Japanese companies are investing big money in U.S. natural gas export facilities, including $700 million in Sempra’s planned Hackberry plant, in order to gain access to shipments of the fuel, according to The Wall Street Journal.

In exchange for their investment, Mitsubishi Corp. and Mitsui & Co. and a third investor, French energy company GDF Suez SA, will get up to 50 percent ownership. The partners will be be able to buy cheap natural gas from the United States, pay Sempra a fee to liquefy it, and ship the LNG to Japan and elsewhere.

The cost of buying the U.S. gas, liquefying it and shipping it to Japan would now be around $9 per thousand cubic feet, according to the Journal. The price in Japan is now around $16 per thousand cubic feet.

Meanwhile, Tokyo Gas and Sumitomo Corp. have signed a preliminary deal to buy 2.3 million tons of LNG each year from Dominion Resources Inc.’s proposed plant in Maryland. That facility could open in 2017.

San Diego-based Sempra says its $5 billion plant could open in 2016 and will be capable of exporting 12 million tons of liquefied natural gas a year, according to the Journal. That would be about 2.5 percent of the United States’ production. Mitsubishi and Mitsui’s share, 8 million tons, would account for close to 10 percent of Japan’s annual demand for liquefied natural gas.

However, Sempra and others must still get export permits from the U.S. Department of Energy. Sempra has said it hopes to get permission by the end of the year. For now, Houston-based Cheniere Energy Inc.’s Cameron Parish plant is the only proposed facility that has won export approval.

Japan is in desperate need of the gas. The country recently shut down its 50th and final nuclear power plant. Nuclear power had produced 30 percent of Japans’s electricity. The cheap U.S. natural gas offers a less expensive alternative than other LNG sources.