Keep Trying New Things to Discover the “Right” ProjectIzuru Senaha
＜Series 4 / complete＞
This is the final part of our interview with Professor Senaha. The previous 3 sessions mainly discussed his research about seaweed cultivation, with a goal of building a recycling society. Part 4 covers the current state and future of industry-academia collaboration, with consideration to the unique landscape of Okinawa. He also discusses SME implementation of new ideas, including renewable energy, from the perspective of promoting a recycling society.
Creating Okinawa-Centered Industries for Regional Development
You know, I’m teaching at the University of the Ryukyus, and the truth is that the students, especially the really talented students, move to other prefectures for work. These circumstances mean that it’s difficult for serious innovation to happen in Okinawa, it’s a very unfortunate and pitiful situation. So I feel that I want to create industries that talented students will desire to work in, even in an outlying region like this. It’s the same for regional development, I think that the creation of more industry in Okinawa is exactly what society might need. Personally, I also feel that I want a job that contributes to my home area, and I expect that most other university professors doing industry-academia collaboration feel the same way.
The University of the Ryukyus is involved in many projects through industry-academia collaboration, following our slogan, “Think Tank in Action.” There are startup support projects in action, especially those with young professors taking initiative. Every year around 12 topics are chosen for on-campus support. We take out loans from local financial institutions, and use that budget for funds to develop something together with local companies.
I’m the current head of research support for the university’s industry-academia collaboration division, so I talk to lot of different people, but from the school’s perspective, I think that it’s easier to collaborate on topics that promote regional development. I’m often on the investigative committee, and as these projects are happening, I am continually surprised to realize that there are so many excellent topics that are perfect for industry-academia collaboration.
Industry-Academia Collaboration Demands Application of Previous Experience
Until recently, I think that there was little awareness among university staff about industry-academia collaboration. If our research budget runs low, our studies fail to produce results, and we get trapped in a spiral of failure. But, if we can implement our knowledge in the real world through industry-academia collaboration, then it will supplement our own budgets and research costs. I think that the university should desire to create more bilateral projects like this.
Honestly, I never expected my own knowledge to be applicable to something like seaweed cultivation (laughs). If you just keep trying new things, you’ll suddenly discover the “right” project.
Finally, we discussed the potential of SME for implementing new ideas, including the utilization of renewable energy.
Utilization of Renewable Energy Requires Rearranging Your Vision
In general, we live in a world that produces and ships a stable amount of industrial goods month after month. But when it comes to serious consideration of combining that with renewable energy, we must try to think beyond the constraints of common sense that make us say, “Is that really necessary?”
For example, if you’re thinking about biomass on an outlying island like Okinawa, you already have the photosynthesis superstar sugar cane (the stalk waste after pressing) to make biogas and bioenergy. Sugar cane harvesting peaks December through March, and during that harvest season you will have a surplus of energy. However, this means the development of manufacturing and industry that is limited to using energy produced during the harvest season.
Maybe manufacturing could have on and off seasons, just like agriculture. Lately, the ways we work and our daily lifestyles are changing and becoming more diverse. So for energy, we need to move away from the idea that manufacturing is impossible without the guarantee of a constant, steady and large energy supply. We need to accept that renewable energy varies in amount and quality, and I think advancements like IoT technology will eventually make it possible to utilize that energy well. I think that it requires rearranging your vision. If you’re going to commit to renewable energy, you need to maintain an awareness of working during times when that renewable energy is available, and that will lead you to new projects unlike anything done before.
Interview Date: December 18, 2018
Keep Trying New Things to Discover the “Right” Project
Born 1967 in Okinawa. Graduated 1991 from the University of the Ryukyus, Faculty of Engineering, Energy and Mechanical Engineering Department. Continued at the University of the Ryukyus as an assistant after completing his MS Mechanical Engineering in 1993. Awarded PhD Engineering from Nagoya University Graduate School of Engineering in 2001. Returned to the University of the Ryukyus as an associate professor of Engineering in 2006, and accepted a position as full-time professor in 2018. Began research on CO2 reduction and utilization using marine biomass in 2009. His current research project is investigating the early development of seaweeds like sea grapes (umibudo) and Nemacystus decipiens (mozuku) through cooperation with a diverse spectrum of other research institutes to contribute to fields of industry in Okinawa.
Awards & Honors (Selected)
・2009 Contribution to Society Award
・2010 Faculty of Engineering Contributor Award
・2010 IMPRES 2010 Best Poster Award
・2013 Rocky Challenge Award
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