Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ambitious plans for hydrogen fuel-cell infrastructure are stumbling, thanks to bureaucratic red tape.

Abe is a serious supporter of hydrogen fuel-cell cars. He's pushed through measures to cut taxes on them, and encouraged construction of a network of fueling stations.

He envisions fuel-cell cars as part of a "hydrogen society," where fuel cells are used to power buildings as well.

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But issues with certifying a new small fueling station designed by Honda show just difficult implementing that vision could be, according to Bloomberg.

Regulators are still finalizing criteria after three years of deliberation, which is reportedly undermining local governments' interest in the station.

As many as 100 local governments have put off ordering the Honda Smart Hydrogen Station until Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) implements rules that would accommodate smaller fueling stations.

Honda Clarity Fuel Cell, 2015 Tokyo Motor Show

Honda Clarity Fuel Cell, 2015 Tokyo Motor Show

The red tape continues despite Abe's pledge earlier this year to ease rules relating to fuel-cell technology.

"We are very confused and baffled" by the slowness of the regulatory process, said Naoya Toida, general manager of Honda's smart community planning office.

Honda unveiled its Clarity Fuel Cell sedan at the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show in October, and plans to put it on sale in Japan early next year.

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There are currently two Smart Hydrogen Stations open for testing, but a full-scale commercial roll out can't happen until METI approves revised regulations for the smaller stations.

METI already has regulations for materials that can be used for hydrogen storage tanks, and the amount of space between stations and roads.

But these only apply to larger stations.

Toyota Mirai showroom and hydrogen fueling station, Tokyo, Japan, May 2015

Toyota Mirai showroom and hydrogen fueling station, Tokyo, Japan, May 2015

In addition to the Smart Hydrogen Station project, Honda--along with Toyota and Nissan--will help fund the operating costs of new hydrogen stations in its home market.

Tokyo also announced earlier this year that it will spend 42.5 billion yen ($385 million) on fuel-cell vehicle subsidies and hydrogen fueling stations for the 2020 Olympics.

The push for hydrogen is part of a broader effort by Japan's government to reduce reliance on imported oil and--in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster--nuclear power.

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The government estimates that the nation's hydrogen market could expand to 1 trillion yen ($8.2 billion) by 2030.

In the meantime, Honda and Toyota have set conservative sales goals for their fuel-cell cars.

Honda expects to sell about 200 cars per year, while Toyota plans to build 2,000 Mirai sedans in 2016.

Toyota is reportedly aiming for 30,000 Mirai sales--including 12,000 in Japan--by 2020.

[hat tip: Jason Allen]


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