Major Japanese oil firm buys into government-backed joint venture shipping liquid hydrogen from Australia to Japan
Inpex, Japan’s largest oil and gas exploration and production company, has announced it will buy a 30% share from Kawasaki Heavy Industries into Japan Suiso Energy (JSE), the joint venture behind a controversial scheme to ship liquid hydrogen from Australia to Japan.
Kawasaki originally held a 66.6% stake in JSE and now keeps a 36.6% share, with the remaining 33.4% of the joint venture staying in the hands of industrial gases firm Iwatani.
However, liquid hydrogen has faced scepticism as a vector for transporting H2, owing to the high cost of liquefaction and low energy density by volume compared to other carriers such as ammonia and liquid organic hydrogen carriers (LOHCs).
Suiso Frontier, the first liquid hydrogen carrier built by Kawasaki as part of a publicly funded, JSE-led demonstration project and capable of storing 1,250 cubic metres of H2, also faced issues during its maiden voyage between Australia and Japan last year.
These included a one-metre-long flame emerging on deck during an attempt to burn “boil-off” gas — ie, hydrogen at the edges of the storage tank that had been warmed by ambient air to turn from a liquid to a gas when its temperature reached above minus 253°C.
Proponents of liquid hydrogen have pointed towards the high energy consumption associated with reforming ammonia back to hydrogen.
Inpex has also suggested that its 30-year experience in the LNG sector will be crucial to commercialising JSE, which to-date has mainly acted as a lead on Japanese government-backed pilot projects.
JSE is currently leading the Hydrogen Energy Supply Chain (HESC) project, which seeks to produce 30,000 tonnes of “blue” hydrogen in Australia from coal gasification with CO2 captured and stored underground, before shipping it as a liquid to Japan.
While the Japanese government had already earmarked another ¥220bn ($1.45bn) towards JSE’s initiative, the country’s research and development agency Nedo has also backed Japanese oil company Eneos to explore methylcyclohexane, a type of LOHC, as a potential H2 carrier for imports.
Nedo’s backing of JSE and Eneos is set to end in 2030, although the consortium behind HESC — which includes J-Power and Sumitomo as well as JSE — have previously floated that the idea that the project could be commercialised in the 2030s.