Jun 5, 2023


Overcoming obstacles to the achievement of a hydrogen society,a star of hope for decarbonization

Leveraging our strengths that we have cultivated through automotive systems development to take on challenges to the hydrogen field with our partners

Transitions toward carbon neutrality are under way around the world, and the effective use of hydrogen plays a key role in it. DENSO is using its technologies that it has cultivated through automotive systems development to work on the technology development in the hydrogen production and usage fields.

By developing these technologies, the company and its associates are working hard to eliminate carbon emissions on a global scale and build a carbon-neutral energy-recycling society.

Contents of this article

    Hydrogen–the key to carbon neutrality

    Climate change has been increasingly making the news, and people around the world are calling for carbon neutrality. In order to protect the planet’s environment and ensure comfortable lives for everyone far into the future, it is essential to work on the decarbonization. There is going to be a worldwide energy transition from fossil fuels, such as petroleum and coal, to clean-energy alternatives to get over the high hurdle of decarbonization, and hydrogen is focused on as a solution.

    Why is it focused on? First, hydrogen can be extracted from various sources, and is a clean energy that generates no CO2 emissions when used as energy. Utilizing hydrogen as energy leads to decarbonization of power generation facilities and types of equipment for which electrification is difficult or impossible, and that of large commercial-use battery electric vehicles (BEVs).

    Moreover, as hydrogen has the property of being able to “store”, it is possible to convert the surplus electricity of renewable energy, such as solar power, to hydrogen, and store it over a long period. That is why utilization of hydrogen is expected from not only the perspective of decarbonization, but also that of energy security in the countries like Japan where energy self-sufficiency rates are low.

    Despite these high expectations, however, hydrogen has not been widely used yet. I It’s because there are many hurdles to get over to realize the sustainable society, though great efforts have been made around the world so far.

    Kimihiro Igami of DENSO’s Automotive & Life Solutions Div. explains that it is necessary to simultaneously solve multiple technological problems in the hydrogen supply chains, which includes “produce”, “store and transport” and “use”, in order to popularize hydrogen.

    “Hydrogen will not be widely utilized before its supply chain are fully established. We need to efficiently produce green hydrogen* using renewable energy sources, and then transport it suitably. And we also need to utilize green hydrogen more in wider fields. It’s important to simultaneously solve all of these problems in hydrogen supply and demand systems in order to popularize hydrogen utilization.

    But this is a large and complex task that cannot be tackled by only one company; success requires cooperation among various organizations and their technologies and expertise. We are sure that our technology we have developed over the years in automotive systems can be of great use, and we thus hope to contribute to building a carbon-neutral future.”

    * Green hydrogen: hydrogen produced using renewable energy

    Various technological problems must be solved in order to make hydrogen more widespread. DENSO is currently challenging ourselves to solve technological problems in the “produce” and “use” fields of hydrogen.

    DENSO’s strengths in the hydrogen field

    DENSO has already spent much time and effort developing technologies for the “use” field of hydrogen. The company has made major contributions to the development and mass production of the system-related products for Mirai, the world’s first fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) in the field of passenger cars. Naoyuki Yamada, who has been in charge of FCEV products development in the Energy Solution Development Div., explains the company’s efforts in the hydrogen field.

    “Although not widely known, DENSO has been developing FCEV-related products for about two decades. As FCEV uses hydrogen, and it was new as an energy source for vehicles, we had to take on challenges for safety different from conventional ones. I have been taking on the development with a sense of mission that I had to make the products absolutely safe, because everyone had an impression that hydrogen was dangerous, as seen in the “hydrogen explosion”, at the time.

    In our development of the products for Mirai, we have developed the technologies of fast and safe hydrogen refueling, efficient conversion of hydrogen to electricity, and efficient use of electricity for driving.

    By using such FCEV technologies in combination with DENSO’s elemental technologies, production technologies and so forth, we can contribute to spreading the utilization of hydrogen.”

    DENSO has worked on development and mass production of FCEV system components in the “use” field of hydrogen. From now on, we would like to take on spreading the products in earnest and apply the technologies to the field of combustion system which utilizes hydrogen, such as hydrogen engines.

    And beyond the mobility field, DENSO is also taking on stationary fuel cells, hydrogen utilization in industrial furnaces, and water electrolysis equipment which “produce” hydrogen.

    Simultaneously approaching problems of “produce” and “use” hydrogen utilizing our technologies

    Numerous technological hurdles have arisen while trying to disseminate the use of hydrogen. Most of these are related to the efficiency and durability of fuel cells, furnaces and the like in the “use” field of hydrogen, and electrolysis equipment and the like in the “produce” field.

