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First look at the Hydrogen Road project in Kobe, Japan

Thursday, March 07, 2024

A dockside hydrogen storage facility. On the right is the boom used to unload the liquified gas from the tanker, on the left the spherical storage tank.

On my walk from Kobe Airport to Sannomiya, I had to pass the Kawasaki Hydrogen Road project. While I've heard much and written some, I'd yet to see the facility, so this was a perfect opportunity to see what it looked like in the flesh.

It's a proof of concept to ship hydrogen from production facilities in Australia across the Pacific to Kobe, Japan. All are small-scale at the moment, although I understand some full-sized tankers are in their planning phase (they may even have been laid out).

It was interesting to get a sense of the size of this thing. From what I've read, its purpose is to test aspects of the unloading technology - getting the gas from ship to shore and into the energy grid. There's a sister in Australia doing the same for loading.

A screenshot from Apple Maps showing a dock from above. The dock curves and moored alongside is a hydrogen tanker.

It was disappointing. I expected more fanfare and flashing lights rather than an empty dock, a boom and a metal ball. The only hint it was something special was an "in the know" flash on the side of the tank looking out across the dock. There is a display in the airport terminal building, but a nice flash banner and a neon sign visible from the road would be nice.

If all this works, Japan plans a hydrogen road linking producers and users across the region. It would be like an overlay on the existing LNG routes but with cooler-looking ships and Japanese tech.

My main niggle at the moment is the use of brown coal to generate the hydrogen. While it can use entirely renewable energy in the process, there are emissions of CO2 and Methane. There are plans to capture them, though where the tech is on that front is vague.

I'm not 100% convinced about ferrying gas around the Pacific when it could be generated locally. I suspect there will be massive demand for it once H picks up pace as a replacement for fossil fuels in industrial processes. Maybe heavy transport. Cars ... not so sure.

I will keep my eyes open and report back if I see any changes. Trips to the airport happen almost monthly, so there is plenty of opportunity for a sneaky peak.

My name is Ross Hori

I'm a freelance writer, designer and photographer. By day I create articles, features and reports. At night I take photos and write fiction.

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