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What technologies are required to solve societal challenges in the SDGs era?Junichi Sone (Principal Fellow, Center for Research and Development Strategy, Japan Science and Technology Agency)

<Series 2 (Total 4 series)>


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As international agreements such as SDGs and the Paris Agreement as well as the Fourth Industrial Revolution driven by AI and IoT change the way society works, new business opportunities are created for manufacturing companies. In this series we ask expert Junichi Sone how SMEs engage in the materials and devices field in these circumstances. In the 2nd article, in response to the “societal changes” mentioned in the first article, he talked about what technologies in specific are required.

◆ What are SDGs?
SDGs or the Sustainable Development Goals are a collection of global goals adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015 for the years 2016 through 2030 under the "2030 Agenda for sustainable development." The agenda consists of 17 goals such as "poverty," "hunger," "climate change," "energy," and "education" and 169 targets laid down for specific targets under these 17 goals for achieving a sustainable society. They were adopted with the participation of more than 150 member state leaders to succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) formulated in 2001. At the July 2017 session of the United Nations General Assembly, 232 indicators were adopted for measuring the progress of each of the targets.

Necessary technologies and materials change as products change

“Automobiles are now undergoing major changes characterized by the keyword CASE (Acronym for Connected, Autonomous, Shared/Service, Electric). A car is a bundle of advanced devices and materials. EVs run on motors and batteries unlike gasoline cars, and perfecting autonomous driving will require sensing functions to detect things and computing-based AI capabilities. Changes to how cars work require various new technologies and materials."

Many new needs have thus emerged in the automobile industry in recent years. Mr. Sone says there are great opportunities for manufacturing companies in these areas. For example, there will be increasing demand for lithium batteries which dominate today's EV batteries, materials for solid-state batteries that are being developed as next-generation batteries, as well as for high-performance magnets used in power semiconductors and motors.

“Motors in particular are not limited to EVs, but are used as a driving force in every area of modern society. If the performance of power devices and magnets essential to power converters can be improved utilizing new materials, it will be possible to improve the efficiency of all devices such as hard disk drives, elevators, and wind power generators."

Expectations for materials that can improve the performance of sensors

Of course, the need for the new technology is not limited to the automotive industry. For example, if the sensors evolve, many fields such as manufacturing, medical care, and agriculture will benefit, and this will lead to solutions for challenges such as "Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure," "Good Health and Well-being," and "Hunger" mentioned in the SDGs.

“In order to more effectively operate robots that will likely be used in a wide range of fields such as industrial, medical, and home use, as well as unmanned automated factories and smart homes, it is essential to improve sensor performance. Physical sensors that detect light, temperature, magnetic field, angular velocity, and pressure are used in these fields. For example, the surgical support robot Da Vinci uses high-performance tactile sensors."

In addition to these physical sensors, there are chemical sensors that catch specific chemical substances, including biosensors, types that detect specific substances in body fluids and tissues and uses them to determine if a disease is present. These will be indispensable for the future development of fields such as medicine and agriculture.

The most advanced surgical support robot developed in the United States. While viewing a 3D image of the affected area, a doctor operates an arm with a range of motion that exceeds a human hand, and performs a surgical operation remotely without touching the patient directly.

Focusing on materials that reduce environmental impact

The development of new materials and devices is promising in terms of the effective use of energy, measures against climate change, and manufacturing that does not generate harmful substances. In recent years, carbon composite materials have attracted a great deal of attention in these areas.

“The lighter the body of an automobile or airplane, the better the fuel efficiency. That leads to less fuel used and less greenhouse gases emitted. Carbon fiber reinforced composite materials that combine robustness and lightness are perfect as materials, and Boeing's latest aircraft bodies use more than 50% of this material from Japanese companies."

Other notable areas are bioethanol and bioplastics made from plants, and catalytic technologies that change properties by acting on harmful substances.

"Rare metals such as rhodium and palladium are used as catalysts to neutralize the NOx contained in the exhaust gas of gasoline vehicles. Since only the metal surface is neutralized, the surface area can be increased with nanotechnology to reduce the amount used. This will result in lower costs."

We found that there are various ways to use technology to help solve societal issues, including product development but also device and material development and material processing. Mr. Sone told us that even SMEs can approach these areas as long as they have their own technology. In the next article we will delve into specific methods.

Series "Leveraging our technology in a world changed by SDGs and the Fourth Industrial Revolution"

Series 1 How will "Manufacturing" change under the SDGs and the Fourth Industrial Revolution?
Series 2 What technologies are required to solve societal challenges in the SDGs era?
Series 3 How will "Manufacturing" change under the SDGs and the Fourth Industrial Revolution?
Series 4 Leveraging our technology in a world changed by SDGs and the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Junichi Sone
Japan Science and Technology Agency Center for Research and Development Strategy Principal Fellow

In 1975, he completed a master's degree in physics from the University of Tokyo Graduate School of Science and joined the Central Research Laboratories of NEC Corporation. In 1983, obtained a Doctor of Science from the University of Tokyo. After serving as Director of NEC's Fundamental Research Laboratories, Director of the Fundamental and Environmental Research Laboratories, and Manager of the Central Research Laboratories, he has been Executive Vice President of the National Institute for Materials Science (NIMS) since 2010. He has been in the current position since 2015. JST-CREST “Nanosystem Creation” Research Supervisor and President of the Society of Nano Science and and Technology. Recognized as Fellow of the Japan Society of Applied Physics and Executive Vice President Emeritus of the National Institute for Materials Science (NIMS). He specializes in nanotechnology, quantum information technology, environmental energy technology, and advanced materials.

◇Main authored and edited works
- Hyomen kaimen no butsuri (Sirizu bussei butsuri no shintenkai) (Surface and interface physics [New developments in physical property physics]) (Author and editor. Maruzen, 1996)
- Nano kozo sakuseigijyutsu no kiso (Sirizu bussei butsuri no shintenkai) (Fundamentals of nanofabrication technology [New developments in physical property physics]) (Author and editor. Maruzen, 1996)

Coverage date September 2, 2019

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