Mister Natural Aims to Change the World

Japanese executive plans to create the world’s first zero-emission, hydrogen-based economy.

Published: 04-Jan-2003

SKIPPING stones across an inlet, the 64-year-old cement executive hardly seems like someone out to change the world. But Masatsugu Taniguchi aims to do exactly that. He is leaving Taiheiyo Cement Co to start a new career on Yakushima Island, south of Kyushu, Japan, a place designated by the UN as a world heritage nature preserve. His mission: to create the world’s first zero-emission, hydrogen-based economy – and to pull it off through no-nonsense business principles, not tree-hugging wishful thinking.

“I heard that Iceland was planning to switch its economy over to hydrogen, and I realised we could do it way faster on Yakushima,” says Taniguchi. The 338-square-mile Yakushima makes a perfect test case. It is a steep granite island drowning in 320 inches of rainfall a year. That means it can, says the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, potentially generate 233 megawatts of hydropower without having to build any dams bigger than 100 feet. Strong ocean winds are another potential source of energy. In addition to harnessing hydroelectric power from an existing 60-megawatt plant to make silicon carbide, used in various industries, Taniguchi realised he could make plenty of cheap hydrogen fuel with current technology.

Huge surplus

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