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Advanced Motor Fuels in Japan


Drivers and Policies

Fossil fuel plays a central role as a source of energy in Japan. The country’s domestic sources of fossil fuel are limited, however, making it dependent on imports. The Basic Act of Energy Policy was enacted in June 2002 for the purpose of ensuring the steady implementation of energy policy.

The point of the energy policy is to first and foremost ensure stable supply (“Energy Security”) and to realize low-cost energy supply by enhancing its efficiency (“Economic Efficiency“) on the premise of “Safety.” It is also important to maximize efforts to pursue environment suitability (“Environment”).

In terms of primary energy, Japan’s new Strategic Energy Plan, approved in April 2014, discusses the use of nuclear power and ensuring safety, improving the efficiency of electricity generation, expanding the use of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), and places an emphasis on reducing the cost of renewable energy.

On April 30, 2015, the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) presented a government proposal that sets a target for the level of greenhouse gases in 2030 “to be reduced by 26% compared to the level in 2013.”

In the transportation sector, in order to improve the energy efficiency of automobile transportation, Japan will take measures such as increasing the ratio of next-generation vehicles (e.g., hybrid vehicles, electric vehicles [EVs], plug-in hybrid vehicles [PHEVs], fuel cell vehicles [FCVs], clean diesel vehicles, and compressed natural gas [CNG] vehicles) to all new vehicles from 50% to 70% by 2030.

Now that biofuels, electricity, natural gas, LPG, and hydrogen are available as energy sources, an environment is being created in which consumers’ vehicle choice promotes competition not only for fossil fuels, but also for a wider variety of energy sources.

In spreading and expanding the introduction of next-generation vehicles, research and development and infrastructure building are indispensable. Thus, the Government of Japan and the private sector will collaborate to disseminate infrastructure for next-generation vehicles.


Advanced Motor Fuels Statistics

Figure 1 shows the energy sources used in the transportation sector [1] in Japan. Oil‑related energy accounts for 97.8% of total usage. The market for alternative fuels is very small in Japan, as is the number of alternative fuel vehicles (Table 1). Methanol, CNG, hybrid, EVs, and FCVs currently constitute the low-emission vehicles. The number of hybrid vehicles is rather large, owing to the number of passenger hybrid vehicles. CNG vehicles currently account for the largest number of vehicles in the low-emission truck category. The penetration of FCVs in the market has already launched; Japan has 630 FCVs.

Fig. 1    Energy Sources Used in the Transportation Sector in Japan in 2015


Table 1    Current Penetration of Low-Emission Vehicles in Japan












Vehicle Registration


Passenger vehicles







Light-, mid-,
and heavy-
duty trucks
























Not available







Not available


Research and Demonstration Focus


The Strategic Roadmap for Hydrogen and Fuel Cells (revised version) [6], which includes new goals and specific explanations of the new efforts to be undertaken, was released on March 22, 2016. In concrete terms, the revised version of the roadmap stipulated the following:

  1. Future price targets for household fuel cells.
  2. Targets for the dissemination of FCVs: in total, about 40,000 vehicles by 2020, about 200,000 vehicles by 2025, and about 800,000 vehicles by 2030.
  3. Targets for the construction of hydrogen stations: about 160 stations by 2020 and about 320 stations by 2025.
  4. Clarification of descriptions concerning hydrogen power generation.
  5. The technical and economic challenges concerning the utilization of hydrogen generated using renewable energy.

On December 26, 2017, the Ministerial Council on Renewable Energy, Hydrogen and Related Issues held its second meeting and decided on a basic hydrogen strategy to accomplish a world-leading hydrogen-based society [7]. The strategy includes the use of hydrogen for transportation such as fuel cell (FC) buses, FC trucks, and FC ships.

Natural Gas

Approximately half of the natural gas vehicles (NGVs) in Japan are commercial vehicles such as trucks, buses, or garbage trucks. Of the trucks, the majority are light- to medium-duty vehicles designed for short- or medium-distance transportation. In this context, Isuzu Motors Limited announced the Giga CNG in December 2015 [8]. The introduction of this heavy-duty CNG truck to the market is expected to increase the use of NGVs for long-distance transportation. In addition, events such as the opening of the first combined gasoline and L-CNG filling station in Japan at the Keihin Truck Terminal in March 2016, hints at future, more widespread use of NGVs in the commercial vehicles sector.

