Research Exchange to Kyoto University, Japan
2020-07-31

My name is Kathryn and I am a final year PhD student investigating the impact of electric and hydrogen transport on the environment, taking into consideration electricity generation mix and infrastructure changes. To further my PhD research, I applied, and was awarded the School of Biological Sciences Postgraduate Research Award to help fund my PhD research at Kyoto University in Japan. With this award I was able to spend five weeks in the Graduate School of Energy Science under the supervision of Dr Benjamin McLellan in October 2019.

Both countries have committed to achieving targets set out in the 2015 Paris Agreement to reduce their emissions, focusing on decarbonising transport and energy generation. To meet these targets, the UK has committed to phasing out diesel-only trains by 2040, however only ~40% of the current rail infrastructure electrified, with  the UK having a relatively diverse electricity generation mix. Alternatively, in Japan, less than 1% of trains are diesel however Japan’s electricity generation mix is currently heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Even if trains are electric or hydrogen, the true environmental impact is dependent on how the electricity in generated.

My research trip to Kyoto University allowed me to conduct a comparative and theoretical study of the carbon dioxide emissions produced from 100% diesel trains, 100% electric trains and 100% hydrogen trains in Japan and the UK between 2020 and 2050. Trains are often considered a ‘green’ mode of transport; however, have a life expectancy of ~40 years, therefore it is important to consider the long-term implications of rail travel.

Results indicate that for both countries, 100% electric trains produced the lowest level of emissions, followed by 100% hydrogen trains, then 100% conventionally fuelled trains, whilst taking into consideration technical improvements. In addition, three key lessons can be learned from this comparison. Firstly, the UK will require a mixture of electric and hydrogen trains to accommodate demand as a lesser proportion of train lines have been electrified compared to Japan and it will take time for these infrastructure electrification upgrades to be made. Secondly, the UK has the ability to learn from Japan’s rail service including improving convenience of rail travel which has the ability to increase usage and decrease travel costs. Finally, the electricity network in both countries needs to be decarbonised and could benefit from the introduction of carbon capture and storage (CCS) whilst both countries transition to low-carbon energy generation and ensure energy demand is met. CCS is the process where carbon dioxide is captured from a source i.e. a coal power station, before injected underground for long-term storage.

The opportunity to research at another institute allowed me the chance to supplement my PhD experience and knowledge with wider international expertise in a niche area. Working alongside colleagues at Kyoto University enabled further insight into more varied attitudes towards my topic and policies surrounding the changing technologies of transport. If given the opportunity for international collaboration, I would definitely recommend it!

Published by The School of Biological Sciences, University of Aberdeen

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