Carbon Neutrality, DENSO’s Target by 2035 — Need for hydrogen, which is indispensable for decarbonization, and issues for widespread use

DENSO Tech Links #17 was held on the theme of hydrogen, which is drawing much public attention. It was presented that DENSO’s R&D initiative toward the realization of a hydrogen society, to achieve carbon neutrality and DENSO’s proprietary technologies to produce and use hydrogen. Mr. Nakajima of the Environment Neutral Systems Development Div. took the podium to explain the need for hydrogen and what DENSO can do for the hydrogen society.

May. 19, 2023

Atsushi Nakajima
Environment Neutral Systems Development Div.


I’m Atsushi Nakajima of DENSO. I will explain an overview of DENSO’s initiative for a hydrogen society.

I majored in polymer chemistry, and was involved in developing resins at a chemical manufacturer. After joining DENSO, I helped develop lithium-ion batteries. I came across hydrogen during R&D planning, and am now in charge of planning the hydrogen business.

Agenda of the session

First of all, I will talk about DENSO’s vision of carbon neutrality. I will then talk about the reason why hydrogen is necessary. Lastly, I will talk about how DENSO can help realize a hydrogen society.

Carbon neutrality which DENSO aims to achieve

DENSO’s aims is to achieve ultimate “zero” in both the “Green” and “Peace of Mind” fields. In the “Green” field, DENSO sets the target of achieving zero CO2 emissions from manufacturing and in delivered products. The company is working to make production carbon-neutral by 2035. 

In terms of manufacturing, there is growing need for a recycling-oriented society powered mainly by renewable energy to protect the global environment. We will make manufacturing at DENSO carbon-neutral and spread it in order to realize an energy recycling society. This is characteristic of DENSO’s concept.

This slide shows the concept. The CO2 emission volume is plotted on the vertical axis. The leftmost column indicates that CO2 emissions from electricity and city gas totaled 1.9 million tons in 2020.

DENSO plans to achieve carbon neutrality of electricity by 2025 by saving energy, introducing renewable power generation, and purchasing renewable electricity.

Meanwhile, we will purchase city gas and use offset credits. Specifically, toward 2035, we will replace part of city gas with carbon-neutral gases, such as hydrogen and synthetic methane.

At the same time, we will technically offset and capture the CO2 emissions when it is difficult to replace with other fuels. Regarding the target for 2035, we will fulfill the strategy through in-house development and collaboration with partners because there are no practical technologies available yet.

To attain the target for 2035, we will maximize to use renewable energy for electricity. To cope with fluctuations and surplus of renewable energy, it is necessary to develop a system for storing electricity in batteries or in the form of hydrogen and carbon-neutral fuels, and then swiftly supply the electricity, heat, fuels, and materials to communities and plants. We are developing technologies to produce and to use batteries and hydrogen, to capture CO2, and to synthesize carbon-neutral fuels.

We publicized this target in December 2020. Two months before, former Prime Minister Suga declared Japan’s aim of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. At that time, governments of European countries and the U.S. as well as leading companies also made similar declarations, and DENSO announced its target, too.

You may think that DENSO merely followed others and set a challenging target, but we took the situation seriously because such an irreversible change in value would significantly affect our business.

More specifically, products and plants which use fossil fuels will no longer be accepted by society. Such products are likely to be boycotted by consumers and lose competitiveness, and this is a major concern for us.

To avoid this, we would have to manufacture products in regions which are committed to sophisticated carbon neutrality initiatives, and that would cause us to face problem to to manufacture products in Japan in the future, and this is another major concern.

So, we cannot simply wait and see how society changes toward 2050 because our competitors will develop carbon-neutral products before us. We set the target of achieving carbon neutrality by 2035 to catch up.

Reason why hydrogen is necessary

I have talked about DENSO’s vision of carbon neutrality.
Now, let me talked about why hydrogen is necessary. I mentioned earlier that we are developing batteries and CO2 capture technology as well. though.

The pie chart on the left shows annual greenhouse gas emission volume. The leftmost blue segment represents the CO2 emissions from thermal power plants. The segments enclosed by the red line represent the CO2 emissions from customers, including households and enterprises. The sources of CO2 emissions are fossil fuels, such as gasoline and city gas.

To achieve carbon neutral, fossil fuels used by power plants and customers must be replaced by electricity and hydrogen. In general, hydrogen is known to be used in fuel cells for power generation, but it can be used for various applications.

