Since the adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015, the world has been making rapid progress toward the realization of carbon neutrality, and Japan has also declared that it aims to achieve a carbon-neutral and decarbonized society by 2050.
The construction of such a decarbonized and sustainable energy system is a common issue in the world, and we, with its global network, keep abreast of the ever-changing policy, technological, and economic trends in each country.
In this page we will introduce some topics on the latest trends from our unique perspective.
(Please note that the following information is organized based on information released by public organizations, but includes our own interpretation, views, and findings.)
Table of Contents
First, let us briefly introduce the history of HORIBA.
For more than 70 years since its foundation, we have played a major role in solving environmental problems such as air and water pollution by refining its unique and advanced "measuring" technologies with the missions of "high efficiency" and "low emission". Starting with the development of Japan's first industrial gas analyzer "GA-1" in 1957, we have expanded its activities to include environmental analysis instruments, leading to today's wide range of products.
The strength of our gas analyzers lies in the fact that all basic technologies and parts are developed and manufactured in-house, which enables us to enhance their analytical performance and quickly respond to development issues from the market.
In the past, air pollution was a serious social problem, and we developed Japan's first motor exhaust gas analyzer "MEXA-1" in 1965, prior to the start of regulations on CO emission concentration from automobile engines in 1966. Its excellent gas analysis technology was also applied to flue gas emissions from factories, which was another source of air pollution.
Since then, we have continued to work on the development of analysis and measurement technologies that contribute to the reduction of environmental pollution and compliance with related regulations, and is now making broad and global contributions to the development of new energy-related "measuring" technologies such as hydrogen and CO2.
In line with the trend of countries declaring carbon neutrality by 2050, the movement to abolish internal combustion engine vehicles is gaining momentum in Northern Europe. In North America, California and other states will abolish the use of internal combustion engine vehicles by 2035, and China declared in September 2020 that it will sell only New Energy Vehicles (NEVs), such as Electric Vehicles (EVs) and hybrid vehicles, by 2035. The UK government has also declared that it will move up its target from 2040 to 2030 (2035 for hybrid vehicles).
The World Energy Outlook (WEO) 2020 published by the International Energy Agency (IEA) is useful for understanding the background. The report includes a new Net Zero Emissions by 2050 (NZE2050) scenario, which significantly revises the forecast for electric vehicle penetration through 2019, assuming at least 50% electric vehicles by 2030 for passenger cars and 30% for trucks. In particular, more than half of the trucks will be fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs), and the rate of FCEV diffusion will be nearly 10 times faster than the previous forecast. Efforts to realize a decarbonized society are now beginning in countries around the world.
In the IEA's "World Energy Outlook (WEO) 2019", Europe's hydrogen strategy positions itself as "moving towards carbon neutrality, first by improving energy efficiency, then by expanding the use of renewable energy (re-energy), and applying hydrogen in areas where electrification and other measures are difficult." The highly fluctuating renewable energy sources need not only to be scaled up, but also to be used efficiently to save energy and absorb fluctuations.
The IEA's 2024 forecast divides efforts into six levels based on each country's renewable energy penetration ratio. Japan is placed at "the second lowest level 'slight impact on the power system,'" and will not reach the "sixth level 'inter-seasonal or inter-annual excess or shortage,'" for the time being, so it is believed that the need for hydrogen storage from renewable energy will not increase yet. On the other hand, European countries with a high percentage of renewable energy will face the urgent need to establish technologies for electrolysis and hydrogen storage as a means of regulating electricity.
Thus, the technological strategy for hydrogen/energy differs between Japan and European countries, depending on the ratio of renewable energy.
Reference link: IEA, "Status of Power System Transformation 2019".
"The World Energy Outlook (WEO) 2020 strongly emphasizes the need to balance economic growth with the recovery scenario from COVID-19. In particular, it states that without accelerated investment in renewable energy, economic recovery will be significantly delayed and the quality of life, especially in developing countries, will be degraded in the long term, thus emphasizing the importance of ESG investment.
