A consortium of Japanese companies has begun construction on Brunei’s first hydrogenation plant, establishing a global supply chain of liquified hydrogen from Brunei to Japan.

Located at Sungai Liang Industrial Park (SPARK), the plant is scheduled for completion in September 2019 and will begin shipments to Kawasaki, Japan, by January 2020.

With an investment of up to US$100 million, the pilot project will run for a year to determine the commercial viability of the supply chain, said Hideko Endo, president of the Advanced Hydrogen Energy Chain Association for Technology Development (AHEAD).

“It is a small demo project for only one year. In the future it may become commercial or semi-commercial, depending on who the hydrogen users are,” he told media on Saturday during the ground breaking for the plant.

“There will be challenges transporting over 5,000km of sea. [In order to save space] hydrogen gas can be changed to liquid at -253°C. But to do that is very challenging — on a small scale, yes, but not on a large scale.”

The Sg Liang hydrogenation plant will be powered by gas piped directly from the Brunei Liquified Natural Gas (BLNG) facility, producing an annual yield of 210 tonnes.

An artist’s impression of the hydrogenation plant in Sg Liang. Photo: Courtesy of AHEAD

Hydrogen will be produced by steam reforming, a process where a device reacts with steam at high temperatures to yield hydrogen gas. It is then mixed with toluene, converting it to methylcyclohexane, and cooled at -253°C. The process similar to liquefying natural gas, albeit at a much cooler temperature.

Japan wants to become the first nation significantly powered by the clean energy source, but the high cost and technical challenges associated with hydrogen production have generally slowed its adoption as a carbon-free fuel.

Some 300,000 tonnes of hydrogen will be required by Japan’s domestic market by 2030. By 2050, that number will increase to 10 million tonnes.

“The world is still far away from adopting hydrogen as a mainstream energy source but there’s no reason why we cannot be one of the pioneers in the development of this clean energy system,” said deputy minister of energy and industry Dato Paduka Hj Matsatejo Sokiaw.

He added that the use of hydrogen fuel in Brunei’s transport sector should be encouraged, and that hydrogen-related activity could help build a more sustainable economy for Brunei.

AHEAD president Hideki Endo speaks to the media after the ground breaking ceremony for the hydrogenation plant in Sg Liang. Photo: Rasidah Hj Abu Bakar/The Scoop

Endo said AHEAD is in discussion with the Brunei government on how to utilise the emissions-free fuel for small power generation and local transport. Brunei’s first shipment of hydrogen will be used to power 3,000 cars during the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games.

When asked why AHEAD, a consortium of four companies — Japan’s largest trading company Mitsubishi Corporation, shipping giant Nippon Yusen, engineering company Chiyoda and trading company Mitsui & Co. Ltd, — selected Brunei for the pilot project, Endo said it was due to the abundance of natural resources and the close energy relationship between the two countries. Japan is Brunei’s largest trade partner and buys more than 80 percent of the sultanate’s LNG.

AHEAD is funded by the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization, a Japanese government agency that researches and develops plans for hydrogen supply chains to Japan.

A similar hydrogen supply chain project is taking place in Australia, with plans to ship to Japan by 2020.