Kitakyushu, Japan: World’s first hydrogen town

  • Japanese project turns steel-making waste into energy source
  • Fuel cells can meet 20% to 60% of electricity needs

By Ann Teoh

The world is watching how Japan’s Kitakyushu, Fukuoka, will fare as the world’s first hydrogen town. With this large-scale experiment, scientists hope to see how much carbon dioxide can be cut with the new power source.


Yomiuri Shimbun reports that the Fukuoka prefectural and Kitakyushu municipal governments have partnered with 13 companies including JX Nippon Oil & Energy and four major utility gas firms to conduct the hydrogen-powered fuel cell experiment. 


The report says a 1.2 km hydrogen pipeline has been laid between Nippon Steel’s Yawata Works (the hydrogen is waste from the steel-making process) and a residential area in the Yahata Higashi district of Kitakyushu, also known as Hydrogen Town. The pipeline has a diameter of 5 cm to 10 cm. The 2011 project, which is built around the Kitakyushu Hydrogen Station, is led by the Research Association of Hydrogen Supply/Utilisation Technology (HySUT).


Those enjoying the new energy source include a seven-unit apartment block, a museum and a hardware shop. All are equipped with 14 next-generation fuel cells. Each can generate up to 100 kW. They can generate both heat and power and do not emit any CO2


The Yomiuri Shimbun report also quotes project officials as saying in January that the cells meet 20% to 60% of electricity needs at each location. Kitakyushu mayor Kenji Kitahashi says he wants the city to be a global forerunner in realising a low-carbon society.



The Hydrogen Town Project is a part of the bigger Hydrogen Energy Social Infrastructure Development Demonstration Project, which aims to create a hydrogen society, says Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). The other related project is the Hydrogen Highway Project to provide expressway services using fuel cell buses.


The Kitakyushu project will study supply stability, safety assurance and charging procedures. Specifically, it will also verify the viability of the technology to add or remove odour from hydrogen for safe use; a hydrogen gas metering system for hydrogen charging; and the operational performance of pure-hydrogen-type fuel cells. It also plans to test other hydrogen-fuelled technologies, such as stationary pure hydrogen fuel cells and light electric vehicles, including fuel cell-assisted bicycles and forklifts. 


This project of piping hydrogen to households and commercial facilities is a world first. Kitakyushu, however, is not the only town in Fukuoka Prefecture to be experimenting with hydrogen-related technology. A test project launched in 2008 equipped two housing communities of Minakazedai and Misakigaoka in Maebaru City with 150 fuel cell co-generation systems, powered by hydrogen extracted from liquefied petroleum gas. 


A 2009 International Energy Agency (IEA) report titled “Cities, towns and renewable energy” says that these Fukuoka prefecture test system could cover about 60% of the power of a typical household and 80% of its hot water supply.


The project is promoted by the Fukuoka Hydrogen Strategy (Hy-Life Project), run by the Fukuoka perfecture and the Fukuoka Strategy Conference for Hydrogen Energy. This is Japan’s largest consortium of industry, academia and local government, formed to undertake R&D in hydrogen production, distribution, storage and applications.


Hydrogen researchers at Kyushu University are using the excess hydrogen generated during the steel-making process at Yawata Works while car makers are monitoring the results.


Earlier, in 2006, a group of Danish companies released a utopian vision of a hydrogen city named H2PIA. It involved hydrogen being produced by non fossil fuels, a hydrogen-fuelled CHP (combined heat and power) plant based around fuel cells, a vehicle refilling station, individual fuel cells for buildings and a district heating system. Although the project was to be built somewhere in Denmark, it is not known if the project actually started. 


This article was developed based on a posting on Japan for Sustainability website