Biomass is the generic term for plant and animal-derived organic resources (excluding fossil resources)that can be recycled into energy and material. Examples of biomass are rice straw, forest and fishery products such as livestock excrement, food waste, sewage sludge, and waste wood. Dried-biomass can be combusted directly to obtain heat and electricity from the steam thus generated, and also wet-biomass can be fermented to produce biogas for use as energy by, for example, cogeneration systems. As the CO2 emitted as a result of combusting biomass or biogas is CO2 that had been absorbed from the atmosphere by photosynthesis during organic processes, using energy from biomass in place of energy derived from fossil resources can make a major contribution to reducing total CO2 emissions, which is one of the greenhouse gases driving global warming.
We aim to expand and popularize the use of biomass to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by promoting not only the technologies for using biogas that we have developed to date (such as mixed combustion of city gas and biogas), but also technologies for generating biogas more economically and efficiently through methane fermentation of biomass such as food waste, together with technologies for upgrading the biogas into higher quality gas.
Pilot methane fermentation plant at a research institute
■Construction and operation of hydrogen stations
We are building and operating hydrogen stations and contributing to the development of the hydrogen supply infrastructure in order to promote wider use of fuel cell vehicles. Our goal is to reduce carbon emissions and diversify fuels in the transportation sector.
Having previously built and operated two hydrogen stations (one in Senju and another in Haneda) for R&D and demonstration purposes, we began building our first hydrogen stations for ordinary commercial use in fiscal 2013. The first to be completed was the Nerima Hydrogen Station, which became the Kanto region's first commercial hydrogen station when it opened in December 2014. It was followed by the Senju Hydrogen Station, which was repurposed for commercial use in January 2016. One month later, in February 2016, we opened our first hydrogen station in Saitama Prefecture, the Urawa Hydrogen Station.
The Nerima Hydrogen Station uses an "offsite" system for receiving hydrogen produced elsewhere and supplying it to fuel cell vehicles onsite. Our Senju and Urawa stations, on the other hand, are "onsite" stations that supply fuel cell vehicles with hydrogen produced onsite from city gas.
Moving forward, we will pursue more efficient use of hydrogen production systems through the commercial operation of hydrogen stations and seek to strengthen coordination between stations in order to supply hydrogen more reliably.
(There were approximately 1,800 fuel cell vehicles on the road and 88 hydrogen stations in Japan at the end of fiscal 2016.)
In March 2016, we installed a 5 kW-class commercial fuel cell at the Arakawa Sogo Sports Center in Arakawa, Tokyo, and a demonstration trial is now underway. The approximately one-year trial will run until the end of March 2017 and is being conducted under an agreement on real-world testing of 5 kW-class commercial fuel cells signed between Arakawa and Tokyo Gas at the end of 2015. It is the first trial of its kind to be conducted at a public facility in Japan.
Electricity generated by a commercial SOFC will power first-floor lighting at the center, while waste heat will be used to produce some of the hot water for locker room showers. During the trial, a monitor will be displayed showing the amount of electricity generated by the SOFC, and visitors will be able to experience the hot water produced for themselves. The project will be used to raise awareness of fuel cells and the contribution that they can make to creating a low carbon society.
In a joint study, Kyushu University's Next-Generation Fuel Cell Research Center (NEXT-FC) and Tokyo Gas have succeeded in designing an innovative concept to dramatically improve the electrical efficiency over 80% LHV (lower heating value) of SOFCs and proving its mechanism in a world first. This result was published in July 2015 in Scientific Reports, Nature's sister online publication.
Super-efficient energy conversion from fossil fuel to electricity is expected to make a major contribution to reducing CO2 emissions and provide the core energy technology for creating a highly environmentally friendly smart energy society. In addition, super-efficient power generation systems are potentially far more adaptable to market needs because they produce so little waste heat during the power generation process that they can eliminate the need to make use of waste heat.
Schematic of Innovative Concept for Further Improving the Electrical Efficiency