Hydrogen is used as a fuel to power vehicles such as fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) and to generate power in fuel cells. In industry, hydrogen is used as a fuel for boilers and furnaces to generate heat. In fact, hydrogen is already used for various applications, in which it is typically sourced from coal and natural gas, which are fossil fuels. Significant progress toward decarbonization can be made by replacing the hydrogen with clean hydrogen derived from renewable energy. Thus, hydrogen is essential for decarbonizing the fields in which customers operate.

As I explained using this pie chart, thermal power plants account for 40%. Decarbonization is done by combusting hydrogen and ammonia. Accordingly, hydrogen is indispensable for society.

Let me explain the situation in the U.S. Applications of hydrogen, which are shown in blue, are similar to those in Japan. In this diagram, the size of the electricity and natural gas infrastructure is the same as that of hydrogen infrastructure. In the U.S., it is under way to develop hydrogen infrastructure to the same level as the electricity and gas infrastructure.

This diagram is slightly different from that of Japan. In this diagram, renewable energy is transported via the electric grid and converted to hydrogen near areas of consumption. In the conceptual diagram of Japan, a renewable power plant is often installed in combination with a water electrolyzer.

As you can see, the concept of the U.S. is slightly different from that of Japan. Hydrogen-based carbon neutrality is envisioned both in Japan, which will import hydrogen, and the U.S., which may export hydrogen, but the concept of implementation may differ slightly.

How DENSO can help realize a hydrogen society

While different initiatives are under way to realize a hydrogen society, there are various issues to be addressed. Let’s look at what DENSO can do.

Hydrogen is still unavailable in daily life because of various technological issues and restrictions. Countermeasures incur costs and push up the price of hydrogen. This is why hydrogen is not yet widely used. In general, the hydrogen supply chain consists of three domains: production, storage and transport, and use. There are technological issues in the respective domains, but I will not discuss them due to lack of time.

I want to emphasize that solving one of these complicated issues does not help address the overall issues, which hinders realization of a hydrogen society. For example, even if hydrogen is produced inexpensively, a hydrogen producer cannot operate unless it has a way to transport hydrogen inexpensively. And even if hydrogen is transported cheaply, a hydrogen transporter cannot operate unless hydrogen-powered FCVs are widely used. These issues cannot be solved by a single company.

To address the difficult challenges, it is important to publicize what we can do and bring capabilities together. My presentation about DENSO’s initiative today will help meet such challenges.

What contributions can DENSO make? DENSO makes automotive components and excels at mass-producing products for severe in-vehicle environments and reducing costs while maintaining performance and quality.

SOEC and SOFC systems which will be introduced later today are derived from thermal system technology that is designed mainly for temperature control and powertrain system technology which uses ceramic products that can withstand severe high-temperature environments.

Let me briefly explain how in-vehicle technology is used by taking a SOEC system as an example. A SOEC system produces hydrogen through the electrolysis of water and consumes little power, so hydrogen can be produced cheaply.

Instead of directly electrolyzing water, a SOEC system generates steam at 700°C before performing electrolysis. By increasing the temperature to 700°C, withstand voltage of water which is required for electrolysis decreases from 1.2 V to 1.0 V. The power consumption wattage can be calculated by multiplying the voltage by the current, so a 20% decrease in voltage reduces power consumption by 20%.

Regarding the operating principle, electrolysis of steam at high temperature reduces the power consumption. However, two issues had to be solved to electrolyze steam at 700°C. One was to prevent the steam from leaking outside the system, as this would increase the power consumption because additional energy would be required for heating. To avoid this problem, a technology for car air conditioners, etc. was used to prevent the leakage of heat outside the system. This is the first example of the application of in-vehicle technology.

The other issue was to develop the core component for electrolysis at 700°C. We applied ceramic technology, which is used for sensors to detect unburnt gasoline contained in the exhaust gas from the engine, to electrolyze water. In this way, we use automotive technology to put SOEC and SOFC systems to practical application.

Two other speakers will explain the technologies in more detail. That is all for my presentation.

As I mentioned earlier, it is essential to bring capabilities together to solve technological issues. I hope my presentation encourages you to propose your technologies, products, and capabilities and work with DENSO.

Here is my message to all of you: please join us to help realize a carbon-neutral world.

Thank you for your attention.