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The Road to Carbon Neutrality

Moving Closer to a More Sustainable Society

As part of efforts to help realize a carbon-neutral society, TCRDL is researching vital technologies to reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions at factories and encourage the use of renewable energy.

Addressing Climate Change and Realizing Carbon Neutrality by 2050

Since the turn of the century, the entire world has been affected by a proliferation of large-scale natural disasters caused by the weather, including heavy rains, heatwaves, and cold snaps. These events, which are having a major impact on our daily lives, are believed to be caused by global warming and other manifestations of climate change stemming from the increase and accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere such as CO2 due to human activity.
In this situation, it is imperative for the international community to realize carbon neutrality, or zero real CO2 emissions, by 2050. Achieving a sustainable society is a global issue that necessitates a wide range of actions, including changes to national regulations, industrial technologies, and people’s behavior. From the standpoints of both social responsibility and good business sense, industry must act to address climate change.

Illustration of artificial photosynthetic system
Deviation in Average Global Ground Level Temperature (on land and at sea) (source: Japanese Ministry of the Environment)
Illustration of artificial photosynthetic system
Distribution of global CO2 concentrations monitored by the Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite (GOSAT) (source: Japanese Ministry of the Environment)

Our Initiatives

As the central research institute of the Toyota group, TCRDL started placing greater emphasis on research and development to help realize carbon neutrality in 2016. Carbon neutrality can only be realized through the efficient use of renewable energy and the application of energy-saving technologies to drastically cut energy consumption. Our research is focused on these two themes.

2015 artificial photosynthetic cell (1 × 1 cm)
Our Initiatives to Realize Carbon Neutrality

Energy Saving at Factories

Most of the energy loss in a factory is heat waste. The effective use of this waste heat is an important part of energy-saving efforts at factories. TCRDL has reached the demonstration test phase for several heat management technologies, including waste heat-powered air conditioners equipped with adsorption heat pumps, and heat batteries (Fig. 1) that temporarily store waste heat in heat storage materials before re-use. At the same time, TCRDL is also working on techniques that use IoT technologies to visualize and optimize the control of energy consumption inside factories, as well as the integration of AI technologies into facility layout design and production planning to minimize energy loss.

Heat Battery
Fig. 1: Heat Battery
(Image provided by Aichi Steel Corporation)

Electric Power Grid Utilizing Renewable Energy

Currently, electricity is supplied from power lines to homes in the form of alternating current (AC). However, many devices, from smart phones to personal computers, convert this to direct current (DC). Since the electricity generated from solar power, one of the most available forms of renewable energy, is DC, greater adoption of renewable energy in the future means that technologies capable of using both AC and DC will become increasingly important. TCRDL is developing technologies capable of efficiently using both AC and DC, such as a compact and highly efficient AC/DC converter called the smart power hub, and the SWEEP SYSTEM, which collects together used batteries with different degrees of deterioration and efficiently uses up the remaining electricity (Fig. 2). We are also researching DC micro-grids that can make better use of renewable energy by, for example, charging battery electric vehicles directly using DC.

SWEEP SYSTEM
Fig. 2: SWEEP SYSTEM

Energy Carriers

Since renewable energy generated from solar and wind power fluctuates greatly due to the weather and time of day, the efficient use of renewable energy requires electricity storage. However, since long-term and large-scale electricity storage using batteries is very costly, we need to develop energy carrier technologies capable of storing renewable energy cheaply and stably.
Hydrogen is a typical energy carrier and TCRDL is currently working on water electrolysis technologies capable of converting electricity power to hydrogen. Further, by converting this hydrogen to methane that can be used in existing city gas facilities, we can make energy derived from renewable sources even easier to use. Based on this approach, we have researched and developed a CO2 methanation circulation system (Fig. 3) that emits no CO2 from factory facilities. This system is currently undergoing demonstration tests. In addition, we are also aiming to develop negative CO2 emissions technologies, focusing on artificial photosynthesis and the like.

Methanation Circulation System
Fig. 3: CO2 Methanation Circulation System

Energy Management Systems

To operate a factory using renewable energy efficiently, energy system design must ensure a careful balance between energy demand and renewable energy supply. TCRDL is currently researching mathematically based energy system design technologies capable of realizing optimum combinations of the energy saving, renewable energy electric power grid, and energy carrier technologies described above. These technologies will enable the design of cost-minimum facilities by selection from various combinations. We are also researching energy management technologies (Fig. 4) to realize the optimum control of these designed systems. Our research uses the digital twin concept, in which virtual prototypes of real-world systems are created by software simulation.

Energy Management
Fig. 4: Energy Management
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