Skip to content
CityLab
Housing

Tokyo's Olympic Bet on Hydrogen Power

The city is spending big money to make fuel cells affordable. Is that the right way to cut carbon?
A view of downtown Tokyo from the Mori Tower in Roppongi Hills.
A view of downtown Tokyo from the Mori Tower in Roppongi Hills.Julian Spector

Savvy cities design their Olympic facilities to add value after the games finish. Tokyo’s leader isn’t just thinking about real estate, though: he’s using the athletic village for the 2020 Olympics to kickstart a transition to a hydrogen-powered society.

Hydrogen has been kicking around as the energy of the future for decades, but so far it’s potential hasn’t converted into reality. For starters, synthesizing the hydrogen itself is an energy-intensive process, after which it must be super-cooled or pressurized to be transported and used. To get hydrogen fuel to consumers, countries need to invest in infrastructure. And then you have to persuade people to buy a new type of car that runs on a fuel better known for powering rockets.