Special Interview #003
RD20: Evolving from a “Conference” to an “Initiative”
Mr. KOYAMA Masaomi, Director, International Affairs Office, Industrial Science and Technology Policy and Environment Bureau, METI
The RD20 (Research and Development 20 for Clean Energy Technologies) conference began with a statement by then-Prime Minister Abe at the Davos Meeting in January 2019. Its establishment was later welcomed by a joint statement at a G20 Ministerial Meeting on the energy environment held in Karuizawa in June of the same year. It was decided to use RD20 as an international framework for the national research institutes of the G20 to hold conferences on energy transformation and the global environment. The government was represented by the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI), while the conference was primarily managed by the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), an independent administrative agency. We spoke with Mr. KOYAMA Masaomi (photo), Director, International Affairs Office, Industrial Science and Technology Policy and Environment Bureau, METI about what general direction they intend to take this year’s RD20 2022 in light of RD20 gatherings to date.
Since its first meeting in 2019, RD20 has revolved around its meetings. Throughout the speaking engagements that have announced how each country will promote environmentally friendly technology, the words “international cooperation” have been heard from several countries. Indeed, the leaders of national research centers in France, India, and other countries have recognized the common challenges that all countries face in addressing environmental issues and have emphasized the importance of international cooperation, rather than just one country, to address the issues.
While listening to these voices, METI felt it was important to establish a framework to enable successful collaborative research between countries. This year, there have been discussions with related organizations to turn this into a year-round activity rather than just a conference. Koyama explains that they wish to transition from a single conference to a year-round initiative, and shift AIST’s role from conference management to initiative leadership.
According to Koyama, they want the initiative to conduct year-round activities rather than just hold conferences; for example, by paving the way for ongoing joint research. They hope to develop a framework that includes appropriate governance, enabling joint research that involves researchers from all 20 countries of the G20 rather than just two countries as previously. However, the governance should reflect how decisions will be made as an initiative rather than how the structure will be formed. For example, if a working group is required, it should determine rules on how to create the group.
Formulating a Clean Energy Strategy
In October 2020, the Japanese government declared its intention to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Later, in April 2021, it also declared its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 46% by 2030. At the direction of the Prime Minister, METI played a central role in completing the formulation of a Clean Energy Strategy (interim report) in May 2022. The strategy covered specific paths for each industry with growth potential, as well as demand-side energy transitions and policy responses for the transformation of economic, social, and industrial structures surrounding clean energy.
The Prime Minister’s Clean Energy Strategy directive directed the Minister of Environment to support decarbonization efforts that are primarily being implemented at the local community level, as well as to consider ways to raise public awareness and promote lifestyle reforms, while other relevant ministers were directed to actively contribute in their respective fields. In response to these directives, each ministry is now considering a variety of initiatives, which METI will be responsible for assembling.
Green Growth Strategies in 14 Areas
The Environment Innovation Strategy, formulated in January 2020, includes RD20 as a part of the regular meetings it will hold to achieve its goals. This strategy consists of three plans. One of these, the “Innovation Action Plan,” seeks to share the latest domestic and international information on innovative technologies being pursued, whereas the “Acceleration Plan” seeks to boost opportunities for international co-creation as well as promote clean finance. Koyama explains that these activities will be carried out regularly through the respective meetings.
Koyama shared his viewpoint, saying, “Since we have always strived to share the latest information and expand opportunities for co-creation at RD20, the conference aligns with the Environmental Innovation Strategy as one of the regularly-held related meetings. In particular, because climate change is a global issue rather than a local one, the entire world must work together to solve it. We can arrive at solutions much faster by working together.”
He also mentions that the solution roadmap was actually outlined in the “Green Growth Strategy through Achieving Carbon Neutrality in 2050,” which was considered prior to the Environmental Innovation Strategy. The Environmental Innovation Strategy follows in the footsteps of this strategy, which had designated 14 areas and defined a roadmap to 2050. The 14 designated areas consist of four energy-related industries, including offshore wind and hydrogen; seven transportation and manufacturing-related industries, including automobiles, batteries and semiconductors, and information and communication; and three home and office-related industries, including houses and buildings, and resource recycling. It was announced in December 2020, and includes a roadmap for hydrogen.
Moving the Discussion on Hydrogen Issues Forward
The cost of extracting hydrogen is one of the problems concerning hydrogen, which could be one of the themes of this year’s RD20. However, a key benefit of hydrogen as an alternative to thermal power generation is that it does not emit CO₂. Furthermore, because natural gas and hydrogen can be mixed for combustion, there is an option to begin with a mixture of both gases, and then gradually transition to hydrogen alone.
Hydrogen can also be used in the fuel cells of vehicles such as the Toyota MIRAI, as well as in hydrogen-based reduction for iron manufacturing. Koyama says that they have been considering the use of hydrogen in areas where CO₂ emissions cannot be reduced. To realize practical applications, it will be vital to cut costs in various areas. In fact, costs will need to be simultaneously reduced in all three areas of market creation, production, and transport.
In 2021, for example, a Green Innovation Fund totaling approximately 2 trillion yen was established for the purpose of technological development. To generate hydrogen from renewable energy, hydrolysis equipment must be either larger in scale, or modularized. In terms of technological development, the fund will be used to develop these cost-cutting technologies.
Tackling Transport Issues
There are few places in Japan where the CO₂ gas produced from hydrogen extraction can be buried underground. It appears that some hydrogen will have to be imported to secure the quantity needed. In this case, technological advancements in hydrogen transport will be required, as will the establishment of an international supply chain. In February of this year, hydrogen was successfully transported from Australia to Kobe.
However, if liquefied hydrogen is to be transported, cooling costs will be prohibitively high, necessitating an increase in size to leverage the benefits of economies of scale. Other methods could include changing the form for transport, such as changing the hydrogen to ammonia or methylcyclohexane, and transporting via a standard chemical tanker. Another option, used in Australia, could be to bury the CO₂ produced during hydrogen production in decommissioned gas fields.
To address the cost issue, the aim is to achieve a sales price of 30 yen per cubic meter at 0°C and 1 atmospheric pressure by 2030. They continue to consider development of the supply chain, including every stage from production to transport, and the reduction of overall costs. We are committed to continuing to provide support and hold meaningful discussions on ways to lower costs.
Kenji Tsuda, Editor in Chief, Semiconductor Portal