Can Japan Draw on its Technological Strengths for Carbon Recycling?

It will be difficult to achieve the government’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050 unless every possible measure is taken.

As one promising measure, carbon recycling — a method of recovering and recycling carbon dioxide — has already been introduced in industrial circles. Japan is seen as a strong player in this field, so it is hoped that the method will be put into practical use and become common at an early stage.

Taisei Corp. has developed a new technology to seal CO2 in concrete. Instead of cement, it produces calcium carbonate from CO2 recovered mainly from exhaust gas from factories and mixes it with water and sand. The company aims to put it to commercial use in around 2030.

Asahi Kasei Corp. became the first company in the world to commercialize CO2-based plastic material, which is already used in vehicles and personal computers, among other items.

The drawback is that both these measures are expensive. Hopefully, the companies will explore ways to realize mass production and reduce costs.

To reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero, the contribution of electric power utilities and other energy companies is essential.

It is necessary to increase the use of renewable energy, such as solar and wind power, but the power output by renewable sources tends to be unstable depending on weather conditions, and it is expensive to generate. Renewable energy alone may not be enough to support domestic industrial activities.

If carbon recycling becomes widespread, it will pave the way for the continued operation, to a certain extent, of thermal power generation that uses fossil fuels, such as petroleum and liquefied natural gas. Surely, it could be said that carbon recycling is a technology that will contribute to the stable supply of energy.

Carbon recycling will also help reduce the burden on steelmakers and other companies that have difficulty eliminating CO2 emissions in their production processes.

The government established carbon recycling as a priority area in its Green Growth Strategy compiled at the end of last year.

In the third supplementary budget for fiscal 2020, the government decided to set up a ¥2 trillion fund to support the development of decarbonization technology. It should strive to provide maximum support while utilizing the fund and other resources.

Expectations are also high for technology to store CO2 underground. The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry is conducting an experiment in Hokkaido in which exhaust gas from a refinery is piped to the bottom of the ocean to separate CO2 and inject it into underground geological layers.

The government is conducting joint research with the United States, which has an oil industry that also produces shale oil. It is hoped that strengthening cooperation with other countries will accelerate and realize practical use of the technology.

At the same time, however, international rules have yet to be established regarding how to reflect the results of carbon recycling in greenhouse gas emissions reductions. The government also needs to focus on setting global standards.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on March 1, 2021.