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Message from the Research Director

Professor Hisashi Fujihara, Research Director

The Faculty of Science and Engineering of Kinki University submitted an application to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT) of Japan under the 2014 MEXT-Supported Program for the Foundation of Strategic Research at Private Universities. Our project, entitled “Establishing a Best-Energy-Mix Research Center to Promote the Use of Solar Energy (2014–2018),” has now been selected.

Under the theme of pursuing “the optimal mix of energy based on sunlight,” this research project will develop solar catalysts, high-efficiency photo-energy conversion systems, and power-saving devices with the aim of promoting a sustainable society. To promote these research efforts, the project will draw on the expertise of faculty members from the Faculty of Science and Engineering and members of the Graduate School of Science and Engineering Research specializing in physical chemistry, inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, polymer chemistry, photoelectrochemistry, and materials chemistry. Our aim is to build a new interdisciplinary area by working toward an academic fusion of these various fields.

The faculty members who will be undertaking this project have for many years published their research results in prestigious international journals. They are individuals with a proven track record of research performance who have been awarded significant amounts of outside funding, including scientific research grants.

On September 28, 2012, the Research Unit for Science and Technology Analysis and Indicators of the National Institute of Science and Technology Policy (NISTEP)—under the auspices of MEXT—published a report under the title Benchmarking Research & Development Capacity of Japanese Universities 2011. Included in this report was a chart of survey data entitled, “Status of the quantity and quality of Japanese universities in the field of chemistry.” According to this chart, Kinki University was among the 38 best schools in Japan—an indication of the high capability and tremendous potential of Kinki University’s Faculty of Science and Engineering. Nevertheless, with regard to the implementation of the energy project, we will move forward with our research by constantly incorporating feedback in the form of opinions from an Outside Evaluation Committee. Further, we hope to establish the Kinki University Energy Forum in cooperation with the Atomic Energy Research Institute and the Research Institute of Bio-Coke of Kinki University.

In this project, faculty members and researchers responsible for the synthesis, measurement, and evaluation of chemical substances will engage in ongoing discussions and joint research. Close human relationships will be formed among the researchers, and we can also look forward to a strong ripple effect propagating out to education. In the future, our aim is to expand this project and have faculty members working together with undergraduate and graduate students, while developing an interdisciplinary fusion model of cutting-edge research that takes advantage of the unique features of a specialized comprehensive university. As well as fostering young researchers, including postdoctoral fellows, we aim to establish a research center from which we can contribute to the sustainable evolution of society. We would be grateful for your support and cooperation.

Kinki University Energy Forum Initiative

Taking pride in being the largest private university in western Japan, Kinki University has shaped history in the Kansai region for the past 80 years. At present, the university is home to some 30,000 students and 6,000 faculty members, with over 6,000 individuals graduating each year. The main campus, located in Higashi-Osaka, is the largest facility within Kinki University, and it has played a central role in a wide range of educational and research activities in the region.

Kinki University is home to the Atomic Energy Research Institute. Established in 1960, this institute has turned out a great number of engineers over the years. More recently, safety management for nuclear power plants has become more stringent, and our mission of training engineers will become increasingly important in the future. In addition, the Research Institute of Bio-Coke has also made major achievements not only in Japan, but also abroad, with technologies to utilize resources with zero waste. Working hand-in-hand with these institutes, we hope to build new relationships within Kinki University that foster dialog regarding the optimal mix of energy sources for the future.

This research project will be centered in the chemistry departments within the Graduate School of Science and Engineering Research and the Faculty of Science and Engineering of Kinki University. It was launched on the occasion of a conference—held with the participation of the Electric and Electronic Engineering Department—in which a plan was drafted to promote joint research in new areas that have seen remarkable breakthroughs in recent years, including the development of photocatalysts, thin-film solar cells, and devices responsive to external fields. The content will broadly focus on the three research areas of photo-material conversion, photo-energy conversion, and power-saving materials, and it will push forward with research from the standpoint of promoting the utilization of energy from light. Together with the Atomic Energy Research Institute and the Research Institute for Bio-Coke, we seek to nurture an organization in which this newly born project will be able to provide faculty and students with opportunities for concentrated research and vigorous discussion.

Project Concept

Establishing a Best-Energy-Mix Research Center to Promote the Use of Solar Energy

Research Objectives and Significance

Since the economic boom times in Japan, investment in solar energy research has been promoted in recognition of the fact that sunlight is an inexhaustible source of clean energy. Yet today, in the early years of the 21st century, its use is still limited. Meanwhile, as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP3 Kyoto Conference) points out, regions vital to the continued existence of humanity are in danger of being ravaged by global warming and nuclear accidents triggered by natural disasters. Needless to say, ramping up the utilization rate of solar energy so that it is on a par with thermal and nuclear power is an urgent issue for Japan, a country poor in natural resources. Sunlight offers numerous advantages. Firstly, it supplies clean energy with no carbon dioxide emissions or discharge of radioactive substances. Secondly, it provides a stable stand-alone energy supply appropriate to each country or region. And thirdly, it can be used in diverse forms such as electric, thermal, and chemical energy. This research project will push ahead with basic research to promote the use of solar energy. It will also involve establishing a new center at Kinki University for research on energy balance.

Research Plan and Research Methods

Research Organization

This research project will organize elite teams drawn from the materials engineering, electronics engineering, and science departments to undertake photo-science research. It will also build a collaborative research support system to promote the use of solar energy.

