Will Japan lead the way towards a decarbonized society?

The new AIST Global Zero Emission Research Center will tackle the global challenge of climate change by gathering Research and Innovation nations from all over the world through international collaboration. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has appointed...

The new AIST Global Zero Emission Research Center will tackle the global challenge of climate change by gathering Research and Innovation nations from all over the world through international collaboration. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has appointed Akira Yoshino, 2019 Nobel Prize winner in chemistry, to lead the new research center.  

To meet the Paris Agreement and reduce the global greenhouse gas emissions, disruptive innovations are indispensable. In October 2019, Japan hosted the international conference “Research and Development 20 for clean energy technologies (RD20)” where leading R&D institutes from the G20 members and some additional countries participated. The participants agreed on the importance of developing a specific joint R&D project among the RD20 members by strengthening already existing collaborations, but also by building new alliances, in order to find new solutions. These collaborations are mainly for G20 members, but other prominent R&I nations are welcome to join, including Sweden.

At the Green Innovation Summit, Prime Minister Abe revealed the plan to establish a joint research center called Global Zero Emissions Research Center (GZR). The center will have a distinct focus on international collaboration and aims to create pioneering environmental innovations to achieve a zero-emission society.  GZR was inaugurated in late January where Prime Minister Abe and Dr Yoshino were present to celebrate the new initiative.

“I want you to go beyond zero, with non-linear innovation and international collaboration.” – Prime Minister Abe to Dr Yoshino.

Advanced Industrial Science and Technology

The Global Zero Emission Research Center is set up under the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST). AIST is a national research organization in Japan and focuses on bridging the gap between innovative technological seeds and commercialization. Their activities are allocated across Japan at eleven research sites. GZR will incorporate four of these research sites: AIST Tsukuba for basic research, AIST Kansai for experimental research in Osaka, Fukushima Renewable Energy Research Institute, and AIST headquarters in Tokyo. The new research center will focus on following seven areas:

  1. Artificial photosynthesis – Developing a high-quality photoelectrode catalyst that enables production of hydrogen, as well as useful chemicals (e.g. hydrogen peroxide).
  2. Energy Carrier – Developing a catalyst that enables synthesis of hydrogen Carriers, such as formic acid and ammonia, under conditions milder than the conventional ones.
  3. Thermoelectric – Developing a high-reliability thermoelectric devices with the world’s highest conversion efficiency, enabling direct conversion of waste heat into electricity.
  4. Organic PV devices – Developing high-quality materials with flexibility and permeability for use in mobility/architectural materials/wearable devices.
  5. Electrochemical Reaction Control – basic research aimed at producing hydrocarbons (e.g. methane) using water electrolysis technology. Establishing a cutting-edge method for evaluating materials needed to develop safe/secure high-performance batteries.
  6. Carbon dioxide separation and utilization – Developing a catalyst that enables efficient synthesis of methanol (a raw material in the chemical industry) from carbon dioxide at low temperature. Sophistication of methanation process control method for producing methane by the reaction of carbon dioxide and hydrogen.
  7. Energy Evaluation – Developing a technique for the quantitative evaluation of global-scale risk/sustainability from an LCA standpoint by combining energy systems/resource risk analyses.

“Environmental issues are a common concern of mankind. I hope our research will make the impossible, possible.”  – Dr Yoshino to Prime Minister Abe.

Inauguration of the Global Zero Emission Research Center in Tokyo, 29th of January 2020. Source: Michael Jacob

Expectations for the Global Zero Emission Research Center

The expectations for the new research center are high. Japan has showed their willingness to take a leading role towards a decarbonized society by initiating zero-emission initiatives like RD20. In addition to these initiatives, Japan has introduced an international collaboration, GZR, together with research institutes from G20 members. International collaboration where there are opportunities for Sweden and other R&I nations to join. International collaboration which can lead to disruptive innovations necessary for a decarbonized future. 

“I want to tell future generations that today is the start of the new decarbonization.” – Prime Minister Abe

August Asplund, Intern at the Office of Science and Innovation in Tokyo