Hydrogen fuel cells to power homes, vehicles in Japan.

Author:Jean, Grace V.
Position:Energy and Security

YOKOHAMA, Japan -- Consumers here soon will be able to generate electricity and hot water for their homes and power their vehicles by using hydrogen.

Next year, companies including Panasonic, Toshiba and Toyota will begin selling residential fuel cell systems across the nation, says Hisashi Yano, director of the Japan Hydrogen Fuel Cell demonstration park.

Hydrogen fuel cells generate electricity through chemical reactions between hydrogen and oxygen. Such technologies are considered clean energy sources because the only byproducts of the process are heat and water.

However, attaining a supply of hydrogen for the system still requires burning fossil fuels. The residential fuel cell technologies will be connected to existing home energy sources, such as natural gas, propane and kerosene. The fuel cells derive hydrogen from those sources through a reforming process. One day, scientists believe the hydrogen will be derived from water.

Field tests of the residential fuel cell systems have been conducted in more than 3,300 homes across Japan since 2005. The technologies have shown reductions of 24 percent in fossil fuel consumption and 39 percent in carbon dioxide emissions per household, says Makoto Okuda, director of the fuel cell department at the New Energy Foundation, which subsidizes the technology at a cost of $20,000 per residential fuel cell unit.

Each unit produces one kilowatt of electricity. The excess heat and water generated through the process can be captured and shifted to a home's hot water supply.

Consumers will be able to purchase the technologies for $10,000 per unit. The government is considering subsidies to help defray the cost. Manufacturers are working to lower the price of the commercial systems. Okuda says the price tag must be cut to $5,000 to truly penetrate the market.

Along with promoting hydrogen fuel cell technologies for residences, the government is encouraging the development of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Its goal is to have 15 million units on the roads by 2030 to begin replacing the 80 million vehicles and motorcycles currently operating on conventional gasoline.

Auto manufacturers are leasing about 60 fuel cell vehicles to cities and municipalities across the country to generate data and interest in...

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