The research center will be composed of three research teams:
(1) The Photo-Material Conversion research team, which will focus on the development of new chemical synthesis paths based on photo-coupling conversion;
(2) The Photo-Energy Conversion research team, which will work under the main theme of raising the conversion efficiency of photoelectric conversion devices; and,
(3) The Power-Saving Materials research team, which will work to develop materials to improve the efficiency of energy utilization.

The aim of the three research teams will be to develop methods to efficiently use solar energy and pursue research ranging from materials development to device applications. They will also actively employ postdoctoral researchers and work to nurture the next generation of promising human resources. In addition, we will strengthen the research support system by organizing the Kinki University Energy Forum, including an Outside Evaluation Committee to oversee progress of the project.

Research Themes: The Three Pillars
  • Photo-Material Conversion
  • Photo-Energy Conversion
  • Power-Saving Materials

Year-by-Year Plans

In placing sunlight at the core of energy sources, we will push ahead based on the trinity of (1) photo-material conversion, (2) photo-energy conversion, and (3) raising energy efficiency. Our efforts in these areas will bring about new realities. First, by utilizing photo-material conversion based on solar catalysis (Research Theme 1), the production of primary energy materials such as methanol or hydrogen will become a reality. In addition, by developing novel photoelectric conversion materials (Research Theme 2), we will raise the photoelectric conversion efficiency of thin-film solar cells, currently about 10%, to more than 15%, a targeted level for practical use. Further, through the development of external-field response molecular devices, we will lay the technological foundations for more precise miniaturization and greater energy efficiency in electronic equipment (Research Theme 3).

During the first three years, we will evaluate and analyze the results, and present solutions regarding the optimal ratio of a mix of nuclear, thermal, and solar power in anticipation of a future of using predominantly solar energy. Further, in the fourth and subsequent years, we will assemble experts from inside and outside our university in the Kinki University Energy Forum. We will expand this forum to discuss the construction of a stable foundation for Japan’s energy supply and demand, while also hosting international conferences.

Results Expected from the Research

Firstly, the results of our research could lead to innovations in social infrastructure by diversifying the modes in which sunlight is used, even going so far as the production of primary energy materials. Secondly, our research may contribute to promoting the use of solar power by achieving higher efficiencies in photoelectric conversion devices. Thirdly, our research could lead to a reduction in total energy consumption based on the development of power-saving materials. In other words, if sunlight were used to catalyze reactions for the production of chemical products, there would be savings from reduced consumption of fossil fuels, traditionally an unavoidable component. Also, higher efficiencies in solar cells can be expected to guarantee stand-alone independent sources of electric power. Moreover, given that the widespread use of power-saving materials will lead to a reduction in total energy consumption, we can look forward to an increase in the relative utilization rate of solar energy based on the fact that they function synergistically. We will marshal the collective efforts of the chemistry departments as well as the electrical and electronic engineering departments of Kinki University and begin by determining the point that the use of solar energy will reach and harmonizing it with existing energy resources. At the same time, our desire is to lay the foundation for a new research center to ensure future energy resources and look ahead toward new utilization approaches.

Characterization of the Research Project

This research project will be launched by organizing a group of the very best researchers selected from the science and engineering departments of Kinki University to do research on the use of solar energy, which has been conspicuously slow to get started. Japan’s energy policy is now at a historic turning point, and measures are needed to take full advantage of the characteristics of available energy resources while continuing to effectively manage and operate each of them. The aim of this research project is to be a future-oriented, integrated energy R&D center that will loosely tie together nuclear power, thermal power, and solar energy, as well as continue to strengthen our capabilities to communicate information from a scientific point of view to improve the social infrastructure.

Academic Characteristics and Significance of the Research Project

(1) Chemical substances produced by solar catalysis represent nothing less than storage of solar energy. Real-world examples of this abound, ranging from the biological chemistry of photosynthesis to the inorganic chemistry of titanium oxide. The latter is known to promote the decomposition of organic matter by ultraviolet light, and a method using visible light will be required in the future. In addition, a study is underway in this research project to convert carbon dioxide and water to methanol using light, and this basic technology could be extremely valuable from both an academic and a practical standpoint. Further, a light-induced hydrogen production mechanism will have great significance as the operating principle for backup power supplies that combine photo-energy conversion and storage.

(2) The development of photoelectric conversion elements applicable to solar cells is an important research priority that will influence the wider use of solar energy. Accordingly, we will undertake development of photoelectric conversion devices with high conversion efficiency by building the devices using bottom-up large-scale integration processes based on a foundation of precise chemical synthesis technologies. The beginnings are already clear in research on devices that make practical use of polynuclear metal complexes and semiconductor quantum dots.

(3) There is no doubt that the miniaturization of electronic devices is itself a straightforward path to greater energy efficiency. It has led to a reduction in power consumption in communication equipment and information terminals that have been steadily proliferating in recent years, and it is expected to have an impact in changing the framework of energy use. The smallest operating unit in information storage and image displays is the molecule, and controlling molecules by means of an external field such as light will lead to the realization of the ultimate in power-saving devices. Exploiting information storage functions based on molecular complexes that exhibit light-induced magnetic hysteresis and developing image display materials that utilize polarization characteristics will contribute to saving power across the entire social infrastructure.

Research on the photo-material conversion, photo-energy conversion, and power-saving materials that this research project is promoting can be regarded as part of the approach to alternative energy that will drive the future use of solar energy. It can contribute to the optimum energy mix in the future.