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New Twists for Japanese Ene-Farms

Over the last two months, Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) has selected at least four natural gas utilities to participate in “verification projects” under its Building Virtual Power Plant Using Customer-Side Energy Resources program. Participating utilities so far include Osaka Gas, Tokyo Gas, Seibu Gas, and J Power. The program is intended to facilitate the development of renewable electricity in Japan and is shining a new light on the deployment of fuel cells in the country's built environment.

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Japan Advances SOFCs for the Built Environment

A steady stream of Japanese news reports over the last several months attest to the country’s progress in deploying fuel cells in the built environment. Dubbed “Ene-Farms,” the appliances function as micro-scale combined heat and power units, providing electricity as well as heat for domestic applications. Most of the Ene-Farms deployed so far feature proton-exchange membrane (PEM) technology (which requires high-purity hydrogen). However, two recent developments show that solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) technology (well suited for ammonia) could play a role, maybe even a large role, in Japan's Hydrogen Society.

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Rapid Long-Term Growth Projected for Fuel Cells

Last month the Fuji-Keizai Group released its latest biennial review of the global market for fuel cells, “Future Outlook for Fuel Cell-Related Technology and Market in 2018.”  This is at least the third iteration of the report, and comparison across the different editions shows how expectations have evolved.  The report features both polymer electrolyte and solid oxide fuel cells.  Although not mentioned in the report, a number of groups are working on direct ammonia versions of both technologies.

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Toyota, 7-Eleven to Cooperate on Low-Carbon Convenience Stores

Last month, one Ammonia Energy post discussed Toyota’s participation in a Low-Carbon Hydrogen Project in its home prefecture -- including implicit support for ammonia as a hydrogen carrier.  Another post discussed Japanese manufacturer IHI’s plans to commercialize a small-scale combined heat and power system (micro CHP) based on direct ammonia solid oxide fuel cell technology.  Now, according to a June 6 Toyota Motor Corporation press release, Toyota and micro CHP have converged. The announcement served as the unveiling of a “joint project” by Toyota and the convenience store chain 7-Eleven to develop “next-generation convenience stores aiming to considerably reduce CO2 emissions.”  The two companies initially agreed to cooperate in August 2017 on "considerations toward energy conservation and carbon dioxide emission reduction in store distribution and operation.”