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Friday, February 2, 2018

DAY 5: Kyushu University Hydrogen Energy Research and Education

I started with another enormous breakfast at the Washington Hotel:


Our group from Hawaii then took the subway and connected to a bus that finally brought us to the Ito Campus.  I've reviewed hydrogen programs around the world, and was totally impressed with the work being accomplished by the Kyushu University Research Center for Hydrogen Industrial Use and Storage (HYDROGENIUS):


HYDROGENIUS, of course is the acronym for HYDROGEN Industrial Use and Storage.  This must be largest hydrogen program in the world, for they have 110 staff members.  The organization is headed by Kazunari Sasaki (left), Senior Vice President of Kyushu University, and Yoichi Sugimura, director of the center.  

HYDROGENIUS will be five years old in April.  However, a dozen years ago, the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST under the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry) establish a Memorandum of Understanding with Kyushu University to initiate HYDROGENIUS.  IN 2013 the center was established on the Ito Campus as a platform for research and development on hydrogen technology in cooperation with industries and government.

While involved with a wide variety of areas (safety, cost reduction, standard, etc.), two especial research foci are materials/hydrogen fatigue and fuel cells.  We thus visited with those two pathways:


As you can see, venting of hydrogen is a special concern, and some of the equipment is complex.

We visited the campus hydrogen filling station, where the gas is produced through electrolysis using solar photovoltaics.


The next generation station will double the pressure up to 70 megapascals.  There is close to a ten to one ratio compared to atmospheres.  Thus, their new facility will be at 691 atmospheres.  The have several fuel cell vehicles, including the latest, a Honda, where we took a spin:


The dashboard shows how much hydrogen is available and how far the car can go.  The max is 600 kilometers, or 373 miles.  Below is Toyota demonstrator:


There are no hard numbers being shared, but the Toyota and Honda fuel cell cars now being sold for around $65,000 almost surely is a losing proposition, for it must cost a lot more to build them.  Then when you add the fueling station, which is very expensive, and the subsidized hydrogen price, what these Japanese auto manufacturers are doing is a long-term strategy, being confident that the fuel cell vehicle will supersede battery cars some time in the future.  They are positioning themselves for this future market.  This a good sign for those involved with fuel cells and hydrogen.

In a totally different way, I came up with a similar inducement twelve years ago:

On March 21, 2006, at the annual luncheon of the National Hydrogen Association (NHA) Conference in Long Beach, California, I received the Spark Matsunaga Memorial Hydrogen Award, usually given to an elected official. 
However, as I was the individual who U.S. Senator Spark Matsunaga assigned in 1980 to write the first draft of his hydrogen bill, I guess I was considered to be close enough to qualify. The second recipient, in 1992, was U.S. Senator Daniel Akaka, whose letter of congratulations was read by Jeff Serfass of NHA. 
Other awardees have included Congressmen and Senators, although Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger received this honor in 2004. Walking up to the podium, aside from the assorted obligatory thank you, I wondered what I was going to say. (Pardon me for mentioning all this, but a degree of credibility helps when one leaps beyond the edge of the envelope.) 
It then came to me in a moment of splendid inspiration, bursting forth from a third of a century of deliberation—MAKE HYDROGEN FREE. Deep in my memory might well have been a statement by Jeremy Rifkin in his book on The Hydrogen Economy, where he imagines a future a century away where the cost of producing unlimited amounts of hydrogen should virtually be zero. This sounds too much like atomic power being too cheap to monitor, but let me proceed.


There was a second part to this quote to my Huffington Post article, and the concept got a lot of debate, but, of course, nothing happened.

Well, anyway, after the HYDROGENIUS tour, the Hawaii group had lunch with our Kyushu University counterparts:


That's my lunch, featuring Miyazaki chicken.  I regularly go to Miyazaki for their wagyu beef and caviar.  Well, anyway, Professor Kohei Ito in particular was curious as to how the hydrogen field started.  I indicated that:
  • In the mid-1970's I also worked at the
    •  Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory on laser fusion
    • NASA Ames Research Center on the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence
  • Fusion is the combination of hydrogen isotopes, and our Sun (and all stars) produce energy by fusing hydrogen.
  • Hydrogen is element #1 and 73% of the entire Universe.
  • The combustion of hydrogen produces water.
  • I was there when the University of Miami hosted the first hydrogen gathering in 1974.
  • In Hawaii I directed a Department of Energy project to determine whether, given biomass, you should produce ethanol or methanol.
    • Ethanol would be by fermentation, while methanol would be by gasification and catalysis.
    • By far, methanol was the most sensible option.
    • However, "cheap" hydrogen was the key to cost-effective methanol.
    • Plus, the direct methanol fuel cell had not yet been invented.
    • However, the Farm Lobby successfully convinced the White House and Congress to only focus on ethanol.
  • But the point is that hydrogen kept coming up as a key to our future.
  • Finally, Hawaii, a tourist state, was concerned that the price of oil was beginning to escalate, and if a substitute could be found for jetfuel.  
  • Global warming was not an issue then.
  • The best solution was a hydrogen-powered aircraft.
  • So, at the time of the second energy crisis in 1979 I was sent off to work for U.S. Senator Spark Matsunaga, where I drafted the legislation to create a national hydrogen program.
For other related activities, click on SOME EARLY POLITICS OF HYDROGEN.  While Toyota and Honda feel that the time will soon be at hand, I remain dubious as to when.  Someday, of course, as if there is any clue on what to do about our energy future, just gaze off into outer space.  While there is a difference of opinion on timing, clearly, it is the responsibility of academia to provide the fundamental work to explore for options.  It has almost been four decades since I first wrote the hydrogen bill.  I suspect we have another 40 years to go for full commercialization.  Kyushu University has chosen to be the pioneer for the Hydrogen Economy of the future.

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