The Great Toyota Zero-Emissions Summer Olympics Debacle

Do you remember this CNET Road Show headline from 2019? “Toyota will use Tokyo Olympics to debut solid state battery electric vehicle.” The 2020 Olympics were supposed to showcase the zero emissions talents of the Japanese auto industry, with crowds of people moving seamlessly from place to place using self-driving electric or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Covid-19 devastated the auto industry, of course, but it also meant companies had an extra year to perfect their zero emissions vehicles.
In March 2020, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told the world, “During the Olympics and Paralympics, cars and buses will run through the city powered by hydrogen, and the athletes’ village will run on electricity made from hydrogen.” A bold promise that was built on a lie. There is nothing “green” about those fuel cell powered buses. Then, as now, the supposedly “clean” hydrogen available in Japan is made primarily from natural gas at existing chemical plants using a process that emits copious amounts of carbon dioxide.
Things aren’t going to improve for Japan’s vaunted hydrogen economy any time soon. The country’s plans for a future supply of hydrogen amounts to importing large amounts of it from Australia, where it will be made from coal using carbon capture technology that does not exist.
Even if there was a supply of green hydrogen, the fuel cell buses Toyota has been selling since 2018 have failed to live up to their promise. According to the Financial Times, the economics just don’t pencil out for them. To begin with, they cost $900,000 for a 6 year lease compared to $220,000 for a diesel-powered bus with a useful life of 15 years.
To get the first 100 buses into service, local and national authorities had to pony up subsidies to cover 80% of the lease cost. Even that is not enough to make them competitive. “The fuel costs are also higher,” says Daisuke Harayama, who is in charge of operations at Tokyu Bus, a private company that has introduced two of the fuel cell buses. “The fuel cost is 2.6 times higher for FCVs over diesel.” Most bus terminals in Japan also have no hydrogen refueling capacity, meaning the buses have to be driven to the nearest hydrogen fueling station, which takes time and costs money.
Harayama adds, “I think it will be hard to go to fuel cells for now. We don’t look at it as whether fuel cells are good or bad. There’ll come a time when we can no longer use diesel so we need to think about the options.”
The Financial Times concludes, “For now, however, the environmental benefit of the buses that will ship Olympic athletes and officials around the city is hypothetical. The Olympic flame (which is powered by hydrogen) will burn prettily, but to make a true transition to a hydrogen society will require years of patient effort — and some big breakthroughs on cost.”
As for solid-state battery technology from Toyota, that is pie in the sky for now as well. Even with significant support from the Japanese government, the timeline for solid-state batteries from Toyota stretches far into the foreseeable future.
No one can be faulted for dreaming big. Elon Musk certainly has and things have turned out fairly well for him and Tesla. But the hydrogen saga is a Japanese nightmare. The government and major corporations like Toyota are banging their heads against a brick wall trying to find a way to avoid being followers in the EV revolution instead of leaders, but it isn’t working.
Hydrogen may hold significant promise when it comes to lowering carbon emissions in the steel industry, but as a transportation fuel, it simply can’t compete with battery electric vehicles. Insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. The torrent of promises and lack of results from Toyota are just sad to see. What Toyota and the Japanese government are doing is almost too painful to watch.

Blue Hydrogen has a Methane Problem

Amid the global transition to clean fuel, conventional oil and gas companies appear to have found a way to stay relevant: blue hydrogen.

Hydrogen, typically produced by breaking methane inside liquefied natural gas into hydrogen and carbon, is labeled as blue, when all carbon emissions from this process are captured, stored, or reused.

This decarbonized hydrogen offers the oil and gas companies a path toward clean fuels while drawing on their existing gas production, transportation and storage facilities.

Major South Korean conglomerates — SK and Posco — have jumped into the blue hydrogen business and plan to invest billions of dollars.

However, experts warn that though blue hydrogen emits zero carbon, the decarbonized hydrogen isn’t as clean as it seems, as its feedstock natural gas emits methane — one of the most potent greenhouse gases — throughout the entire lifecycle.

According to the Committee on Climate Change, an independent public body that advises the UK government on climate change, the value chain of natural gas — from its drilling, production, processing, transportation and distribution — emits methane due to combustion, unintentional leakage from containers or purposeful venting.

When all these prior stages of natural gas are included, 1 to 5 kilograms of greenhouse gases are emitted per kilogram of blue hydrogen.

“Natural gas companies don’t want to talk about these things. But the truth is, methane is 28 times more powerful than carbon at trapping heat and warming the Earth,” said Lee Seung-hoon, director at H2Korea, a hydrogen think tank under the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy.

