TOKYO, JAPAN: Competition to develop fuel cells for practical use is intensifying with the coming into effect of the Kyoto Protocol obliging developed countries to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.
Fuel cells are regarded as a source of "clean energy" emitting no harmful gases, a cause of global warming, and in the future could be used for vehicles, mobile phones, personal computers, houses and other things.
The cells generate electricity using hydrogen extracted from methanol and natural gas, and various fuels are used as hydrogen supply sources.
At the 2005 World Exposition to open in Aichi Prefecture in March, an experiment will be carried out for the world's first energy system combining fuel cells with power generated by household kitchen garbage and sunlight.
An industry official said, "It is an effective system to realize garbage disposal, reuse of resources and environmental measures at a stroke." At the exposition, Aichi-based Toyota Motor Corp. will operate a "fuel cell hybrid bus" to carry visitors between the exposition's two sites over a 4.4-kilometer road.
Hitachi Ltd. will unveil at its pavilion a mobile phone information terminal equipped with a cartridge-type fuel cell containing 5 cubic centimeters of methanol.
When the fuel runs out, the cartridge is changed. "If commercialized in the future, cartridges could be sold at shops in railway stations and convenience stores for about 100 yen," a Hitachi official said.
Tokyo Gas Co. has already commercialized fuel cells and on Feb. 8 began selling the world's first cogeneration-type fuel cell system for household use.
Besides electricity, heat from electricity generation can also be used. Utilizing the high efficiency in electricity generation of fuel cells, electricity, air conditioning and hot water supplies could be provided to households at cheaper rates than before.
Toyota and Honda Motor Co. have already begun leasing passenger cars with fuel cells to government ministries and agencies to publicize them among consumers.
At the first international fuel cell exhibition held in Tokyo in January, some 230 companies from 10 or so countries, including Japan, the United States, South Korea and China, exhibited their products.
In the keynote lecture, Yun Sok Ryol, head of a research institute affiliated with Samsung Electronics Co., said, "I am confident that the next-generation energy is fuel cells." He said Samsung has made fuel cells a core business, along with semiconductor memory and liquid crystals.
Ford Motor Co. of the United States is poised to go all out to develop fuel cells with Japanese moves in mind, a Ford official said.
But to commercialize fuel cells, it is imperative to cut the cost of producing the cells themselves and products equipped with them, industry sources said.
In the case of fuel cell vehicles, a widespread network of hydrogen stations on roads will have to be established, the sources said.
Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News