The Port of Los Angeles [Image: Steve Saunders / Unsplash]

Japan’s Hydrogen Society Makes Inroads in California

Asia Japan

Seeking to jumpstart their hydrogen economy and become the United States’ main hub for hydrogen technology, California has joined Japan’s ambitious goal to reach carbon-neutrality by 2050, initiating a variety of fuel cell projects. Many experts have touted clean hydrogen power as an innovative and viable solution to lowering emissions, as it can be produced from domestic resources and utilized in a diverse range of applications.

Japan serves as a leading voice on hydrogen infrastructure with its “Hydrogen Society” initiative, a comprehensive, global vision for a carbon-neutral environment. Japan, on the forefront of green innovation, produced the Toyota “Mirai" in 2014, one of the first commercially mass-produced hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEV). In March 2020, the country opened the world’s largest green hydrogen production facility. Hydrogen power will also be showcased at the Tokyo Olympics this summer, fueling the iconic Olympic flame and powering the Olympic residential village, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles will also transport people to venues. These endeavors signal Japan’s dedicated commitment to a global, green future.

California is now seeking to develop and enhance its hydrogen power capabilities. Prioritizing clean energy investment, California state legislators have requested $300 million be allocated to hydrogen fueling infrastructure projects. This call to action, along with others, has funneled into the launch of a variety of joint collaborations with Japanese companies to lower carbon emissions in the state.

One of the largest initiatives aims to decarbonize the Port of Los Angeles by 2035. As the biggest port in the United States, the facility handles 20% of the country’s incoming cargo. Toyota Motor North America and Toyota Tsusho America, in an effort to find green solutions, are collaborating on research to evaluate the use of hydrogen fuel cell machinery, investigating the use of hydrogen power in potential production. Toyota Motor North America has also debuted a line of hydrogen fuel-cell trucks for port operations. Japanese Ambassador Tomita Koji visited the port in June and test drove the electric trucks, expressing his approval of US-Japan trade and green infrastructure collaboration.

Additionally, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG) Bank is financing FirstElement Fuel (FEF), California’s leading developer and distributor of hydrogen fueling stations. The $50 million loan was approved as a way for MUFG to understand and support California’s innovative businesses. FEF is supported by other Japanese institutions, such as the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) and Mitsui & Co. In March, JBIC signed a memorandum of understanding with the California state government to support and expand US-Japan business collaboration in sustainability sectors. Japanese business and investment ties in California run deep, with 488 Japanese companies in the state that employ over 100,000 Californians.

As clean energy resources continue to represent a vital sector in the United States, local collaboration with Japan will be essential to securing a more sustainable future.

Isabel Ayala is a participant in the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington. She is a senior at the University of Texas at Austin concentrating in Asian Studies and Government.