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EcoTopia Science Institute Projects(since 2013)

The EcoTopia Science Institute has been defining its mission and formulating concrete action plans since its founding. Since 2007, we have been publicly soliciting open research projects. We intend to pursue a wide variety of interdisciplinary research covering diverse fields of environmental materials and energy systems by looking ahead to 2020–2030.

In FY2011, we conducted an interdisciplinary project concerning the building of a sustainable society and a sustainable technology system. Since FY2012, we have been earnestly discussing the reorganization of our projects. In FY2013, we summarized our research achievements using EcoTopia assessment indicators and published them as the EcoTopia Science Series. In addition, each research group that conducted interdisciplinary projects on environmental science eagerly published their results and details of their activities both in Japan and around the world.

In FY2014, the reorganization was completed. We initiated nine new projects to focus our efforts on the research and development of improved environmental materials and energy systems. To realize a sustainable society, we plan to concentrate our manpower and funds to research environmentally friendly materials and systems. In so doing, we aim to move towards the development of new materials and systems for the future.

Since the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, new energy-production systems and environmental issues have attracted much attention in Japan. Hence, we are keen to help establish a sustainable society by realizing our mission of “Green Innovation” through interdisciplinary projects.


Materials Production Project Cluster
A-1
Minor Metal Cycles and Resource Management Project
LEADER:
ICHINO, Ryoichi
SUBLEADER:
MUTO, Shunsuke

To build a safe and prosperous circulation-type society, natural resources and the proper disposal of used products must be secured. For resource circulation, it is important not only to develop alternatives to hazardous substances, but also to develop high-precision measurement and evaluation technologies for raw materials. Thus, we strive to develop a resource strategy based on fundamental science to 1) reduce the consumed quantity of minor metals, 2) search for alternatives to minor metals and toxic materials, and 3) separate and recover minor metals from disposed products. We conduct basic and applied research on diverse topics related to these goals.

In this project, we invite researchers from diverse fields, including chemistry, physics, metrology, materials science, environmentology, and policy studies, to conduct research to evaluate and develop alternatives to minor metals and toxic elements, novel functions of such substances, and measurement technologies necessary to realize a circulation-type society. Additionally, we study social systems related to resource circulation to eventually develop and apply effective resource circulation technologies.

A-2
Biomaterials Project
LEADER:
YAGI, Shinya
SUBLEADER:
OKIDO, Masazumi

This project aims to develop and evaluate medical materials, welfare materials, and biomaterials. Specifically this research team focuses on interdisciplinary technological collaborations to develop:

  • Medical devices for clinical applications
  • Drug/protein sustained-release materials
  • Organic/inorganic and inorganic/inorganic hybrids
  • Nanostructural analysis of adherent cells
  • Implants in animals
  • Cell proliferation and toxicity
  • Cell adhesion
  • Protein adsorption
  • Hard and soft tissue generation
  • Nerve cell adhesion
A-3
Functional Materials for Environment Project
LEADER:
YOGO, Toshinobu
SUBLEADER:
OZAWA, Masakuni
KIKUTA, Koichi

This research team works to realize various properties using material synthesis and structure control based on nano-level physics and chemistry. Research focuses on new materials, which will contribute to environmental conservation and energy development. Specifically, the research team strives to realize the following through advanced integration of physics, chemistry, and analysis:

  • Materials related to energy generation and storage (e.g., rechargeable batteries, fuel cells, and energy harvesting materials such as thermoelectric conversion materials)
  • Synthetic processes that reduce environmental load (e.g., catalysts and innovative nano-materials that help conserve natural resources)
  • Principles of emerging environmental functions via nano-structure analysis of functional substances and materials
Energy Networks Project Cluster
B-1
Ecological Energy Conversion and Storage Project
LEADER:
NARUSE, Ichiro
SUBLEADER:
KUSUNOKI, Michiko
NAKAMURA, Mitsuhiro

To concretely form a sustainable society, it is essential to develop ecological and highly efficient energy conversion of underutilized resources (e.g., fossil energy resources and biomass) and storage technologies for various kinds of energy. This project works to develop diverse and new elemental technologies, processes, and systems to meet all demands ranging from a large-scale centralized to a small-scale decentralized applications. To realize large-scale technologies, processes, and systems, this research team has proposed an optimal system that combines global environment-friendly energy conversion technologies for coal, which is plentiful and relatively well distributed, with fuel cells and other technologies. On the other hand, this research team sees various kinds of biomass and waste as underutilized local energy resources for small-scale applications, and aims to conduct basic research and development of elemental technologies to create locally produced and consumed types of co-generation systems, which can supply electricity or heat to the local community. Additionally, this research team is concurrently developing technologies to store various kinds of energy, which will ensure flexibility of the developed systems.

