Drivers of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in Japan, like the Toyota Mirai and Honda Clarity, can fuel up at a “toilet-to-tank filling station,” as reported in the Los Angeles Times.
Fukuoka, a southern Japanese city, now has a hydrogen fueling station in place fueled by biogas coming from a combination of methane and carbon dioxide produced by the breakdown of wastewater from a central sewage plant. It’s now the second of its kind, following a demonstration facility that used similar technology at a Fountain Valley, Calif., wastewater plant that started in 2011 and is no longer in operation.
The Fukuoka plant comes from a $12-million investment from Japan’s government, plus research, engineering, design and building work by Mitsubishi, Toyota, and Kyushu University. Starting in late 2015, fuel cell vehicle drivers have been able to go to the sewage plant and fuel up their cars.
The station is open only 12 hours per day but already is making enough hydrogen to fill 65 cars daily. That number could grow to 600 cars if all the biogas at the plant was harnessed.
Japan is in the midst of a major push to move hydrogen-powered cars off the drawing board and into driveways. The government this year has doubled its funding for fuel cell vehicle subsidies, construction of filling stations and hydrogen energy farms to about $280 million, up from $120 million last year.
Japan now has about hydrogen 80 stations operating, and Germany has 50. The U.S. now has 29 hydrogen stations in operation with most of them in California, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
In the U.S., most hydrogen is produced from natural gas. But a 2014 study by DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory found that biogas from waste water treatment plants, landfills, animal manure and industrial facilities could be used as a major source of hydrogen.
“Sewage sludge is completely untapped today as a fuel source,” said Yoshikazu Tanaka, chief engineer of the Toyota Mirai. “We believe it’s very promising and would bring ultimate self-sustainability to communities.”
Toyota started offering the Mirai last fall and has sold about 1,000 in Japan and 200 in California, Tanaka said. The company has already received more than 2,000 orders in the U.S., and Americans who reserve vehicles now will have to wait until 2017 to get them. Honda and Hyundai are also offering fuel cell vehicles in the U.S.
Japan would like to tap into its support of fuel cell cars during the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. On July 1, the city announced it would open a Hydrogen Museum to educate residents and visitors alike about the technology. The city and national governments have also pledged to have 100 hydrogen-powered buses on the city’s streets in time for the summer games.