Photo/IllutrationThe Tokyo Hydrogen Museum teaches visitors about hydrogen through various interactive exhibits. (Photo by Lisa Vogt)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Energy. We earthlings are dependent on it, yet how many of us give much thought to where the energy we use comes from?

It powers all sorts of things: the iPhone alarm that woke me up this morning; the coffee pot trickling my caffeine fix into my tree hugger mug; the trusted laptop I’m typing this on; and the World Wide Web that will, with a swoosh sound, send the attachment to my editor at Asahi Weekly.

Electricity, you’re needed and cherished!

Folks, we have a problem. A paradox, if you will. More than half the people on our planet live and work in cities, and it’s these metropolises that are the drivers of our economic engines, improving the lives of many people. But cities are the main contributors to all kinds of pollution and CO2 emissions. What’s a city to do?

Ta-dah! Enter the Tokyo Hydrogen Museum. In Japanese, it’s called Tokyo Suiso-miru, or “viewing hydrogen.” The museum is a short walk from JR Shiomi Station, that is, if you can find it the first time around. I went in circles twice before finally identifying the building and finding the entrance tucked behind and at the far end of a loudly decorated gas station.

It’s an educational museum run by the Tokyo Environmental Public Service Corp., so there’s no entrance fee.

For those nonscientist readers, here’s a quick primer. Hydrogen, or “H,” is at the top left corner of the periodic table of elements. That’s right, and it’s placed in the first group and first period. It’s the lightest gas (atom) on Earth, only one-14th in weight compared with the air that surrounds us, and is colorless, odorless and tasteless. Memorize and recite, and you’ll sound smart, no?

Allow me to feed you some more: Fossil fuels dirty the environment, whereas hydrogen emits no CO2. Inexhaustible renewable energy like solar and wind power are better but are not entirely reliable because they’re not available 24/7. Hydrogen, however, can be produced from many resources (fossil fuels, renewables and biomass, for example) and can be stored, which is significant.

Visitors to the museum can learn things like this and about all the wonderfulness of hydrogen. You’ll go home seeing in your mind’s eye a future city powered by hydrogen.

Provided it can be cleanly produced on a large scale, and a workable supply chain and infrastructure is up and running, hydrogen just might be one of the many alternate silver bullets out there.

Tokyo Suiso-miru allows us to envision a future that works for everyone.

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This article by Lisa Vogt, a Washington-born and Tokyo-based photographer, originally appeared in the Oct. 20 issue of Asahi Weekly. It is part of the series "Lisa’s In and Around Tokyo," which depicts the capital and its surroundings through the perspective of the author, a professor at Meiji University.