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From Earthquakes to the Hydrogen Economy—Promoting Energy Technologies and Solutions for Tomorrow

Blog post   •   Sep 26, 2016 07:30 GMT

Japan rugged natural beauty of steep mountains and tumbling rivers has been shaped over eons by earthquakes and volcanoes. Most of the country rests on the Eurasian Plate and along its Pacific coast that plate collides with the Philippine Plate to the west, from a line extending south of Tokyo, and the Pacific Plate to the east and north.

It’s a huge subduction zone, where the Philippine and Pacific Plates buckle under the Eurasian Plate at a rate estimated as high as 4-milimeters a year. Stresses building up in that movement triggered the Great East Japan Earthquake that devastated the Tohoku region in 2011.

Temblors can occur at any point where plates meet, but the Nankai Trough is a major candidate for the site of the next “Big One”. It runs from Tokyo Bay and then south of Kanagawa, Shizuoka, Aichi and Mie prefectures to Shikoku, the smallest of Japan’s main islands. It’s a line basically parallel to Japan’s most densely populated centers and its industrial and financial heartland. Major earthquakes are estimated to occur here once every 90 to 200 years, often in pairs. The last one was in 1946.

Keeping lifelines open

Experience has taught Japan’s national and local authorities to be ready for a threat that is vague but constant, then sudden and often terrible. Preparedness is all about monitoring and analysis, planning and practice, working to develop responses that can be quickly deployed. Major exercises intended to hone this capability have been organized by the Cabinet Office since 2006, and one was held early in August across four prefectures, Kanagawa, Shizuoka, Aichi and Yamanashi.

 

Since 2005, Disaster Medical Assistance Teams (DMATs) have played an integral role in disaster-response in Japan, especially earthquakes. Manned by doctors and other trained staff, they deploy locally and act throughout the crucial acute phase of a disaster, 48 to 72 hours after it occurs. DMATs set up field hospitals that can provide treatment, triage, and stabilize injuries, and that are also sites from which victims requiring further care can be medivacked to hospitals outside the disaster area.

Dedicated as they are to saving people, DMATs also need their own lifeline—power to operate equipment and lighting, and to keep operations running throughout the acute phase and beyond. Mobile generators are the obvious solution, but they need fuel, which cannot always be guaranteed following a disaster. They are also mechanical and prone to breakdown when used continuously, and noisy and smelly. In the recent exercise, a DMAT in Shizuoka tried a different approach—Toshiba’s H2One.

The H2One solution

H2One is a self-contained, autonomous power generation solution. The set-up, housed in a single container, combines a photovoltaic installation, storage batteries, hydrogen-producing water electrolysis equipment, hydrogen and water tanks, and fuel cells. The photovoltaic unit generates solar energy that is stored in the battery, ready for use to electrolyze water and produce hydrogen. This in turn is stored in a highly efficient tank, for delivery to fuel cells that produce electricity and hot water. The version used in Shizuoka is mounted on a truck, ready for transportation.

During the exercise, the H2One, the Business Continuity Model, performed flawlessly. Though limited to the seven hours of the drill, the demands made on the system confirmed its ability to operate day and night, and to meet the exercise’s key requirement: deliver power and lighting for up to 150 hours. H2One also provides hot water—a plus for an emergency operation—and has two immediately noticeable advantages over a generator: no noise, no smell.

H2One is part of Toshiba’s commitment to the development of the technologies and products that support the future transition to a hydrogen economy. Used in fuel cells, hydrogen is a clean, carbon-free fuel that produces only oxygen and water as the by-products of power generation. As a tool for countering the increasingly obvious impacts of climate change, it can be combined with renewables to create new solutions.

Milestones towards a low carbon future

The H2One BCM is already being widely tested as a solution in various circumstances. One installed at an emergency evacuation centers in Kawasaki, at the Kawasaki Marien Public Facility and Higashi-Ogishima-Naka Park, is always ready to provide 300 evacuees with power and hot water for a week. Another, at Musashi-Mizonokuchi Station on the East Japan Railway’s Nambu Line, that will start operation in 2017, will demonstrate the concept of an eco-station during normal operation and be ready to provide emergency power and lighting in an emergency. A commercially installed version at Yokohama Cargo Center will ensure the center continues to operate even if it loses power supply.

Toshiba has developed other versions of H2One, including a remote island version, a business facilities version and a resort model. The latter system has been installed at the Henn Na Hotel at the Huis Ten Bosch theme park near Nagasaki, where it keeps a 12-room annex to the hotel supplied with electricity year round.

Separately from H2One, Toshiba is actively promoting hydrogen energy. In Yokohama and Kawasaki, it is testing the viability of a hydrogen supply chain, delivering by tanker hydrogen produced at Yokohama City Wind Power Plant; in July it announced the development of Japan’s largest alkaline water electrolysis hydrogen production system; and in August the company won its first order for a 100kW fuel system.

With each new project and order won, Toshiba continues to widen the scope of hydrogen as a fuel, and to prove its potential as a real-world solution. As the company continues to make advances, it looks forward to contributing to a low-carbon future where hydrogen plays a major role in power generation.