In an opinion piece for the Hill, Robert Howarth, professor of ecology and environmental biology at Cornell University, said combined total greenhouse gas emissions of blue hydrogen exceed that from using either coal or natural gas directly and that emissions of leaked methane are rife throughout the process.

A recent report from the United Nations Environmental Program highlighted that pound for pound, methane is 86 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon is over 20 years, and 25 percent of the global warming experienced by the Earth in recent decades has been driven by methane.

Criticism that blue hydrogen eventually facilitates the production of fossil fuel has propelled a global movement to produce carbon-neutral natural gas. The low-carbon natural gas, while not mainstream yet, captures greenhouse emissions through the entire lifecycle from its upstream supply, liquefaction, production, shipping, regasification and downstream supply.

SK E&S, the nation’s No. 1 city gas provider, and Korea Midland Power, aim to invest 5.3 trillion won ($4.6 billion) and establish a 250,000-ton blue hydrogen production facility in Boryeong, South Chungcheong Province, by 2025.

“The facility will produce blue hydrogen with ‘carbon-free’ natural gas imported from Australia. The carbon-free natural gas captures all greenhouse gas emissions throughout its entire value chain,” an SK E&S official said.

Posco, the country’s leading steelmaker aims to produce 500,000 metric tons of blue hydrogen with global partners by 2030. Posco has yet to decide on its partners. It’s unknown whether the steelmaker will use typical natural gas or a low-carbon one.

In 2018, Korea emitted 727.6 million tons of greenhouse gases, a 149 percent surge from 1990, with methane accounting for 3.8 percent.

Japanese Airlines Eye Shift to Greener Fuels with Carbon Neutrality in Sight

Going electric may be one solution for automakers to ride a global decarbonization trend, but for airlines, it is greener fuels that are grabbing their attention.
Japan has joined a group of nations in pledging to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 but still lags behind Europe and the United States where more companies put biofuels from materials like waste cooking oil into commercial use for airlines. Hydrogen is also seen as an alternative source to fly aircraft.
Major aircraft manufacturer Airbus SAS has unveiled concepts for zero-emission aircraft powered by hydrogen that it hopes will enter into service by 2035.
Japan’s Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd. has also unveiled its plan to enter the hydrogen-powered aircraft business, aiming to take the lead in core technologies for hydrogen engines and liquefied hydrogen fuel tanks.
In late June, a private business jet developed by Honda Motor Co. flew from Kagoshima Prefecture in southwestern Japan to Tokyo’s Haneda airport, the first such flight using a biofuel produced from euglena, a type of algae.
About 10 percent of the biofuel used for the flight came from euglena and the rest from waste oil, according to Euglena Co., the Japanese provider of the fuel.
“Japan is a few years behind as there are already leading biojet manufacturers abroad,” Akihiko Nagata, executive vice president of the firm, said during a press conference about the flight.
Carbon dioxide or CO2 is produced when biofuels are burned. Euglena is known to produce oil, a source of biofuel, and takes in CO2 when it grows by photosynthesis.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, the transport sector accounted for about 18 percent of total CO2 emissions in Japan. By type of transportation, airlines were responsible for about 5 percent while most came from cars, trucks and buses, according to government data.
Major Japanese airlines are seeking to reduce their dependence on fossil jet fuels in the coming years and switching to what they call “sustainable aviation fuels” such as biofuels.
When an airplane is powered by a mixture of conventional jet fuel and a sustainable aviation fuel, it can cut CO2 emissions by around 20 to 30 percent during a flight, according to data by Japan’s transport ministry. Blending limits are set for using sustainable aviation fuels.
Japan’s major carriers Japan Airlines Corp. and All Nippon Airways Co. have used a biofuel produced from microalgae by Japanese manufacturer IHI Corp. for domestic commercial flights, on which they are seeking to increase use of sustainable aviation fuels.
Aviation experts say there are still hurdles to greater use of such aviation biofuels. Their supplies are limited and procurement costs are high compared with conventional fossil jet fuels.
It will take more time for domestically manufactured sustainable aviation fuels to become commercially available as Japanese makers are currently aiming at around 2030.
At present, Euglena’s biojet fuel costs around 10,000 yen ($90) per liter.
The company aims to boost output capacity by building a plant to cultivate euglena algae in Indonesia with its completion expected in 2024.
By 2025, it aims to boost output to 250,000 kiloliters a year and bring down the price to 200 yen or lower per liter, which would enable the firm to compete with foreign peers like Finland’s Neste Corp.
“We will catch up and become able to offer ours at an affordable price,” Nagata said.