The report from IRENA (International Renewable Energy Agency) "Green hydrogen cost reduction" also mentions the challenges of water electrolysis equipment for green hydrogen produced using renewable energy.
It states that by expanding the scale of the electrolysis plant (from 1 MW to 20 MW), the production cost of green hydrogen (hydrogen from renewable energy sources), which is currently more than three times higher than that of gray hydrogen (hydrogen from fossil fuels), can be reduced to 1/3. As for the electrolysis method, the Polymer Electrolyte Membrane (PEM) water electrolysis, which is on the verge of commercialization, is reported to have advantages over the Alkaline water electrolysis in terms of conversion efficiency and flexibility (power adjustment method) through quick start-up and shutdown.
In addition, the Solid Oxide (SO) system, which is undergoing technological development especially in Japan, is still in the research and development stage due to issues such as electrode degradation and sealing at high temperatures. However, it is reported to be promising because of its high conversion efficiency and its ability to produce synthesis gas directly from water vapor and CO2, which can be used for various applications such as CO2 capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) and synthetic liquid fuel production.
The IRENA report is also very useful as a technical manual, as it provides detailed explanations of technical issues from the cell to the system level.
In October 2020, Japan declared itself "carbon neutral by 2050" and set a goal of reducing its overall greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050. This goal is a significant step forward from the previous government policy and requires acceleration of current initiatives such as structural transformation of the energy industry and innovation through bold investment. To this end, the Japanese government has announced two major policies for the end of 2020. One is the "Green Growth Strategy with Carbon Neutrality by 2050" and the other is the "Acceleration of Digital Transformation (DX)". It is noteworthy that both of them are expected to shape the future government policy.
The Green Growth Strategy envisions a carbon-neutral society as an electrified society, and stresses the need for a robust digital infrastructure to efficiently "create," "store," and "use" electricity and batteries. In order to achieve this goal, the "Green Innovation Fund" of 2 trillion yen over 10 years will be used as a springboard to induce private companies to invest in research and development and equipment, thereby encouraging ambitious innovation.
Energy policies differ depending on the situation of each country, such as the ratio of renewable energy in the power supply mix. For example, Germany, which plans to deliver hydrogen by pipeline, and Japan, which plans to deliver lignite hydrogen from Australia by ship, cannot follow the same path. Since there is a limit to how much we can reduce the cost of hydrogen, we need to reintroduce the Top Runner System (Energy Conservation Law), which dramatically improved the performance of home air conditioners about 10 years ago, and develop technologies to improve efficiency through private sector initiative, as well as create demand for hydrogen through hydrogen gas turbine power generation. It seems that one option for Japan is to move forward with the development of advanced technologies and their export.
Reference links: METI "“Green Growth Strategy Through Achieving Carbon Neutrality in 2050” Formulated", NEDO "“The Basic Policies for the Project for the Green Innovation Fund” Formulated" and METI "Top Runner Program"
The development of technologies to synthesize "synthetic fuels" and chemical products using CO2 and hydrogen as raw materials is progressing mainly in Europe and Japan. In addition to solving the technical problems of these synthetic technologies, there is an urgent need to design a system of emissions trading called "carbon pricing".
Carbon pricing is a measure to encourage the reduction of emissions by charging or taxing fossil fuels with high emissions. While the price of carbon trading in Europe, where it is currently at 5,000 yen per ton, has reached a level where it can be used as a business, the price in Japan is still around 300 yen.
In Japan, the calculation of emissions is currently not standardized and the value of transactions is ambiguous, and the country does not appear to be ready for international transactions. For businesses, in order to declare that their products are carbon neutral, it is necessary to identify the process of synthetic fuel, the source of CO2 emissions, and identify the interrelationships of businesses in the supply chain. For this purpose, guidelines for measures have been issued, such as consistency with international standards such as ISO14064-1, and international standardization of methods for evaluating environmental characteristics formulated by domestic and industry organizations. Currently, discussions on the design of a carbon pricing system led by the Japanese government have begun in earnest.
Related link: METI『世界全体でのカーボンニュートラル実現のための経済的手法等のあり方に関する研究会』 (Japanese only)
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