On 1 February 2022, the cities of Koriyama (Japan), Toyota (Japan), Essen (Germany) and Grenoble-Alpes Metropole (France) officially kicked off their collaboration to develop a hydrogen society and promote open innovation. Hydrogen is an essential vector for freeing our societies from fossil fuels and effectively initiating the energy transition. Dialogue and actions that transcend national boundaries are required to remove the technical and social barriers that still prevail.
The online event gathered 100 participants who listened to the mayors of the four cities, and the senior representatives of the EU, Germany and France offered a background to the collaboration. The project team gave a brief explanation of the programme and highlighted the unique setup of the two-pairing dialogue. The business seminar that followed featured six speakers, who shared their experiences related to the topic and on-going demonstration projects to integrate hydrogen into the society.
The kick-off started by Mayor Shinagawa of Koriyama City announcing the official beginning of cooperation between the cities under the IURC programme. He thanked the Mayor of Essen with whom he had collaborated on the topic of renewable energy and healthcare in the previous IUC programme, and welcomed the addition of Toyota and Grenoble-Alpes Metropole to their pairing to promote new collaboration and business potential under the shared theme of hydrogen and open innovation.
Mayor Kufen of Essen City who participated via a video recording also followed suit by thanking the three cities for joining forces with Essen on hydrogen, which he saw as an important driver for future development of the technology. 250 companies and institutions in the energy sector are located in Essen, making it the energy capital of Europe.
President Ferrari of Grenoble-Alpes Metropole, in a video recording, welcomed the initiation of the alliance of hydrogen for which the metropole with its large research community holds high expectations. This year, Grenoble-Alpes Metropole is acting as the European Green Capital, gathering inspiring visitors from around the world and learning from them. This is similar to their experience with Toyota from whom they benefited by learning of their low carbon vehicle policies.
Mayor Ota of Toyota City, who also participated in a video recording, hailed Grenoble-Alpes Metropole’s unique and effective low carbon public transport systems and citizen’s massive use of smartphone payment systems. Inspired by the move for reducing cars and government promotion of digitalization, Toyota reflected the idea in its public transport strategies introducing a digital ticketing system for tourist-oriented MaaS. The new focus, hydrogen, is quite important for the city, which declared to become zero carbon by 2050. Mayor Ota welcomed the joint effort for open innovation and cross industry collaboration to develop a hydrogen-based energy system together.
Ms. Susanne Welter, Minister Counsellor for the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany, talked of the relevance the alliance had for the 2019 Energy Partnership between Japan and Germany, which seeks to promote bilateral cooperation to realize an energy transition with hydrogen being one of the features. In 2014, Fukushima prefecture and the Federal State of North Rhine–Westphalia signed an agreement for cooperation in the areas of medical devices and energy, and which has since expanded to include other actors such as citizens and schools.
Mr. Remy Cardinet, Counsellor for the Embassy of the French Republic expressed delight in the four-city cooperation. The preceding IUC programme had been successful in gathering French and Japanese startups to discuss the possibilities for hydrogen. He expressed that the embassy hoped the programme would lead to more business opportunities.
Mr. Cesar Moreno, a representative for the EU Delegation to Japan, thanked the authorities of Koriyama, Toyota, Essen, Grenoble-Alpes Metropole for hosting the event, and the IURC team for Asia & Australasia stationed in Bangkok for their support.
Mr. Pablo Gándara, Team Leader of IURC Asia & Australasia, quickly introduced the IURC programme and invited the four cities to participate in a hydrogen cluster which has recently been developed.
Prof Hidefumi Imura, the key expert for IURC AA Japan, acknowledged the set-up of two pairings collaborating together, which is unique among the other IURC pairings. He expressed his support.
After the kick-off and the group photo session, the business seminar followed with the first presentation from Koriyama City. Mr. Yohei Watanabe, Chief of the Business Creation Division, introduced Koriyama’s diverse variety of joint activities with Essen for renewable energy and medical devices in 2017-2021, such as participating in each other’s trade fairs and holding pitch events for local SMEs to showcase their technology to their counterparts in the other city. Koriyama City promotes open innovation locally through pitch events since 2018. To realize a hydrogen society, Koriyama works with Energy Agency Fukushima and the Fukushima Renewable Energy Research Center (FREA), both located in the city, by supporting local SMEs and conducting cutting-edge research. The latest demonstration project by FREA experimented on using hydrogen in buildings.
Mr. Go Theisen, Project Director for International Business at Essen Economic Development Agency (EWG), gave a brief outline of Essen City’s annual energy trade fair E-World, which gathers some of the best thinkers for hydrogen development in Europe. Essen is the headquarters for some of the largest European companies in the energy sector allowing the city to develop a hydrogen action plan that will first introduce fuel cells for public buses, followed by waste trucks, logistics and eventually heavy industries. Open innovation is aggressively sought after and the city hosts pitch events inviting creative thinkers to the city with their innovative business cases.
Mr. Gabriel Voisin-Fradin, Project Manager for International Economic Relations, introduced Grenoble-Alpes Metropole, the European Green Capital for the year 2022, as a city filled with vibrant young talent, academic institutes, private research institutes, and industrial clusters. Companies such as Schneider Electric and EDF, which are well known names for the energy sector, are potential candidates for collaboration with the industries in Toyota and Koriyama. Through this four-city alliance, he hoped to develop a common understanding and expectation for the long term for hydrogen.
According to Mr. Yusuke Kitagawa, Chief of the Next Generation Industry Division of Toyota City, the city’s globally famous automotive industry is going through substantial technical transitions with the advent of artificial intelligence and autonomous driving. Seeing the importance of raising innovative young engineers, Toyota city utilizes various methods to support them. For example, the city has developed an open innovation platform called “SENTAN” for engineering companies; has connected large patent holders with local engineering SMEs; is utilizing pitch events and offering training courses to brush up presentation skills; and has developed a mechanism by which experienced engineers serve as mentors for young engineers. The efforts are paying off with a technology for generating hydrogen already adopted for Toyota’s vehicles.
Dr. Hirohide Furutani, Director of the Fukushima Renewable Energy Research Center (FREA), shared FREA’s ongoing research to remove the two most significant barriers hydrogen had for full social deployment: 1) difficulty of transporting the fuel; and 2) how to increase safety of storage. FREA is working with Hitachi Ltd. on developing a hydrogen supply chain for power generation. They have also collaborated with construction giant Shimizu Corporation to demonstrate the use of locally generated green hydrogen as a potential factor for achieving a zero-emission building.
Last and not least, Mr. Yasuhiro Hattori, Director of Energy Agency Fukushima, discussed his perspectives on how to realize a hydrogen society. Fukushima’s strategy to promote a renewable society after the great east Japan earthquake has resulted in the prefecture being one of the largest sites for renewables in Japan. Fukushima prefecture plans to eventually match energy demand with energy supply from a variety of renewable resources and hydrogen. To do so, a green hydrogen demonstration facility, FH2R (Fukushima Hydrogen Energy Research Field), was constructed. The hydrogen from this facility fueled the Olympic torch and buses for the 2021 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. Fukushima prefecture has also signed an agreement with Toyota Corporation to promote the deployment of fuel cell delivery trucks at commercial centers and envisions 20 hydrogen stations by 2030. Mr. Hattori expressed excitement in extending their network abroad to Essen and Grenoble-Alpes Metropole.