Japan to invest in clean-sheet hydrogen-powered airliner 

Japan aircraft
Shutterstock // CAT Foto

Japan has announced that it aims to develop a clean-sheet hydrogen-powered airliner. 

The investment was confirmed by Kazuchika Iwata, Vice Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry of Japan on March 27, 2024, who said the Japanese government is supporting the project, which will require an investment of at least 5 trillion yen (approximately US$33 billion). 

It is expected that the funds will come from both private and public companies which will work together on the project.  

The Japanese government will set up financial facilities in the form of sovereign climate transition bonds, a new class of securities that were first issued in February 2024 with the aim to finance the transition of Japanese industries to cleaner technologies. It will also provide additional non-financial support by helping define technology standards and testing procedures and facilitating the establishment of the necessary supply chains. 

The goal is to have an aircraft market-ready by 2035, interestingly the same timeframe that Airbus has set to develop its own family of hydrogen-powered aircraft. 

No specific details are known about the size or market segment that this new initiative is going to be targeting, although it appears likely that hydrogen-combustion will be explored as the propulsion system of choice. 

Although Japan has an aerospace industry that successfully produces military aircraft and is also a major supplier to the United States and European commercial aircraft industries (big chunks of the Boeing 787, for example, are made by Japanese companies), its efforts to develop an entire home-grown airliner have so far been unsuccessful. 

The most recent fiasco was the closure of the Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ) project, later renamed SpaceJet, in February 2023 after 15 years. The project saw ¥1 trillion (US$7.6 billion) of investment, which included the acquisition of Bombardier’s regional jet program.  

Hydrogen has always had a prominent place in Japan’s decarbonization strategy. The country was an early adopter of hydrogen cars and carmakers such as Toyota have continued to invest in hydrogen-powered models, even though they have failed to gain any significant traction.  

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