Japan and California ports will collaborate on green shipping and hydrogen fuel projects

On March 15th, California and Japan signed an agreement to develop a “green shipping” corridor. In addition, California and Japan will collaborate on the deployment of zero emission hydrogen projects at California ports, according to Danny Wan, Executive Director, Port of Oakland.

California-Japan Green Shipping Corridor

On March 15th, the California State Transportation Agency (CSTA) announced that the governments of California and Japan will embark on “a new effort to work together to clean up a critical link in the global supply chain by collaborating on strategies to cut planet-warming pollution at seaports and establish green shipping corridors.”

“The ports of California and Japan help power the global economy and will now help power a new era of clean energy, clean transportation and good-paying green jobs,” said California Governor Gavin Newsom.

The signing was a centerpiece of a weeklong trade mission to Japan led by Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis and Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz) Director Dee Dee Myers with California business leaders – including the executive directors of California’s three largest ports.

Signatories and witnesses for the letter of intent between California and Japan signed Tuesday in Tokyo.

In an interview with AJOT, Wan explained the impact of the green corridor agreement: “The California and the Japanese governments … signed the letter of intent on renewable energy corridors, meaning that the ports in Japan and the ports in California are going to be exchanging technology and talking about standards as we develop these green corridors.”

The agreement will focus on “where the ships (and) where the green technology and … where the routes are from Japan … to California. So, Oakland is certainly going to be very much part of the discussion. In fact, ... we just had a meeting with the Japanese consulate here to discuss about whether we can establish further communication with the ports in Japan as we explore the sort of production line from Japan to Los Angeles, Long Beach and Oakland.”

Japan’s Hydrogen Development

A second aspect of the trip was for the California delegation to explore “Japan's hydrogen development especially at the ports. So, we went to the Port of Kobe and Kobe had … a hydrogen ship …it ships hydrogen … from Australia to Japan. And it was docked at Kobe and Kobe has a hydrogen terminal that receives hydrogen and stores it for distribution.”

Wan said that as a result of the passage of the Biden Administration’s backed Infrastructure Bill, more grants and funding are available for zero emission projects at U.S. ports: “Because of the investment by the Infrastructure Bill, people … whose technology has been in development are now finally getting the kind of resource needs to actually get into implementation… The ports need to play a role and the Port of Oakland certainly is going to be one of those ports (and) we're going to be the center of zero emissions innovation status.”

The Port of Oakland is well-situated to be an innovation center because of the proximity of Oakland International Airport to the Port where “we are the center of trucks and trains in the Port of Oakland's case (and) airplanes and equipment. The same will also hold true for investments being made in Los Angeles, Long Beach as well, where these technologies are tried out, used and actually implemented.”

Toyota Hydrogen Developments

During the trip to Japan, California port executives met with officials from Toyota Motors which is spearheading the deployment of hydrogen trucks and cars such as the Toyota Mirai, as well as hydrogen fuel cell batteries.

Wan explained that the growing power demands on the grid in California and elsewhere in the United States require hydrogen which could provide a zero emissions fuel to diversify California’s zero emission portfolio: “We ... visited Toyota … in Japan. And they certainly are leading the edge on hydrogen. So, a lot of the focus in Japan … was hydrogen. It was not so much on electricity.”

At the Port of Oakland, the focus of zero emissions is on trucks and at marine terminals: “I mentioned the hydrogen demonstration project is happening for trucks. Each of the terminals (are) also looking at how to switch to equipment from petrol to zero emissions. And some of them are choosing to do electric, which means that you're going … to have batteries to charge … during low peak time and then during high peak time to use that energy from those batteries … The problem with the electricity is reliability and the ability to meet peak demand because of … affordability.”

Charging Stations and Green Hydrogen

The challenge for trucks is to support charging stations for harbor trucks that deliver and pick up containers at the Port of Oakland and so the Port is moving “to develop those plug-in stations along the routes outside of the Port … So, it's not just the Port of Oakland that needs to adopt this energy, (the) trucks need to have plugins all on the routes.”

Another problem is developing hydrogen from renewable energy sources and moving away from hydrogen created by fossil fuels: “In Japan, for example, the hydrogen mostly is still gray … meaning it's produced from natural gas … In California we're looking at … hydrogen … fuel cells.”

Wan said one decision that will need to be made is whether to by-pass fossil fuel-based hydrogen and go straight to hydrogen produced by renewable energy making it ‘green’ hydrogen: “We're going to have to decide whether we're going to try to leapfrog that interim process and just go straight to green, which is … about at least five to 10 years away.”

There is a compelling reason for investing in hydrogen and that is portability: “You could produce it somewhere and you could then ship it by truck, by ship, by pipeline, whatever to the place of consumption.”

But hydrogen is a flammable fuel and “comes (with) some risks … It's probably not something you want to place in a highly dense … urban neighborhood. But, you know, … you're going to have to ship it somewhere. You're going to have to ship it and produce it.”

Wan concluded “that's what … part of the discussion in Japan was. The Japanese government and the Japanese industries are very much in the production of hydrogen already, but as we said, the source of that hydrogen is mostly natural gas.”

Stas Margaronis
Stas Margaronis


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