Saudi Aramco Bets on Blue Hydrogen Exports Ramping Up From 2030

Saudi Aramco outlined plans to invest in blue hydrogen as the world shifts away from dirtier forms of energy, but said it will take at least until the end of this decade before a global market for the fuel is developed.
“We’re going to have a large share” of the market for blue hydrogen, Aramco’s chief technology officer, Ahmad Al-Khowaiter, said in an interview on Sunday in Dhahran, eastern Saudi Arabia, where the company’s based. “The scale up isn’t going to happen before 2030. We’re not going to see large volumes of blue ammonia before then.”
Hydrogen is seen as crucial to slowing climate change since it emits no harmful greenhouse gases when burned. The blue form of the fuel is made from natural gas, with the carbon emissions generated in the conversion process being captured. The hydrogen is sometimes converted again into ammonia to allow it to be transported more easily between continents.
The state energy firm may end up spending roughly $1 billion on capturing carbon for every 1 million tons of blue ammonia produced, Khowaiter said. That would exclude the expense of producing the gas, he said.
Demand Driven
Aramco, the world’s biggest oil company, sent its first shipment of blue ammonia in September to Japan, a pilot project to show the fuel could be exported. Aramco will decide on further shipments depending on the level of demand, Khowaiter said.
He declined to comment on how much gas Aramco was planning to produce for its blue-hydrogen efforts or on whether the company had abandoned plans to make liquefied natural gas.
The kingdom said in 2019 it aimed to double gas output to 23 billion cubic feet a day this decade. At the time, it said it would use the extra supplies to wean local power plants off oil and export the rest by pipeline or as LNG.
While Aramco predicts demand for oil will remain high for years, if not decades, the company is positioning itself to develop newer types of fuels. Blue hydrogen is in its infancy and will take years to produce on a mass scale given the expense and complications involved with the technology.
Long Cycle
Aramco needs to make deals with buyers before investments in blue hydrogen can begin properly, said Khowaiter.
“From the time you make clear off-take agreements, you’re talking about a five- to six-year capital cycle to invest in the production and conversion requirements,” Khowaiter said. “You’re talking about a pretty long time scale.”
The company has not ruled out producing green hydrogen, which is made from renewable energy, typically wind or solar, and leads to no carbon emissions. Pennsylvania-based Air Products & Chemicals Inc. and Saudi firm ACWA Power International are leading the kingdom’s efforts with green hydrogen, constructing a $5 billion plant in the north-eastern city of Neom.
Aramco is looking into synergies between the two types of hydrogen, Khowaiter said. Still, he emphasized that costs for producing blue hydrogen are probably around one-fifth of those of green hydrogen, at least at today’s solar and wind prices. Many analysts expect green hydrogen to become as cheap or cheaper within the next decade.

G7 Pledges to End Support for Unabated Coal by End of 2021

G7 leaders committed June 13 to end new direct government support for unabated international thermal coal power generation by the end of 2021.
Leaders of the seven major industrialized nations – the UK, US, Canada, Japan, France, Germany and Italy – were meeting in Cornwall under the UK’s presidency of the group.
“We commit now to an end to new direct government support for unabated international thermal coal power generation by the end of 2021, including through Official Development Assistance, export finance, investment, and financial and trade promotion support,” the countries said in a joint communique.
To support developing countries move away from unabated coal, Canada, Germany, the UK, and the US have agreed to provide up to $2 billion to support the work of the Climate Investments Funds.
“These concessional resources are expected to mobilize up to $10 billion in co-financing, including from the private sector, to support renewable energy deployment in developing and emerging economies,” they said.
The leaders also launched a G7 Industrial Decarbonization Agenda to accelerate innovation, deploy decarbonization technology and harmonize standards in hard-to-abate sectors like iron and steel, cement, chemicals, and petrochemicals “in order to reach net zero emissions across the whole economy.”
For the first time, all G7 leaders have agreed to align their long-term and short-term climate goals with a limit on global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
“We commit to net zero no later than 2050, halving our collective emissions over the two decades to 2030, increasing and improving climate finance to 2025; and to conserve or protect at least 30 percent of our land and oceans by 2030,” they said.
A “Build Back Better for the World” plan, meanwhile, would give developing countries improved, faster access to finance, G7 leaders committing to increase contributions and mobilize $100 billion a year via the International Monetary Fund.
Transport commitments were less defined, with the G7 committing merely to scale up zero emission buses, trains, shipping and aviation, and accelerate the phase-out of diesel and petrol cars.
“We recognize that this will require dramatically increasing the pace of the global decarbonization of the road transport sector throughout the 2020s, and beyond,” the countries said.
In domestic energy, the communique supported the Super-Efficient Equipment and Appliance Deployment initiative’s goal of doubling the efficiency of lighting, cooling, refrigeration and motor systems sold globally by 2030.

