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At the forefront of green hydrogen production

Interview - November 10, 2022

With sights set on its 100th anniversary in 2035, MKK looks to provide the means for clean energy based on hydrogen.

TOSHIKAZU TANAKA, PRESIDENT OF MITSUBISHI KAKOKI KAISHA, LTD.
TOSHIKAZU TANAKA | PRESIDENT OF MITSUBISHI KAKOKI KAISHA, LTD.

What do you believe to be the strengths and competitive advantages of your company that allow it to compete both in Japan and overseas?

I believe it would be much easier to understand if I share the history of our company with you. Our company was established in 1935. At that time, there was a need for the domestic manufacturing of machinery to cater to the chemical industry. Up until that point, such machinery was imported from abroad. In order to change this situation, our company was established with investments from the Mitsubishi group.

We began to receive orders to work on machinery that was required by the chemical industry, specifically centrifugal separators.

Since then, we gradually grew to become a company that took care of all the different engineering solutions and machinery that were required by chemical plants. From there we expanded into the treatment of waste products that came from the various plants. We began working in the environmental solutions sector to provide water and sewage treatment systems and anti-air pollution equipment. We then grew to take care of sulphuric recovery and NOx reduction, while also providing solutions to contain the smell and reduce the noise.

We began with the monozukuri, which means manufacturing in Japanese. From there, we expanded to be a comprehensive engineering solutions provider, and taking advantage of the synergies of the various technologies and business areas that we operate in, which has allowed us to grow further. As an example, we have grown to hold one third of the global market share for oil purifiers through our Mitsubishi Selfjectors, particularly our SJ-H Series. 

Today, Japan’s manufacturing sector is facing headwinds. However, although the Japanese manufacturing sector is facing many challenges at this moment, we believe that the special separation and purification technology that we have developed for years, can contribute to the goal of a carbon neutral society and look forward to expanding our technology to achieve the same goal in future. That is our perspective on monozukuri.

 

We really enjoyed reading your president’s message, in which you talk about five key social issues, some of which you have just covered now. One of the key social issues is Japan’s demographic decline. It is an existential problem for many manufacturers in Japan, as they are losing their technical expertise with the departure of skilled workers. What do you see as some of the challenges and the opportunities of Japan’s aging society?

As you mentioned, there are many different challenges related to the declining population in Japan, which need to be addressed. First of all, we need to respond to our customers’ requirements in dealing with these issues. Our proposal is to utilize digital solutions and technology that will allow our customers to save labor and energy, as well as to increase productivity, which is what we are prioritizing.

 

An interesting example of what you referred to is the HyGeia, your compact Hydrogen generator. Can you tell us a little more about this product? Japan has made it no secret that hydrogen is a clean energy source of the future. What role do you think hydrogen will play in that future?

Our efforts in the hydrogen-based business actually started by responding to the needs for production of hydrogen-based city gas which was used before the prevalence of LNG. Since then, our flagship products in the hydrogen-based energy business are large to small scale hydrogen generators which are used in various industries, such as petroleum refinery, chemical plant and semiconductor industry.

The hydrogen-based business has now been replaced by having hydrogen-based clean energy. The next phase was to roll out a more compact and higher efficiency model of this hydrogen generator through our HyGeia series. Now the market’s needs require even more compact and energy efficient models, and we are currently working to respond to those needs.

At our headquarters, you can see how our HyGeia model is being further developed to be more compact and more energy efficient. Right now, there is a great demand for hydrogen use at the plants in the semiconductor field, and the market for hydrogen will continue to expand, with needs for hydrogen generation in the automotive sector for FCVs and fuel cell batteries. Currently, there is also a need for green hydrogen, and we are carrying out R&D to generate hydrogen from the biogas that is emitted from wastewater sludge. Until last year, we were conducting demonstrations in collaboration with Fukuoka City, Kyushu University and others. The demonstrations were carried out at a wastewater plant located in Fukuoka, where we were utilizing HyGeia technology to generate hydrogen from wastewater sludge. The hydrogen generated there is being supplied to the FCV field, and we got so many results through the demonstrations. From this September, a new council called ‘Fukuoka Green Hydrogen Utilization Promotion Council Limited Liability Partnership’ was launched with the aim of expanding the model that generates hydrogen from wastewater sludge, and we are continuing our activities by participating in this council.

