Japan will try to expand the use of ammonia as fuel as part of efforts to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the industry ministry said Tuesday.
Seeing ammonia, which does not emit carbon dioxide when burned, as an effective energy source along with hydrogen and other renewables, the ministry set up a council to that end with companies, a day after Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga set a goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.
"With Japanese companies spearheading efforts to utilize this new fuel, our country can take the initiative in the world toward expanding its use," Ryo Minami, director general at the ministry's Natural Resources and Fuel Department, said at the council's first meeting.
The ministry and the companies need to discuss how to ensure a stable supply of ammonia in the future as the development of coal-fired plants mixing the gaseous compound to generate power is under way, Minami said.
If all of Japan's coal-fired plants use ammonia for 20 percent of their fuel source, some 20 million tons would be needed annually, equivalent to the world's current trade volume per year, he said.
Senior officials from JERA Co., a joint venture between Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. and Chubu Electric Power Co., trading houses Mitsubishi Corp. and Marubeni Corp., heavy machinery manufacturer IHI Corp. and shipping company Nippon Yusen K.K. among others attended the meeting.
The new goal, announced Monday in Suga's first policy speech in parliament, is more ambitious than the Japanese government's previous target of reducing emissions by 80 percent by 2050 and comes in line with the global trend, with China unveiling its plan to become carbon-neutral by 2060 at the U.N. General Assembly last month.
Industry minister Hiroshi Kajiyama said shortly after the policy speech that the ministry aims to compile an action plan by the end of this year on the expanded use of next-generation energy resources.
It has already pushed the use of hydrogen and offshore wind power as well as carbon recycling, a technology to capture carbon dioxide and use it to generate a range of commodities including chemicals, fuels and concrete products.
Meanwhile, resource-poor Japan continues to see nuclear power as an effective means to achieve a society with reduced carbon dioxide emissions.
Still, many nuclear plants are offline following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster triggered by a massive earthquake and tsunami, as they now need to meet stricter safety regulations.
Former industry minister Hiroshige Seko said Tuesday that nuclear power, which does not emit carbon dioxide, is necessary for a stable energy supply.
"It is important to promote the resumption of nuclear power plants while keeping in mind their safety and also consider building new plants that incorporate new technologies," Seko, currently secretary general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's upper house caucus, said at a press conference.
Suga's pledge for a carbon-neutral society by 2050 came as the government is in the middle of updating its targets for Japan's fiscal 2030 energy mix.
Under the medium- to long-term energy plan compiled in 2018, the government is aiming for renewables to account for 22 to 24 percent, fossil fuels, including coal and liquefied natural gas, for 56 percent, and nuclear power for 20 to 22 percent of the country's power generation in fiscal 2030.
In fiscal 2018, fossil fuels accounted for 77 percent, renewables 17 percent and nuclear power 6 percent.