Japan’s First Hydrogen Train Will Begin Trial Runs This Month

Japan is one of the more alluring countries in the world. From its futuristic technology to its unique culture and world-class cuisine, this archipelago has enamored individuals from all over the globe.

Japan’s First Hydrogen Train Will Begin Trial Runs This Month

Undoubtedly, tourism has played a role in Japan's innovative transportation methods. A JTB Tourism Research & Consulting Company study reported that Japanese tourism has grown from around 350,000 in the 1960s to over 31 million in the late 2010s. Such a surge in tourism requires resilient, sustainable transportation infrastructure.

Population growth coupled with increasing consumer pressure toward companies and governments to promote environmental change urges transport methods that can accommodate tourism with minimal ecological impact.

An example is seen in the collaboration between Toyota Motor Corp., Hitachi Ltd, and East Japan Railway Co., which have come together to create a hydrogen-powered train. The train will undergo official trial runs late this month.

The First of Many

The train, named the Hybari train, is a two-car 100% powered hydrogen transport system that, if successful, will be the first of its kind in the country.

The total cost for the build was around $35 million, which incorporated the expertise of each collaborative partner throughout the manufacturing process. Toyota is responsible for the railcar's fuel cell device, Hitachi for the Power Converter, and Japan Railway Co. for the Main Circuit Storage Battery.

The train will incorporate a hydrogen fuel cell and a battery, a similar model seen in hydrogen-powered cars.

The fuel cell is an "electrolyte membrane is sandwiched between a positive electrode (cathode) and a negative electrode (anode)." Hydrogen stored in a tank is "introduced to the anode, and oxygen (from air) is introduced to the cathode."

From here, an electrochemical reaction occurs, separating the protons and electrons, the protons traveling to the cathode, and the electrons traveling through the external circuit. When traveling through the circuit, the electrons provide power to the battery before recombining "with the protons on the cathode side where the protons, electrons, and oxygen molecules combine to form water."

Essentially, the fuel cell converts hydrogen energy and transfers it to the battery for usage. Water forms as a by-product, one of the significant components that make hydrogen so desirable in the alternative energy realm. Water as a by-product means no emissions, making hydrogen a desirable, environmentally friendly option.

The Hybari train is one of Japan Railway's early steps in a journey to provide more sustainable transit options. The company also plans to replace some of its diesel rails and potentially market its design internationally.

The Hybari will be able to travel roughly 85 miles before needing to be refueled, just about the distance from the city of Tokyo to the infamous Mt. Fuji.

Japan's Commitment

Located in Eastern Asia, the island country of Japan has a history fraught with natural disasters. It is located in the Ring of Fire, a region of the pacific lined with active volcanos and prone to earthquakes. An estimated 75% of the world's volcanos are located within Eastern Asia.

Unfortunately, its location has subjected the country to some of the world's worst natural disasters, some effectively tarnishing local economies. The Earth's instability in this area, plus the country's elevation, could make Eastern Asia a prime spot for the adverse outcomes of climate change further down the road, including immense flooding and other natural disasters.

With this in mind, the nation has seen a slew of environmental innovations, from the government sector to private and public companies. On the government's side, they have steadily aimed to work in alignment with the Paris Agreement and have emphasized hydrogen fuel, intending to increase usage to 20 million tons by 2050.

Both public and private companies bring unique opportunities for change, like Toyota Motor Corp., Hitachi Ltd, and East Japan Railway Co. Toyota is one of the more popular global car brands and a pioneer of electric vehicles, creating a domino effect of eco-friendly change throughout the industry.

During the '90s, the company introduced its hybrid Toyota Prius. At the time, few knew of battery-powered vehicles' reliability, efficiency, and overall possibilities. A slow and steady stream of notoriety followed the release, gaining even more traction after the infamous startup, Tesla Motors, made headlines with their prestigious, fully electric vehicle.

Despite this impressive history, Toyota isn't the only one prompting change. Other Japanese companies have made strides toward sustainable transportation, like Japan Airlines investing in Electric Vehicle Takeoff and Landing (eVTOL)s, and the many other notable Japanese automobile manufacturers incorporating alternative energies into their models.

The world of sustainable consciousness has come a long way since Toyota introduced its hybrid electric vehicle to the market. Much work remains, but the Hybari, Japan Airlines, and the Japanese government are setting a high bar for the rest of us.

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