* Japan betting heavily on ‘hydrogen society’
* Fuelling stations needed to boost vehicle take-up
* New venture will nearly double number of stations (Adds comment, details)
TOKYO, March 5 (Reuters) - An alliance of 11 Japanese firms, including automakers and energy firms, has pledged to build 80 fuelling stations for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles by 2022 to help accelerate take-up of the next-generation fuel technology.
Japan H2 Mobility LLC, whose backers include Toyota Motor Corp and JXTG Nippon Oil & Energy, said on Monday it would oversee the construction and operation of the new fuelling stations, nearly doubling the number at present.
As countries seek low emissions energy sources to power vehicles, homes and industry, Japan is betting heavily on becoming a “hydrogen society” despite the high costs and technical difficulties of a process that creates electricity from a chemical reaction of fuel and oxygen.
JXTG Nippon Oil Senior Vice President Yutaka Kuwahara said on Monday that a lack of users and high costs to build and operate fuelling stations had slowed construction in Japan, delaying a government target to build 100 stations by March 2016.
Japan currently has about 90 stations, with at least 40 operated by JXTG Nippon Oil, and another 10 are in the planning or construction stage.
“We must lower costs, which will remove many of the bottlenecks to developing more stations,” he told reporters at a briefing.
By about 2020, the Japanese government aims to roughly halve the cost of building a hydrogen fuelling station, which is currently about 400 million yen to 500 million yen ($3.8 million-$4.7 million), well above 100 million yen for a gasoline station.
The path to adopting hydrogen has been dogged by the difficulty in driving widespread take-up given high costs of fuel-cell vehicles (FCVs), limited production capabilities and low numbers of fuelling stations.
Only a handful of automakers currently market FCVs, including Toyota, Honda Motor Co and Hyundai Motor Co . Toyota has sold only 5,300 units of its Mirai FCV since its launch in 2015, while it has sold a total of around 11.5 million gasoline hybrids since launching the Prius 20 years ago.
Japan wants to have 160 hydrogen stations and 40,000 FCVs on the country’s roads by March 2021. By 2030, it aims to have 900 stations to service some 800,000 FCVs, buses and forklifts.
By then, it expects the price of hydrogen to fall to around 30 yen per normal cubic meter, from up to 100 yen now.
Other companies involved in Japan H2 Mobility include Honda, Nissan Motor, Idemitsu Kosan, Iwatani Corp , Tokyo Gas, Toho Gas, Air Liquide Japan Ltd, Toyota Tsusho.
$1 = 105.5000 yen Reporting by Naomi Tajitsu and Osamu Tsukimori; editing by Richard Pullin