for technology and increasingly favorable economics of renewable power are also helping to spur the industry, he added.

“Key technology components, in particular fuel cells and electrolyzers, and the cost of renewable electricity coming down to a point that it’s beginning to even approach or getting to parity,” Roberts said. “Those two things have changed, which have really shifted the argument a fair bit.”

The Australian private sector is increasingly bullish about the technology’s future, despite the its government’s generally ambivalent attitude toward climate change. Even if hydrogen cars don’t take off Down Under, the rising interest in Asia is fueling a push in new investment such as the forthcoming AGN facility south of Adelaide.

“In just the past two years, the pace at which new hydrogen technologies and hydrogen fuel applications have emerged is indicative of just how important this fuel source can be for the future, including increasing reliance on renewable energy sources,” said Stuart Hawksworth, president of the International Association for Hydrogen Safety. “Clearly, it is also a fuel with enormous clean energy export potential as counties all over the world seek to increase renewables in their total energy mix.”

Is hydrogen ‘back for real’?

Japan, in particular, is determined to see hydrogen-based personal and commercial transportation succeed.

Organizers of the Tokyo Motor Show will invite audiences to tour the new Honda Clarity, the version of the sedan powered by hydrogen fuel cells. Honda says it releases no emissions, only water as a waste product.

At the Karuizawa G-20 forum, where Japan heavily promoted hydrogen vehicle technology in a stand-alone display, officials from Tokyo, the United States and European Union signed a joint statement declaring their intent to cooperate toward the emergence of mainstream hydrogen and hydrogen fuel cell technologies.

The three governments “recognize the importance of reducing the cost of hydrogen for its affordability as well as reliability,” they declared in the statement, adding that they “strongly believe that their envisaged cooperation can lead to expansion of international collaboration and contribute to scale-up hydrogen in the global economy.”

The partners clarified their goals at a follow-up gathering held in Tokyo last month. Among the visions outlined by the Japanese hosts of the Hydrogen Energy Ministerial Meeting, states will aim to see 10,000 hydrogen fueling stations and “10 million hydrogen powered systems” built within 10 years.

Look for more promising indicators and news ahead, CSIRO’s Roberts said.

“Hydrogen is back,” he said, “and I think most of us think it’s back for real.”

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news atwww.eenews.net.