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Japan to ease regulations on costly hydrogen re-fuelling stations

Toyota Hydrogen Station concept Source: Toyota

Nikkei Asian Review has reported that the government of Japan will be easing regulations upon the country’s hydrogen re-fuelling stations. The move comes as Japan tries to drive the uptake of zero and low emission vehicles.

The news would build on the government’s ‘hydrogen road map’, which it announced in 2013, in order to expand fuel cell technology and use. According to data from Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI)’s website, the project will attract a supplement of almost 32 billion yen to fund the project.

It is hoped that relaxing the regulations in place will make hydrogen stations cheaper to set up and operate, therefore allowing prices drop and savings to be passed on to the consumer. Similarly, local component makers could benefit from the development because hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles require lots of parts for production. If uptake increases, then these local companies could also see business increase which would further encourage economy and trade.

It costs approximately US$4 million to set up a hydrogen fuelling station, with operating costs of upwards of US$40,000 a year, according to METI. The body is therefore looking to revise at least 20 rules that govern hydrogen facilities by next year, and to have new rules in action by 2020. It is expected that the changes will cut such hefty costs by half and thereby motivate new stations to open.

According to the report, the Japanese government wants to almost double its current number of re-fuelling facilities, from 91 to 160, by 2020. The aim is to have at least 320 stations operating by the end of 2025. The move has likely been pressured by announcements that Europe and China have put strict EV and HEV goals in place, as well as Tokyo’s role in the 2020 Summer Olympics.

Nikkei has given further details of how rules could alter. One such change would be loosening requirements upon station supervisors. Currently, stations can only employ supervisors that have experience at a facility specifically handling hydrogen. In the future, the role could be opened up to those who have worked with natural gas or high-pressure gases as well. Other regulations could affect labour costs, by reducing the need to monitor who visits or purchases hydrogen, while facilities could be allowed to operate without such strict gas housing compliance.

It was made clear that none of the regulations would be relaxed so much as to damage safe procedure. METI will re-evaluate the stations’ safety standards in 2019.  At this point, the body will use the findings to ascertain where stricter rules are necessary and where to make allowances. The evaluation will be tied to technology and research. This implies that companies looking to develop new technologies and systems for hydrogen re-fuelling could also benefit.

The main priority for METI is to reduce the consumer cost in order to reach its goal of 40,000 vehicles on the road by 2020. Currently, the number is below 2,000 and this is likely because of the high price – over double that of an EV. It is probable that METI will require a number of different approaches in order to achieve this aim; more spending from the government in the form of greater incentives and grants, an aggressive ICE vehicle reduction plan, and a wider network of re-fuelling stations would all help drive uptake for the future.


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