Mitsubishi Heavy Industries plans to invest in eco-friendly technologies beyond sun and wind as one of the largest players in fossil fuel power generation seeks to reinvent itself in clean energy.
Kentaro Hosomi, head of the Japanese conglomerate's main business, told the Financial Times that hydrogen, ammonia, carbon capture and nuclear power are required to achieve the global zero-emissions goal.
MHI's green drive shows how even companies that have built their fossil fuel businesses feel the need to invest heavily in green energy to ensure their survival.
Like colleagues like General Electric, the famous Japanese conglomerate is faced with the challenge of reinventing itself as it relies on traditional businesses, from coal-fired power plants to shipbuilding and car turbochargers to regional jets, space missiles and the defense industry.
“We need real technological innovations. We have a very long way to go, ”said Hosomi. “I hope people will recognize that decarbonization won't happen overnight.”
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MHI announced last month that it would boost investment and grow global green energy revenues to 300 billion yen ($ 2.9 billion) by 2030, up from an estimated 50 billion yen in 2023.
The group was hit hard by the pandemic that forced them to end their regional jet program, as well as declining demand for traditional power generation. It will also be affected by Japan's abrupt decision to target zero net carbon emissions by 2050.
Mr Hosomi said MHI would invest in new technology, arguing that existing renewable energies would become raw materials.
“Solar and Batteries. . . can facilitate the use of green energy, but in my view that means everything goes to China. “
Japan's government is betting heavily on the potential to import hydrogen from friendly countries like Australia, but Mr Hosomi said it would be too costly to build a new liquefied hydrogen supply chain in the short term.
Hydrogen can be burned in power plants or used in fuel cells to power vehicles. However, the technology is expensive and has yet to be deployed on a large scale.
Mr Hosomi said a cheaper approach would be to transport ammonia to Japan and burn it alongside coal and gas in existing power plants. Ammonia, which has the chemical symbol NH3, can be produced from hydrogen. However, at higher temperatures it is liquid and there is an existing infrastructure to ship it all over the world.
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MHI has received an order for a power plant in Utah that will first burn a mixture of hydrogen and natural gas before gradually converting to 100 percent hydrogen by 2045. Combustion with hydrogen or ammonia offers a future for the boilers of MHI, steam and gas turbines.
“This is a solution that we can present as of today to users who urgently need the electricity from existing coal-fired power plants,” said Hosomi.
An emerging technology that MHI sees as a competitive advantage is carbon capture and storage, which is essential for producing renewable ammonia or hydrogen from fossil fuels. The company estimates that carbon capture equipment will become a € 2.4 billion industry as countries strive for carbon neutrality by 2050.
However, given Japan's dense population and mountainous terrain, Hosomi said it was impossible to achieve zero carbon at home without nuclear power. Most of Japan's nuclear power plants have been shut down since the 2011 Fukushima disaster.
“If you don't sacrifice everything to have solar panels or wind turbines all over the city of Tokyo, that's impossible. In geographical conditions like Japan, I think. . . Nuclear power is a must, ”he said.