With Tesla batteries and Japan's largest hydrogen tank, Panasonic is testing a factory of the future

With Tesla batteries and Japan’s largest hydrogen tank, Panasonic is testing a factory of the future

As a bullet train speeds by in the background, a tank of liquid hydrogen towers over solar panels and hydrogen fuel cells at Panasonic’s Kusatsu plant in Japan. Combined with a Tesla Megapack storage battery, hydrogen and solar can provide enough electricity to power the site’s Ene-Farm fuel cell plant.

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As high-speed trains zip by at 285 kilometers per hour, Panasonic’s Norihiko Kawamura watches over Japan’s tallest hydrogen storage tank. The 14-meter structure towers over the tracks of the Tokaido Shinkansen line outside the former capital of Kyoto, as well as a wide array of solar panels, hydrogen fuel cells and You’re here Megapack storage batteries. Power sources can generate enough juice to run part of the manufacturing site using only renewable energy.

“This may be the largest hydrogen consumption site in Japan,” said Kawamura, head of the home appliance maker’s Smart Energy System business division. “We estimate to use 120 tons of hydrogen per year. As Japan produces and imports more and more hydrogen in the future, this will be a very suitable type of plant.”

Sandwiched between a high-speed railroad and a highway, Panasonic’s factory in Kusatsu, Shiga Prefecture is a sprawling 52-hectare site. It was originally built in 1969 to manufacture products including refrigerators, one of the “three treasures” of home appliances, as well as televisions and washing machines, which the Japanese coveted as the country was rebuilding after the devastation of World War II.

Today, one corner of the plant is the H2 Kibou field, a demonstration sustainable power plant that began operations in April. It consists of a 78,000 liter hydrogen tank, a 495 kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell array consisting of 99 5 kW fuel cells, 570 kW from 1,820 photovoltaic solar panels arranged in inverted “V” shape to capture the most sunlight, and 1.1 megawatts of lithium-ion battery storage.

On one side of H2 Kibou Field, a large screen shows the amount of electricity produced in real time from fuel cells and solar panels: 259 kW. About 80% of the electricity produced comes from fuel cells, the rest being solar. Panasonic says the facility produces enough power to meet the needs of the site’s fuel cell plant – it has a peak output of around 680 kW and an annual usage of around 2.7 gigawatts. Panasonic thinks this can be a model for the next generation of new sustainable manufacturing.

“This is the first manufacturing site of its kind using 100% renewable energy,” said Hiroshi Kinoshita of Panasonic’s Smart Energy System Business. “We want to extend this solution towards the creation of a carbon-free society.”

The 495 kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell array is made up of 99 5 kW fuel cells. Panasonic says it is the first such site in the world to use hydrogen fuel cells to create a manufacturing plant running on 100% renewable energy.

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An energy management system (EMS) equipped with artificial intelligence automatically controls on-site power generation, switching between solar and hydrogen power, to minimize the amount of electricity purchased from the utility. local network operator. For example, if it is a sunny summer day and the fuel cell plant needs 600 kW, the EMS can prioritize solar panels, choosing a mix of 300 kW of solar energy, 200 kW hydrogen fuel cells and 100 kW storage batteries. On cloudy days, however, this could minimize the solar component and boost hydrogen and storage batteries, which are recharged at night by the fuel cells.

“The most important thing to make manufacturing greener is an integrated energy system that includes renewable energy such as solar and wind, hydrogen, batteries, etc.,” says Takamichi Ochi, senior climate change manager and energy at Deloitte Tohmatsu Consulting. “To do this, the example of Panasonic is close to an ideal energy system.”

With gray hydrogen, not yet completely green

The Champ de Kibou H2 is not completely green. It depends on so-called gray hydrogen, which is generated from natural gas in a process that can release a lot of carbon dioxide. Tankers transport 20,000 liters of hydrogen, cooled in liquid form to minus 250 degrees Celsius, from Osaka to Kusatsu, a distance of about 80 km, about once a week. Japan has relied on countries like Australia, which has greater supplies of renewable energy, for hydrogen production. But local supplier Iwatani Corporation, which has partnered with Chevron earlier this year to build 30 hydrogen refueling sites in California by 2026, opened a technology center near Osaka that focuses on producing green hydrogen, which is created without using fossil fuels.

Another issue holding back adoption is cost. Even though electricity is relatively expensive in Japan, it currently costs much more to power a hydrogen plant than to use grid electricity, but the company expects the efforts of the government and Japanese industry to improve supply and distribution will make the item significantly cheaper.

“Our hope is that the cost of hydrogen will come down, so we can get to something like 20 yen per cubic meter of hydrogen, and then we can get to cost parity with the power grid,” Kawamura said.

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Panasonic also predicts that Japan’s efforts to become carbon neutral by 2050 will drive demand for new energy products. Its fuel cell plant in Kusatsu has produced more than 200,000 Ene-Farm natural gas fuel cells for home use. Commercialized in 2009, the cells extract hydrogen from natural gas, generate electricity by reacting it with oxygen, heat and store hot water, and provide up to 500 watts of backup electricity for eight days in the event of a disaster. Last year it started selling a pure hydrogen version aimed at commercial users. He wants to sell the fuel cells in the United States and Europe because governments there have more aggressive hydrogen cost-cutting measures than those in Japan. In 2021, the US Department of Energy launched a program called Hydrogen Shot which aims to reduce the cost of clean hydrogen by 80% to $1 per kilogram over 10 years.

Panasonic does not plan to scale up its H2 Kibou field at this time, hoping to see other businesses and factories adopt similar energy systems.

It won’t necessarily make economic sense today, Kawamura says, “but we want to start something like this so it’s ready when the cost of hydrogen drops. Our message is, if we want to have 100% renewable energy by 2030, so we need to start with something like this now, not in 2030.”

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