Japan’s automakers and gas companies have decided to go gung-ho in creating a hydrogen car and highway system in the small country by 2015. What is getting in the way, now, however is the Japanese government.
Back in August 2009 I had talked about how a consortium of Japanese hydrogen gas companies had decided to expand the current H2 highway system in Japan. Toyota and Honda have both passed the government’s stringent and expensive safety standards for the hydrogen tanks the cars will use.
The Toyota FCHV uses a 10,000 psi tank, which has a range roughly double the cars that use a 5,000 psi tank. One such car with a 5,000 psi tank is the Honda FCX Clarity. The Clarity uses the lower pressure tank, gets around a 200 mile range and the Japanese government already has a legal framework for this lower pressure car and fueling network.
Newcomers like General Motors and Daimler, however that use 10,000 psi tanks and 5,000 psi tanks respectively are balking at the stringent tests and $1 million price tag per model that they wish to introduce to the Japanese market. Let’s not forget also that the Japanese gas companies such as Tokyo Gas Company and the Nippon Oil Corporation also have to wade through stringent and expensive red tape to pass through the finish line of setting up a network of hydrogen fueling stations.
This kind of red tape is not unique to Japan either as it reminds me of New Jersey’s first hydrogen home that was build by a man named Mike Strizki. It took Mr. Strizki several years to tromp through the red tape and push city, county and state officials to develop standards for handling hydrogen just so his home out in the woods could operate on solar and hydrogen power and his tanks are only 200 psi.
Many people are so fearful of hydrogen cars catching fire and perhaps exploding that their imaginations likens it to a bomb flattening a city or an apocalyptic explosion as in the Terminator movies. This will not happen. Lest we forget, gasoline powered cars do catch fire and explode. Tanker trucks carrying fossil fuels occasionally do the same. These accidents while serious are not apocalyptic. Hydrogen cars have been made so safe by their manufacturers that none yet have caught fire and exploded.
Making sure hydrogen cars are safe is a real concern and the automakers are well aware of this fear. But, letting our imaginations run away with us in regard to “what could happen” if an accident occurs is a bigger concern. Slowing down progress because of unfounded fears can severely setback an industry. With any luck the Japanese government will see this and move forward both cautiously but with urgency when it comes to getting hydrogen cars rolling in this country.