Irena and China to Work Together on Carbon Neutrality Roadmap

The International Renewable Energy Agency and China’s National Energy Administration signed an agreement to strengthen efforts towards reaching carbon neutrality goals in the world’s second-largest economy.
Abu Dhabi-based Irena, which is headquartered in Masdar City, will prepare a comprehensive energy transition roadmap that will identify key policy actions, technology solutions, and industrial development programmes to facilitate China’s achievement of its medium- and long-term national renewable and decarbonisation goals.
The two parties will also jointly identify “optimal sub-national pathways to carbon neutrality”, Irena said in a statement on Monday.
China, currently the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, plans make sure its carbon dioxide emissions peak by 2030 and has vowed to become carbon-neutral before 2060
As part of Beijing’s efforts to decarbonise, it plans to raise the share of non-fossil fuels in its primary energy mix to 25 per cent by 2030.
China also plans to raise the total capacity of wind and solar to 1,200 gigawatts by the same timeline.
“China is a fundamental actor in the achievement of a rapid energy transition that aligns global development with a climate-safe, inclusive and just future,” said Francesco La Camera, Irena’s director-general.
“Irena will strongly support China’s efforts to achieve its decarbonisation goals at home while leveraging our unique global platform to bring the benefits of Chinese knowledge and experience to countries pursuing their own transitions around the world,” he added.
China, which is the world’s biggest oil importer, was ranked as third-most attractive destination for renewables investment by IHS Markit last month.
Global renewable energy capacity rose by 10.3 per cent to 2,799 gigawatts in 2020, according to Irena. China and the US, the world’s two biggest economies, were the best-performing countries in terms of renewable energy growth.
China, the biggest market for renewables, added 136 gigawatts of clean energy capacity in 2020.
Wind power accounted for 72 gigawatts of the country’s new capacity, while solar power contributed 49 gigawatts.
Globally, more than 260 gigawatts of capacity were added, a 50 per cent increase compared with 2019.
Solar energy made up more than 48 per cent of last year’s renewable capacity additions, accounting for 127 gigawatts.
Irena and China’s NEA also pledged to co-operate in multilateral settings such as the G20 and the Association of South-East Asian Nations, particularly in areas of developing technology to integrate renewables, such as smart grids, energy storage and technology standards.
The two sides will also work on the production of alternative fuels such as hydrogen, biofuels and e-fuels.

Japan Eyes Overseas Hydrogen Investments with State Funds

Officials in Japan are set to allow state-owned Jogmec to provide financial support for local companies investing in overseas plants that produce hydrogen or ammonia as part of a push to decarbonise, reported the Nikkei.
This will be a departure for Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corp, known as Jogmec, which has primarily helped Japanese companies invest in projects that secure oil, gas and metal resources for Japan.
Japan’s policymakers will need to change existing laws to allow Jogmec to invest in hydrogen and ammonia projects. Analysts report that this is expected to happen after Japan reveals its new 2030 energy mix targets later this year.

Saudi Joins with Other Oil and Gas Giants over Emission Targets

Saudi Arabia and other top oil and gas producers have teamed up to help implement the Paris Agreement on climate change and move towards achieving net zero emissions.
Other countries who are part of the Net Zero Producers Forum are the US, Canada, Norway, and Qatar.
The Saudi energy ministry recognized the global impact of climate change, reiterating the Kingdom’s commitment to the full implementation of the Paris Agreement.
“Canada, Norway, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United States, collectively representing about 40 percent of global oil and gas production, will come together to form a cooperative forum that will develop pragmatic net zero emission strategies,” according to a joint statement from the member countries.
The strategies include methane abatement, advancing the circular carbon economy approach, development and deployment of clean-energy and carbon capture and storage technologies, as well as diversification from reliance on hydrocarbon revenues, it said.
The forum will help the countries remain accountable to the goals of the Paris Agreement, which recognizes unique national circumstances in achieving emission targets.
Saudi Arabia, in particular, said it was a “strong advocate of the key role that technology and innovation can play” in the fight against climate change, while highlighting the importance of collaboration in the international community.
The announcement comes as world leaders gather for US President Joe Biden’s climate summit, where setting goals for emission reductions was a key discussion point.
Analysts have pointed out the growing optimism in international climate action in recent years.
“The willingness of all the world’s major leaders to take part in Biden’s summit is encouraging,” Ed Crooks, vice chair of global natural resources consultancy Wood Mackenzie’s Americas unit, said.

