Japan: Forcing the SOFC technology

Hama-Wind-Turbine in Yokohama, © Toyota

In December 2017, there were 91 public hydrogen refueling stations operating in Japan, with another 10 in development, putting the country well on its way to its short-term goal of 160 by 2020. The deployment of stations has been one of Japan’s hydrogen success stories, despite daunting costs and a lack of initial demand.

Japan is now focusing on cost reduction. Last June, the country approved significant changes to the regulatory framework governing the stations, which had been classified as industrial facilities. The new rules govern issues such as safety inspections, quality control, unattended operation and a host of other technical topics.


Average station costs are JPY 360 million, with operating costs of JPY 40 million, driven in large part by the strict regulatory regime. The goal is a roughly 50 percent reduction in both, through the regulatory changes, R&D, information sharing, design standardization and other means.



The other success story, at least so far, is Ene-Farm, the cooperative program to market residential fuel cells. More than 220,000 units have been installed since the program began in 2009. The price for PEM units has been cut by two-thirds to a little over JPY 1 million, with the target set to JPY 800,000 by 2019. The government is considering ways to improve the uptake in multi-family housing units, where only a handful of systems have been installed. The percentage of the population living in multi-family buildings adds up to about 40 percent.

A surprising phenomenon has been the growth of SOFC units in the Ene-Farm product mix; more than 10 percent of the installed units are now SOFCs. The technology has superior electrical efficiency but has struggled with cost and durability issues. Now, 10-year durability has been achieved and costs are coming down. According to government estimates, buyers of SOFC units had to spend only about half as much in 2017 as they did in 2011. The units will need …


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