    Actually, these technological issues have some common points with requirements of automotive systems. DENSO is challenging itself to solve these technological issues applying its technological experience and skills accumulated over the years.

    Why is efficiency emphasized in the “use” and “produce” fields of hydrogen? Takamasa Osugi of the Environment Neutral Systems Development Div. explains the importance of efficiency, saying it will reduce the cost of hydrogen utilization to “produce” it with valuable renewable energy without waste, and to efficiently “use” it.

    “People tend to buy fuel efficient cars. As an automotive system supplier, DENSO has developed technologies and expertise for improving energy efficiency, which increase vehicle fuel efficiency.

    These include heat-related technologies for waste-free use of energy, electric power control technologies developed by working with electric powertrain products, and material technologies that optimize performance of these technologies. Our technologies can be applied to improve the efficiency of electrolysis in SOEC systems to “produce” hydrogen, and to improve the power-generation efficiency of fuel cells to “use” it.”

    There is no meaning if a system for “producing” and “using” hydrogen breaks down easily or requires frequent maintenance, even if it is highly efficient. That’s why the “durability” of hydrogen systems is so important to enable safe and reliable operations for the long term.

    Osugi continued:

    “Durability is essential for cars because they must be able to operate in any environment.

    They must be able to keep operating and ensure the safety of their passengers in any environment even if it is minus tens of degrees Celsius, or it is extremely hot, or it rains or snows. DENSO has the manufacturing technologies and capabilities to mass produce high-quality automotive products that can operate in any environment, and to supply them to customers around the world.

    And we use sensing technologies that can be utilized to always monitor systems to check if they’re functioning properly and thus ensure that systems can be used safely and reliably for the long term.

    We hope to apply such expertises to hydrogen “produce” and “use” systems.”

    In fact, however, hydrogen is still relatively new with much uncertainty, so various demonstration experiments are necessary in order to develop optimal solutions to problems. And, as Igami mentioned, issues of hydrogen supply and demand must be solved together. Therefore, DENSO is utilizing its technologies, assuming a wide range of scenarios, to tackle diverse and complex hydrogen-related challenges.

    Osugi explains further:

    “There are so many technological requirements in differing areas in a single hydrogen supply chain. This means flexibility is required at times, and solid stability and reliability at others. In some cases, small distributed energy configurations are required, while in others, large-scale centralized ones are required.

    When approaching the hydrogen supply chain as a whole, required characteristics and scales of approaches are diverse depending on the situations. DENSO is expanding its diverse array of system options in order to meet these needs. For example, we are developing SOEC of the water electrolysis equipment with the modular structure to meet both small-scale operations and large-scale ones. It is also possible to use a combination of them depending on the situation where they are used.”

    Envisioning an energy-recycling society that enables carbon neutrality

    Shinya Nakajima of DENSO’s Environment Neutral Systems Development Div. says that the company began working on hydrogen in the automotive field and it would like to take on its challenge in the industrial field, such as factories, and the creation of the society where hydrogen is utilized well. It would also like to expand the field where it utilizes its technologies and to contribute to both demand and supply of hydrogen. This may help solve the biggest challenge of “cost reduction of green hydrogen” to spread its utilization.

    “If we solve a matter of price of hydrogen, we can open up its various possibilities. If we succeed in hydrogen-based methanation, ammonia synthesis and the like, we will then be able to use existing infrastructure, such as that for city gas supply, to supply the energy, and thus to keep down the initial investment cost of infrastructure for widespread of hydrogen utilization.”

    If the cost of hydrogen is reduced, the “carbon recycling”, in which CO2 is reused as a material or fuel, will make progress. Inexpensive hydrogen is needed to produce basic materials, chemical products, alternative fuels and so forth through carbon recycling. Therefore, reducing the cost of hydrogen will greatly increase the possibility of building an energy-recycling society that uses waste-free renewable energy.

    Nakajima continued:

    “Hydrogen is essential to create a society where clean energy is recycled and reused. Actually, hydrogen is being built as infrastructure, such as power and gas, in the United States. We will continue to take on challenges of hydrogen technology development in order to create a better future for the planet.

    We believe that developing technologies related to hydrogen and contributing to society will ultimately come back to ourselves because we use energy for our manufacturing every day.

    However, we cannot accomplish this alone by ourselves. We will share the same dream and take on the co-creation with partners in a wide array of fields cooperating closely with them in order to aim the future where hydrogen is suitably utilized, and society goes forward to decarbonization without any difficulty.”


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