As energy bills soar, Japanese test fuel of future

TOKYO, June 8, 2008 (AFP) – As world oil prices skyrocket, thousands of households in energy-poor Japan are taking part in an ambitious experiment to use fuel cells to light and heat their homes. Since the prime minister’s official residence became the first house in the world to be equipped with a domestic fuel cell in 2005, about 3,000 households have signed up to have the grey boxes installed outside their homes.

The project aims to thrust Japan to the forefront of a “hydrogen society” that has kicked its addiction to fossil fuels and produces affordable energy while spewing out far less of the greenhouse gas that is blamed for global warming.

“The principle of fuel cells has been known since the end of the 14th century, but their first practical use was not until 1965, aboard the American spacecraft Gemini 5,” said Michihiro Mohri, a senior vice president at Nippon Oil Corp.

The fuel cells produce electricity and hot water through a chemical reaction between oxygen and hydrogen extracted from natural gas or other fuels.

“The hydrogen needed can come from various sources — hydrocarbons, natural gas, bio mass or rubbish” to create methane, said Mohri.

While the fuel ce