Japan stakes its future on climate innovation to help Asia become greener
From turning recycled clothing into biofuel for cars and using disposable diapers as a substitute for sand to make concrete, to vending machines that suck carbon dioxide from the air, Japan’s private sector is not short of innovation to reduce its carbon footprint and of the Asian region.
The government, for its part, is betting on clean hydrogen, although its nascent technology and low economies of scale mean the cost, from production to distribution, is said to be 10 times higher than that of natural gas.
Japan’s success in green initiatives, both by the government and private sector, will be pivotal for the region.
Through the Asia Zero Emission Community (Aztec) framework, which includes Australia and all ASEAN countries except Myanmar, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida pledged in December 2023 to help Asia become greener by leading the development of new green technologies and necessary legal systems.
However, the Japanese government has received flak from climate change experts and activists alike for not doing enough to spur innovation in the private sector, whether it is in developing hydrogen as a clean energy source or other green technologies.
Japan was decades ahead of its time on hydrogen, having begun exploring the possible energy source 50 years ago as oil prices surged. But this failed to take off, given the high development costs and low demand from a world then ignorant of climate change.
Hydrogen, which boasts an energy yield 2.75 times higher than fossil fuels and does not emit carbon dioxide when used, is now the government’s top green priority focus. While its lead is shrinking, Japan still boasts the most number of patents for hydrogen technology in the world.
Japan has budgeted three trillion yen (S$27 billion) over the next 15 years to subsidise the production of “cleaner” forms of hydrogen, the Nikkei newspaper reported on Jan 30. To fund this and other green initiatives, Tokyo will issue, later in February, what is said to be the world’s first green transition sovereign bonds.
In December 2023, Singapore and Japan inked an agreement to promote digital and green practices in shipping, which will include pilot projects to test the use of zero- or near-zero-emission fuels such as ammonia and hydrogen.
Hydrogen is found in water and fossil fuels and is divided into three categories, depending on how it is extracted.
The dirtiest, labelled “grey”, is largely being used today, with the hydrogen produced from fossil fuels such as natural gas and coal, generating greenhouse gases which contribute to global warming and pollution.
The middle-of-the-road “blue” hydrogen uses the same processes as “grey” hydrogen but with the greenhouse gases captured, stored and potentially used.
The cleanest, “green” hydrogen, is produced through the electrolysis of water using renewable energy.
However, Japan’s hydrogen plan has its critics and there are still teething problems in the use of the energy by consumers. Experts are calling on the government to take a stronger lead.
Tokyo is seen as a laggard in its plans to spur innovation through subsidies to private companies, with many now dabbling in hydrogen technology on their own, including chemicals giant Asahi Kasei and materials manufacturer Toray Industries.
The Straits Times
Asia News Network