B-2
Intelligent Energy Network Project
LEADER:
UCHIYAMA, Tomomi
SUBLEADER:
KATO, Takeyoshi

To build and effectively use an energy infrastructure, which is the basis of a sustainable society, it is essential to create a series of energy networks related to the generation, transmission, conversion, control, storage, and consumption of energy. This project conducts research to resolve technical issues related to creating highly efficient, functional, and reliable energy networks with low environmental impacts. Hence, this research team investigates, discusses, and studies the creation of safe and secure cities and communities. Specifically, research focuses on:

  • Harmonious integration of conventional commercial power systems with those using clean energy (e.g., solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, and other underutilized energies)
  • Demonstration of micro power generation systems using a new type of small hydraulic turbine
  • Establishment of an emergency power supply through community disaster prevention networks that utilize autonomic decentralized power generation systems
  • Monitoring, diagnosis, and control of electric power and energy equipment that utilize information technologies
  • Development of innovative electric power equipment and systems that utilize superconductive materials
B-3
Smart Energy Community Project
LEADER:
KATAYAMA, Masaaki
  SUBLEADER:
YAMAMOTO, Toshiyuki
IWATA, Satoshi

To effectively use diverse renewable energy sources and to secure an energy lifeline in disasters, this research team strives to completely integrate and optimize the energy demand and supply within a community. This project conducts research and development on fundamental technologies to realize such smart energy communities. This collaborative research spans a wide range of subjects, including:

  • Exploration of innovative renewable energy sources
  • Integrated control of large-scale systems (e.g., smart grids to effectively use renewable energy, which is often vulnerable to natural conditions)
  • Energy transfer technologies, including those in non-electric forms
  • High-density, high-quality technologies to collect information on the energy supply and demand and the environment of a entire community
  • Driver support and intelligent transportation systems from the viewpoint of energy consumption
  • Prediction and intervention of energy consumption behaviors
Environmental Conservation and Biotechnology Project Cluster
C-1
Environmental Biological Remediation and Conservation Project
LEADER:
KATAYAMA, Arata
SUBLEADER:
HAYASHI, Kiichiro

To establish a sustainable human society, it is essential to maintain a quality environment (air, water, and land) and to control healthy ecosystem services based on maintenance of the environment. To this end, we conduct research on biological and physicochemical technologies to analyze and detoxify substances of concern. Additionally, we are undertaking research to comprehensively evaluate large-scale biodiversity, the ecosystem-service supply and demand status, and related environmental policies. In particular, our research focuses on 1) designing, activating, and applying microorganisms capable of remediating and restoring water and land polluted with chemical substances, 2) developing purification materials that capture and enzymatically decompose environmental pollutants, and 3) establishing recycling and/or energy-recovering technologies for discharged unused-biomass. Furthermore, we are evaluating the environmental effects of maintaining, managing, and restoring urban and rural areas and mountain forests (planted forests) in which our environmental biotechnologies have been applied using evaluation methods, such as life cycle assessment (LCA), resource occupancy indicator and ecosystem service assessment from the perspectives of water, food, and resource utilization.

C-2
Utilization of Biomass for Low-Carbon Society Project
LEADER:
HASEGAWA, Tatsuya
SUBLEADER:
NARUSE, Ichiro

Biomass is a renewable, sustainable, and carbon neutral energy source. Carbon neutrality means that biomass causes no increase in environmental CO2 levels when it is burnt. In this project, we are utilizing biomass to generate energy effectively and economically by setting the establishment of a low-carbon society as a long-term goal. In particular, we are working on the development and practical applications of methane fermentation technology, high temperature gasification technology, gas cleaning and upgrading technology, and storage technology for methane and hydrogen. We will depend on both national projects and collaborations with private companies to achieve our long-term goal. A specific example is a high-efficiency methane fermentation technology we are developing that utilizes a fixed-bed technique that fixes methanogenic bacteria to carriers. We are also aiming to improve storage capacity of adsorbents under low-pressure conditions at room temperature by developing new materials for adsorbents. In addition, we are working in close collaboration with both governments and private industry to develop and disseminate waste and wastewater treatment technologies. These technologies will be used in disaster areas and in developing countries, including Thailand, Bangladesh, and Egypt.

C-3
Radioactive Materials Recovery and Restoration Project
LEADER:
NAKAMURA, Mitsuhiro

Because modern society frequently uses radioactive materials, technology to monitor and control these materials, especially those with long half-lives, is indispensable. This project will develop nuclear emulsion technology for muon-radiography with an emphasis on investigating the inner status of the Fukushima Daiichi power plants.