A Ministry of Land, Infrastructure Transport and Tourism project is pursuing research on boil-off gas countermeasures as part of an effort to commercialize heavy-duty LNG vehicles with a long-distance cruising range. To reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from road vehicles, in fiscal year 2016, the Japanese Ministry of Environment subsidized the 3‑year project for a development and demonstration of heavy-duty LNG trucks, with a running range of more than 1,000 km and an optimum LNG filling station that can also supply CNG. Isuzu Motors Limited, Shell Japan Limited and Organization for the Promotion of Low Emission Vehicles participate in this project. CO2 emissions from heavy-duty LNG trucks will be reduced by about 10% to the latest diesel trucks.


A project of Ministry of Environment from 2011 in Okinawa Prefecture to promote the use of biofuels such as E3 gasoline terminated in fiscal year 2016 because of no clear idea for a commercialization [9]. In Miyakojima City, the supply of E3 gasoline was terminated in April 2016 [10]. Selling of bio-gasoline blended with ethyl-tertiary-butyl ether (ETBE) is continuing to the target of 500,000 kL (crude oil equivalent) in Sophisticated Methods of Energy Supply Structures [11].

Methanol/Dimethyl Ether (DME)

DME is attracting attention as an alternative fuel to diesel because it can be easily produced from methanol. Two Japanese companies — Mitsubishi Gas Chemical Company Inc. and Mitsubishi Corporation — have plans to produce DME for vehicles in Trinidad and Tobago, and Isuzu Motors, Ltd. is supplying low-pollution vehicles with DME engines [12].

Field tests on public roads in Japan have been conducted after obtaining ministerial authorization, and a technical standard proposal for DME vehicles has been drafted based on the resulting data. The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure Transport and Tourism officially announced the applicable standards in January 2015, thus opening the door for the approval and registration of the remodeling of DME vehicles in Japan. In June 2016, a DME truck compliant with the safety regulations became the first such registered vehicle [13].



In April 2014, the Japanese government approved the new Strategic Energy Plan (the fourth plan) [14], which forms the basis for Japan’s energy policies for the immediate future. The basic concepts behind this plan are ensuring stable energy supplies, economic efficiency, and environmental suitability. With the addition of safety to these concepts, the plan is now summed up as “3E+S.”



[1]     Government’s white paper on energy, 2017 (in Japanese).

[2]     LEVO, the Organization for the Promotion of Low Emission Vehicles (cumulative total number: out of production).

[3]     Japan Gas Association, as of March 2017

 http://www.gas.or.jp/ngvj/spread/index.html (in Japanese).

[4]     Next Generation Vehicle Promotion Center, as of March 2017 (estimated numbers of vehicles owned)

http://www.cev-pc.or.jp/tokei/hanbai.html (in Japanese).

[5]     Automobile Inspection and Registration Information Association, as of October 2017.

[6]     Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, 2016, The Strategic Roadmap for Hydrogen and Fuel Cells (revised version), March 22.

[7]     Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, 2017, “Basic Hydrogen Strategy Determined,” website, http://www.meti.go.jp/english/press/2017/1226_003.html.

[8]     Isuzu Motors Limited, website, http://www.isuzu.co.jp/product/giga/cng/.

[9]     Ministry of Environment website, http://www.env.go.jp/earth/

[10]   The Miyakomainichi newspaper; see http://www.miyakomainichi.com/2016/09/92895/ (in Japanese).

[11]   Petroleum Association of Japan website, http://www.paj.gr.jp/eco/biogasoline/ (in Japanese).

[12]   6th International DME Conference, 2014, San Diego, California, October 7–9.

[13]   IEA-AMF Newsletter, “First DME Truck Registered in Japan,” October 2015, issue no. 3/2015, http://www.iea-amf.org/app/webroot/

[14]   Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, as of April 11, 2014, Cabinet Decision on the New Strategic Energy Plan, web site, Archives 2014, http://www.enecho.meti.go.jp/en/whatsnew/.


Additional Information Sources

  • Japan’s Energy White Paper 2017 (brochure) (in Japanese), http://www.enecho.meti.go.jp/en/category/whitepaper/pdf/whitepaper_2017.pdf.
  • Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, 2015, Long-term Energy Supply and Demand Outlook, July, http://www.meti.go.jp/english/press/2015/pdf/0716_01a.pdf.


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