As 2014 ends and the New Year moves ever closer, Japan is readying itself for the ‘start of the beginning’ of hydrogen infrastructure, with 2015 marking the launch of fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) on sale in the country.

In preparation for the commencement of regular sales of FCVs next year, the installation of infrastructure necessary for this has been underway in four major municipal areas across the country. As a nationally subsidised undertaking, 40 local stations have been planned since last year (2013) and Iwatani opened the first station in July in Amagasaki.

Commercial stations are now set to be completed one after another as the year nears its end. The hydrogen stations will fill cars with more than four-nines purity hydrogen at a pressure of 70Mpa, making full use of high pressure gas handling technology. This has led to a ‘harvesting time’ of genuine demand for hydrogen equipment such as compressors, pressure accumulators, heat exchangers, valves and pressure regulators.

While the opening of 40 stations is less than half the original target of 100 stations set some time ago in Japan, it is thought that this number will be more than adequate, initially. According to The Gas Review (TGR), it is a commonly held belief that 1,000 cars are required for the operation of a filling station to turn a profit; if there were 100 hydrogen stations, a customer base of 100,000 FCVs would be required for this to be profitable.

The dawning of the operation of stations would be a tough one indeed, affirms TGR, as hydrogen stations during this period cannot help but be unprofitable, with the number of FCVs being small in absolute terms. The demand for public subsidy for operation is high.

Nonetheless, with hydrogen FCVs going on sale in Japan in 2015 and up to 40 stations ready for use, the year ahead is seen as the ‘start of the beginning’ for hydrogen fuelling in the country.