CO2 Increase for 2021 Predicted to be Largest in over a Decade

Global CO2 emissions from energy are seen rising nearly 5% this year, suggesting the economic rebound from Covid-19 could be “anything but sustainable” for the climate, the International Energy Agency says.
The IEA’s Global Energy Review 2021 predicted carbon dioxide emissions would rise to 33 billion tonnes this year, up 1.5 billion tonnes from 2020 levels in the largest single increase in more than a decade.
“This is a dire warning that the economic recovery from the Covid crisis is currently anything but sustainable for our climate,” IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said.
This year’s rise will likely be driven by a resurgence in coal use in the power sector, Birol added, which the report forecast to be particularly strong in Asia.
Biden to hold virtual summit
It should also put pressure on governments to act on climate change. US President Joe Biden will hold a virtual summit for dozens of world leaders this week to discuss the issue ahead of global talks in Scotland later this year. Last year, when power use dropped due to the Covid-19 pandemic, energy-related CO2 emissions fe ll by 5.8% to 31.5 billion tonnes, after peaking in 2019 at 33.4 billion tonnes.
The IEA’s annual review analysed the latest national data from around the world, economic growth trends and new energy projects that are set to come online.
Global energy demand is set to increase by 4.6% in 2021, led by developing economies, pushing it above 2019 levels, the report said.
Demand for all fossil fuels is on course to grow in 2021, with both coal and gas set to rise above 2019 levels.
The expected rise in coal use dwarves that of renewables by almost 60%, despite accelerating demand for solar, wind and hydro power.
More than 80% of the projected growth in coal demand in 2021 is set to come from Asia, led by China.
Coal use in the United States and the European Union is also on course to increase but will remain well below pre-crisis levels, the IEA said.

The Scale of China’s Bitcoin Mining Rush could Undermine Its Carbon-Zero Goals

China’s electricity-guzzling Bitcoin mines, which power nearly 80 per cent of the world’s cryptocurrency trade, could undermine the country’s climate goals, according to a study published on Tuesday in the scientific journal Nature.
While the terminology cunjures up images of digging up precious minerals from a hole in the ground, mines from which Bitcoins are extracted are in fact sites full of microprocessors running to perform mathematical calculations.
These computers, which are the source of Bitcoins, consume huge amounts of electricity, some of it originating in one of more than a thousand coal-fired power plants across China.
According to the Nature study, if left unchecked, China’s Bitcoin mines will produce 130.50 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions by 2024, nearly equivalent to the total annual greenhouse gas emissions of Italy or Saudi Arabia.
As of April 2020, Chinese companies with access to cheap electricity and equipment were running 78.89 per cent of the world’s bitcoin operations, according to Nature.
About 40 per cent of China’s Bitcoin mines are powered by coal-fired electricity, while the rest use renewable energy, the study said.
But these coal-intensive facilities are so large that they could end up undermining Beijing’s environmental commitment to peak carbon emissions by 2030 and become carbon neutral by 2060, the study warns.
Undermining efforts to reduce emissions
“The intensive exploitation of bitcoin in China can quickly become a threat that could potentially undermine the effort to reduce emissions,” Wang Shouyang, a co-author of the study from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told AFP.
He said the Chinese government should focus on upgrading the power grid to ensure a stable supply from renewable sources.
“As energy prices in China’s clean energy regions are lower than those in coal-fired regions, ‘miners’ – who run their computer hardware to perform mathematical calculations and participate in the network, with the aim of receiving a reward in Bitcoin – should have more incentive to move to clean energy regions,” he added.
This year, the Bitcoin mining industry is expected to consume 0.6 percent of the world’s total electricity production, more than Norway needs annually, according to the University of Cambridge’s Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index.
The price of bitcoin has risen fivefold in the past year, reaching a record high of more than $61,000 (€70,000) in March, and is now hovering just below the $60,000 (€69,000) mark.
Given the profits that can be made, Wang believes that imposing carbon taxes is not enough to deter miners.
In 2019, China banned trading in cryptocurrencies to combat money laundering. But Bitcoin “mining” is still permitted.