Japan launches liquid-hydrogen ocean carrier

The Hydrogen Frontier will transport fuel made from Australian coal in bid to build carbon-free future


Japan has launched the world’s first liquid hydrogen carrier on the ocean as it tries to build a global supply chain for carbon-free fuel.

The 8,000-tonne Hydrogen Frontier departed the Kawasaki Heavy Industries yard in Kobe, in the first stage in a pilot project in which hydrogen produced from coal in Australia and liquefied at -253C will be shipped to Japan.

Japan sees hydrogen, which emits no carbon at the point of use, as a potential answer to its energy needs. It is betting more on hydrogen than any other country, for example with the development of fuel cell vehicles such as Toyota’s Mirai.

However, there are doubts over whether coal can produce cost-efficient “green” hydrogen, while electric batteries have taken a lead over hydrogen fuel cells in the race to power emission-free vehicles.

Kawasaki is building storage tanks in Japan to receive incoming liquid hydrogen before the start of trial shipments from Australia late in 2020.

Australia intends to manufacture hydrogen by liquefaction from its huge reserves of low-grade coal. However, it is only environmentally-friendly if the carbon is captured and stored. If it isn't, hydrogen shipments simply shift emissions from Japan to Australia. Engineers around the world have struggled to capture and store carbon at a reasonable cost.

The Hydrogen Frontier can carry 1,250 cubic metres of liquid hydrogen in a single tank.

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