We are also carrying out R&D in Karatsu City, Saga Prefecture to reduce the energy required to treat wastewater sludge, reduce the volume of wastewater sludge and maximize the amount of biogas generated from wastewater sludge.

By combining the demonstration results of Fukuoka and Karatsu, we believe that we can expand hydrogen production from renewable energy called biogas generated from wastewater sludge. This is a model that can contribute to the expansion of green hydrogen, and is also a model of local production for local consumption.

Generating hydrogen from biogas is very exciting, and we are very positive about our work in both Fukuoka and Karatsu.

The next challenge for hydrogen generation is the development of water electrolysis type hydrogen generators. The prevalence of water electrolysers is also a key point for expansion of green hydrogen. However, this is still very costly and we are endeavoring to reduce the cost of water electrolysers and improve its efficiency.



When we talk about green hydrogen production, the technology has been on the precipice of mainstream introduction and integration for a long time. What do you see as being the main challenge or obstacle to the mainstream introduction of green hydrogen from biogas?

I think that it requires subsidy support from the government. Hydrogen production from wastewater sludge is an early viable green hydrogen supply model. We would like to emphasize this point.

HyGeia is a system that supports local production for local consumption. However, it is my dream that it will not remain only in Japan domestically. I want to roll out this technology on a larger scale in various locations around the world. I believe that it is possible as long as the biogas is available. In addition, biogas comes not only from waste water sludge, but it also comes from food waste, livestock and animal feces. There are many local sources for biogas. Therefore, I believe that this model can be successfully implemented on a global basis.

 

Are you also looking for international partnership opportunities as a way to get around this problem?

Yes, we are. I truly believe that we need to collaborate and cooperate with various types of institutions and companies because what we alone can do is very limited. It is very important to work together with outer partners to reach greater goals together. That is something that is understood among the various companies here in Japan, and is currently gaining support and momentum. We are proactively involved in such efforts, and are looking to expand not only our domestic partners, but globally as well. We also work together with private and public institutions in order to expand our collaborative efforts for R&D.

 

Is there a particular type of organization, company or partner that you are looking for at this moment?

We are looking for partners who are also interested in or have technologies in similar fields to us, such as clean energy, environmental related energies and waste treatment. We are interested in engineering tie-ups to collaborate, and create and develop advanced technologies geared towards a carbon neutral society. We also want to collaborate if there is a market for our technology as well. Currently we plan to kick off the efforts mainly in Southeast Asia.

 

Could you please go into more detail about your international development strategy?

We want to further establish our presence in Southeast Asia. We already have a presence in Shanghai, Thailand, Taiwan, Indonesia and Malaysia. Apart from Southeast Asia, we also have a presence in the Netherlands. When it comes to Southeast Asia, we have a lot of ongoing projects in Taiwan. In the future, we would like to further expand to Vietnam, as well as the neighboring countries around Thailand. The type of business that we would like to focus on is plant engineering, which includes our hydrogen business. We would also like to focus on the environment-related business there.

 

We spoke at the beginning about your SJ-H Series, which are oil purifiers that hold one-third of the market share around the world. Can you give us a quick overview of its strengths, and why has it been able to maintain such a dominant market share a decade after its introduction to the market?

The SJ-H Series is an example of original technology that we have developed over a long period of 80 years. By utilizing such high levels of technology, we have been able to implement a high level of centrifugal rotation under our separation technology, with up to 10,000 rotations per minute. After 80 years of improvements from the first model, it became the current model, which is the SJ-H Series. Our kaizen spirit led to the finetuning and upgrading of the technology to make it more compact, more efficient and cost conscious, so it could respond to the market’s needs. I believe that it has been so successful as it is something that we have been able to continually perfect over the years.

 

Your company is this year celebrating its 87th year anniversary. Imagine that we come back three years from now, for your 90th anniversary as a company, and have this interview all over again. What would you like to tell us? What are your dreams for this company, and what goals would you like to have accomplished by then?

I want our company to continue to contribute positively to society through our products and our technologies. I also want our company to continue contributing to the greater happiness and well-being of all our employees and their families. Nothing would make me happier if I could further those aims in three years’ time.

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