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Japan imported its 1st shipment of liquefied natural gas 50 years ago today. Now the nation is the world’s largest buyer of the fuel (and pioneered the industry)

Hiroshi Anzai is the little known maverick who played a key role in Japan becoming an LNG juggernaut

thread below 👇
Anzai was born in a small fishing town in Chiba prefecture in 1901. During his youth, he would wake up early, collect sea snails on the beach and sell them to folks in town.

He would bike 2-3 hours to downtown Tokyo to spend his earnings
Anzai developed a work hard/play hard attitude. He did well in school and was talented at Judo.

In 1928, he landed a job at Tokyo Gas, which at the time was a small company that mostly provided fuel for lamps. Anzai made a name for himself in their coal procurement department
Japan is an island with very few gas reserves. So Tokyo Gas had to actually transform coal into a gas, then supply it to their customers. It was an expensive and inefficient process.
He proved himself and moved up ranks within the company by securing cheap supplies amid a coal workers strike. He also married the younger sister of a successful Tokyo Gas colleague, which didn’t hurt

He became a director in 1946
In 1949, he embarked on his first business trip to the United States, which deeply changed his understanding of existing energy technologies.

He took a 3 month tour across the entire country, including a visit to a gas company in Seattle
Seattle Gas Light Co was transforming oil into gas. The process blew Anzai’s mind.

He knew that they could use the technology in Japan and move away from expensive coal gas.
In January 1953, Tokyo Gas started producing oil gas

At the time, only refiners could import oil (which meant Tokyo Gas was forced to buy oil at prices decided by refiners)

Anzai lobbied government officials and got the regulations changed
In 1954, Anzai became VP of Tokyo Gas. He was emboldened by his success with quickly shifting the company to oil gas

But his dream was to import and supply customers with actual natural gas — not some other gasified fossil fuel

This was the holy grail
This dream had a logistical problems. Oil and coal were easily shippable over the ocean

Natural gas, on the other hand, was mostly shipped via landlocked pipelines

Anzai’s colleagues joked that his dream of importing gas into Japan seemed like something out of a Sci-Fi novel
In 1958, Anzai read news that England was preparing to import something called “liquefied natural gas” from the US via a special tanker that could cross the ocean

He had to know more and developed a relationship with the chairman of England’s Gas Council, Henry Jones
(An aside — the technology behind liquefying and transporting natural gas is nuts. The gas must be cooled to -163C, shipped in vessels that can maintain that temp level, then warmed back up into a gas once docked at a receiving terminal)
(The first LNG plant was actually built in 1912 in West Virginia. LNG is dangerous and combustible. An LNG tank in Ohio exploded in 1944, leveling a square mile and killing 130 people)
In 1962, Jones invited Anzai to England to look at their specially designed LNG carrier and import infrastructure. Anzai became obsessed.

He traded dozens of letters with Henry, and named him “the key” to figuring out how Japan could also import LNG.
Anzai liked LNG for two specific reasons —

>> When liquefied, there is a 600-to-1 reduction in volume (you can carry lots of gas in one ship)

>> It was cleaner than the other fossil fuel alternatives (you clean up smoggy skies)
Anzai was determined that importing LNG was Japan’s energy future. But he knew that in order for it to be profitable, they needed to import much larger volumes than England’s terminal

He eyed developing ships ~3x larger than what England was using in the 1960s
This type of mega LNG import terminal would require a lot of capital that Tokyo Gas just didn’t have. Hat in hand, Anzai pitched the idea of the terminal connected to a gas-fired power plant to the president of Tokyo Electric

He dug it
(Tepco was actually planning to build an oil-fires power plant in Yokohama. But local government wanted to cut down on emissions, so a switch to LNG actually a perfect solution for them)
The companies began construction of the Negishi LNG import terminal in Yokohama. A plant like this had never been built before and required the engineers to think outside of the box.

It was completed in 1969 and is still in operation to this day
While Anzai was winning over Tepco, he was also having conversations with gas producers in the United States.

Specifically, Union Oil and Marathon Oil/Phillips Petroleum. He was playing them off each other so he could get the best deal.
In 1967, Tokyo Gas, Tepco and Mitsubishi signed a 15-year deal with Marathon and Phillips for LNG from Alaska.

The side of Anzai’s head is in this picture of the signing ceremony
By the way, Anzai became president of Tokyo Gas a few months after this deal was signed. Not a coincidence.
Anzai again lobbied government officials to remove all import taxes for LNG coming into the Negishi terminal.

At this point, Anzai was good friends with many government officials. He became known as “Mr. LNG” and was often invited to sit on ministerial energy policy discussions
On November 4, 1969, the first cargo from Alaska arrived at the Negishi import terminal. The cargo was shipped on the “Polar Alaska” vessel.

Tokyo Gas was supplying /actual/ natural gas to its customers on a large scale for the first time since its founding in 1885
(More info on that shipment and its history here: jera.co.jp/english/inform…)

(Unfortunately no mention of Anzai ☹️)
This chart shows how Tokyo Gas rapidly shifted from coal/oil (grey/blue) to LNG (fluorescent green) as its main supply source after kicking off imports from Alaska. By the mid-80s, the company was basically using just LNG
Anzai pushed for the construction of more LNG import terminals. Other companies followed suit.

Anzai signed supply contracts with Brunei (1970s) and Malaysia (1980s). He kept busy.
Anzai also played a role in kickstarting Russian LNG exports

He even proposed a Japan-USSR-US LNG trilateral supply deal in the middle of the Cold War. Attached is a NYT article from 1972 (!)

(Anyway, this is a different tweet storm for another day)

Today, LNG dominates Japan’s energy mix. When you heat your stove or warm up the bath, you’re most likely using gas that has been liquefied and transported across the ocean from nations including Qatar, Australia, Indonesia and the US
For power generation, LNG has been the dominant fuel since Japan’s fleet of nuclear reactors were shut following the 2011 Fukushima disaster
Japanese companies investing in LNG facilities or signing long-term deals underpinned countless export projects over the last 5 decades. Without Japan’s enormous demand for LNG, the industry would not be where it is today
Anzai played a key role in making that a reality. Along with celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first LNG cargo to Japan, the industry should also remember Anzai’s blood, sweat and tears.

He was, after all, known as Mr. LNG

Wow, this thread really took off (in terms of Japan energy standards).

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