Jun 30, 2023
Generating Sustainable Impacts / Feature Story
PGI in Action: Asia Fuel Cell Project Highlights Hydrogen’s Versatility
Global Energy Challenges Spur Interest in Hydrogen
The ongoing global movement toward decarbonization is promoting investment in sources of renewable energy, such as solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal, and biomass. But while solar and wind are proven and popular sources of low-carbon energy, the variable nature of their availability has also led to growing interest in hydrogen as a way to bridge the supply gap.
Noting that governments and companies are interested in the versatility of hydrogen, the International Energy Agency (IEA) believes that for hydrogen to make a significant contribution to clean energy transitions, it also needs to be adopted in sectors where it is almost completely absent—such as transport, buildings, and power generation1.
The IEA predicts that the cost of producing hydrogen from renewable electricity could fall by nearly 33 percent up to 2030 as hydrogen production scales up, the cost of renewables continues to decline, and mass production commences for essential technologies such as fuel cells, refueling equipment, and electrolyzers2.
Advanced Panasonic Hydrogen Fuel Cells Pathway to Sustainable Future
Panasonic believes that hydrogen is fuel for a sustainable future, and is seeking to make a significant contribution to promoting carbon neutrality through the practical application of advanced hydrogen fuel cells in buildings and for power generation.
“Photovoltaic cells and wind turbines are fantastic green power generation technologies, but both are subject to instability in terms of power supply because they depend on weather conditions and the 24-hour cycle,” said Max Fujita, Overseas Sales & Marketing Manager in the Fuel Cell & Hydrogen Strategic Business Unit of Panasonic Corporation’s Electric Works Company. “Hydrogen fuel cells are a stable green power generation technology regardless of the weather or time of day.”
Participants in the recent Tokyo 2020 Games may not have noticed that Panasonic’s pure hydrogen fuel cells were being used to power some of the facilities in the athletes’ village. Japan’s first full-scale demonstration of hydrogen infrastructure in an urban environment, the site—known as HARUMI FLAG—is a smart town with a self-sustaining energy supply and comfortable, low-emission lifestyle that is expected to serve as an example of what can be achieved through advanced, sustainable hydrogen technology.
Meanwhile, in Shiga Prefecture, visitors to H2 KIBOU FIELD—an RE1003 demonstration facility within the Smart Energy System Business Division’s Kusatsu Factory in Kusatsu City—have been able to witness how pure hydrogen fuel cells contribute to making it possible to supply 100% of the electricity consumed in business activities from renewable sources. H2 KIBOU FIELD is the world’s first4 attempt to create an RE100 factory through the full-scale use of hydrogen.
Wuxi Project Demonstrates Versatility of Hydrogen Fuel Cells
Panasonic’s effort to promote meaningful application of hydrogen technology is one facet of its global commitment to a sustainable future that includes transitioning manufacturing facilities around the world into Zero CO2 factories. As part of this effort, in March 2023, Panasonic launched a demonstration test of a cold/heat/electricity solution using pure hydrogen fuel cells in Wuxi, China, expanding the deployment of hydrogen fuel cells outside of Japan.
“China is one of the world’s largest emitters of CO2. We believe that contributing to decarbonization in China will help maintain a green planet on a global level,” said Fujita. “We’ve been developing our hydrogen fuel cell business in Japan and Europe and now we are considering China as a target market for this initiative.”
After China issued a policy directive to build a low-carbon society based on hydrogen, local governments began promoting the introduction of hydrogen fuel cell commercial vehicles because the mobility space is the one of the few sectors where practical use of hydrogen solutions is currently considered viable. At the same time, Panasonic began experiencing significant, growing interest in its pure hydrogen fuel cells, and decided that a practical demonstration would help it determine the best way forward in the Chinese market.
Panasonic Energy (Wuxi) Co. Ltd. (PECW) in Jiangsu Province produces secondary batteries, mainly lithium-ion batteries and nickel-metal hydride batteries, and in April 2021, became the first Panasonic manufacturing facility in the country to be certified as a Zero CO2 factory. It was the perfect site for the hydrogen demonstration project.
The key difference between the hydrogen demonstration projects at PECW and H2 KIBOU FIELD is scale. “The Japanese site has 99 fuel cells totaling 495 kilowatts, while eight fuel cells generating 40 kilowatts have been installed at the Chinese site, making the Wuxi demonstration project smaller but also more flexible,” said Fujita.
This flexibility helped Panasonic adapt the PECW installation to use heat generated by the fuel cells to cool the facility.
“Stationary hydrogen fuel cells are generally utilized as cogeneration systems, combining heat and power. However, in southern China, where summers are long and temperatures are high, the heat generated by hydrogen fuel cells can’t be used and is wasted,” explained Mengxiao Hou, New Energy Department Director, Business Development Center, Panasonic China & Northeast Asia Company. “Therefore, when planning this project, we decided to install a lithium bromide unit, or ABS. In the summer, it is assumed that the ABS5 equipment will absorb excess heat to provide cooling to the building. Through this method, we hope to not only maximize the use of valuable hydrogen energy, but also to present a new scenario for hydrogen utilization.”
The PECW demonstration has been instrumental in raising awareness among stakeholder groups in China about the important role that hydrogen fuel cell technology can play in the field of distributed power generation. “The project launch received a great deal of exposure in the media. It’s only been a few months, but to date more than 30 groups from government, academia, organizations, and business have toured the site and we continue to generate media coverage,” said Hou. “We’ve had the opportunity to actively exchange opinions about hydrogen with the local companies that visited us.”
Future Possibilities Under PGI
Panasonic’s long-term environmental vision, Panasonic GREEN IMPACT, aims to achieve virtually zero CO2 emissions by 2030. In addition to efforts to reduce emissions in its own value chain (OWN IMPACT), the company is also seeking to contribute to reducing emissions for customers and society (CONTRIBUTION IMPACT) by enhancing the performance of existing businesses.
“We believe that practical application of hydrogen fuel cell technology will be one of the core activities for realizing Panasonic GREEN IMPACT,” said Fujita. “We’re receiving many inquiries from companies that want to introduce green power generation technologies at their facilities, factories, and office buildings. Our vision extends beyond Panasonic factories—we want to contribute the green power revolution across society.”
“People who are familiar with the RE100 demonstration project being conducted at our Kusatsu Plant have said that they are grateful to be able to observe such a demonstration project in China without having to travel to Japan,” said Hou. “I believe that the PECW project will be an opportunity for everyone to learn about the value of stationary hydrogen fuel cells and be a useful reference point for the construction of a hydrogen energy society in the future.
“This project is also an example of our environmental efforts. Every visitor to the site is briefed on our Panasonic GREEN IMPACT environmental vision. So this project not only demonstrates Panasonic’s technological capabilities in the field of hydrogen, but also helps us to connect with people who are interested in reducing carbon dioxide emissions, enhancing our brand image and increasing customer trust and loyalty to our brand.”
1, 2 Source: IEA, The Future of Hydrogen—Seizing Today’s Opportunities, p.14
3 RE100 = Renewable Energy 100% initiative to ensure that 100% of the electricity consumed in business activities is generated through renewable sources such as solar, wind, geothermal, and hydraulic power, and biomass.
4 Demonstration conducted with the full-scale use of hydrogen as a fuel for in-house power generation to supply the electricity required for factory operations (as of May 24, 2021, surveyed by Panasonic)
5 ABS: Absorption chiller
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