“Reversed Rangaku” by Matthijs Hoek (2nd Place in NLJP Essay Contest)

NL Japan Relations Essay Contest 2022

Theme: Energy transition in the Netherlands and Japan: how to benefit from each other through cooperation

Matthijs Hoek | VU Amsterdam | Mathematics & Physics

Full citations and references can be seen here in the essay’s original format

Reversed rangaku:

Dutch-Japanese cooperation in hydrogen economy

Japan and the Netherlands have a long-standing relationship that dates back to the early 17th century (Kingdom of the Netherlands, n.d.). For over two centuries, The Netherlands was the only western power to have contact with Japan, albeit limited. The Dutch-Japanese trade introduced new technologies to Japan as the Dutch functioned as the gateway for Japan to the western world. Therefore, some Japanese scholars became so called rangaku scholars: Dutch studies scholars.

In the modern age, climate change has become a major threat to humanity. This is the reason why both Japan and the Netherlands have set climate goals to ultimately reach carbon neutrality. To accomplish this goal, Japan adopted the first national hydrogen framework in 2017 (Nakano, 2021). In 2020, the Dutch government similarly released a strategy plan on hydrogen, which states that “given the significant expected demand for sustainable hydrogen in industry in Northwest Europe, it would therefore be highly advantageous for the Netherlands to become the linchpin in that supply chain and to use existing infrastructure for that purpose” (Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy, 2020). The Netherlands may become a main hydrogen transportation hub for the rest of (Northwest) Europe. This hub will result in increased accessibility of hydrogen in Europe, which makes it an appealing market for hydrogen technology. It is precisely this technology which Japan specializes in. Japan could potentially provide Europe with a technological impulse, just as the Dutch provided Japan all these centuries ago: a reversed rangaku.

Both countries should join forces to make sure that the Netherlands can fulfill the role of European hydrogen hub. In particular, both countries should invest in the port of Rotterdam. The port of Rotterdam aims to have “an annual throughput of 20 million metric tons (Mt) hydrogen (2,400 PJ)” (Port of Rotterdam, 2020). To put this into perspective, the Central Bureau for Statistics (CBS) reported in 2020 that the Netherlands generates around 180 PJ of hydrogen per year (CBS, 2020). Rotterdam port could therefore be a tremendous opportunity for hydrogen transportation all over (Northwest) Europe.

The Netherlands profits directly from the Rotterdam port, since it will be key infrastructure for the hydrogen economy of the future. Japan likewise profits from the port, since it creates a large European market for hydrogen technology. Especially fuel cells could potentially be a coveted technology, which are able of turning the chemical energy of hydrogen into electricity. Japan has a technological advantage with regards to fuel cells (Nakano, 2021). This advantage could be used to benefit economically and to help European countries reach their climate goals.

Moreover, Japan is focused on reducing the cost of hydrogen production: from US$1 per cubic meter in 2017 to 30 cents per cubic meter by 2030 and around 20 cents or below per cubic meter by 2050 (Nakano, 2021). This could be achieved by expanding the hydrogen market. This is exactly what would transpire if the port of Rotterdam were to become a major hydrogen hub for (Northwest) Europe.

In return for the investments of the hydrogen department of the port of Rotterdam, the Dutch government ought to aid Japan with its fuel cell technology and other hydrogen technologies. This could be accomplished by research agreements or financial investments. One of the fuel cell technologies which could be invested in are fuel cell vehicles (FCVs). The Japanese government adopted its Strategic Roadmap for Hydrogen and Fuel Cells in 2014 and was updated in March 2019 (Nakano, 2021). The mobility targets of the roadmap include 200,000 FCVs by 2025 and 800,000 by 2030. The Netherlands could, in exchange for the Japanese investments in the port in Rotterdam, agree on a deal to buy FCVs from Japan, since Japan wants to export the FCVs as well (Nakano, 2021).

By investing in each other’s hydrogen climate goals, both countries could become significant frontrunners in the global hydrogen economy and accommodate the rest of the world with sustainable and climate-friendly energy technologies. This cooperation could lead to a crucial revolution in the hydrogen technology industry, just like rangaku led to a technological revolution all those years ago.