BreakThrough Study Idea

Finding Ideas for Plastic Alternatives Through Open InnovationHiroshi Uyama

<Series 4 / complete>


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Part 3 discussed matching between universities and companies, with personal examples of successful industry-academia collaboration with SME. The last part of this interview is Part 4: Plastic Substitutes, World Demand & the Future of SME. Professor Uyama shares hints about the future of Japanese manufacturing from his unique perspective.

SME & Adapting to Trends in Plastic Substitutes

First, it is important to understand who is behind the growing movement for plastic substitutes around the world, and how they will direct it. Companies absolutely must stay aware of these trends. Japanese manufacturing SME have extremely advanced molding technology, so I’m confident that they can handle just about anything. As I said in Part 2, this effort is pointless unless we can clarify the production output. SME shouldn’t just be adopting new plastics to replace conventional plastic, they need to discover the ideal items to be made from new plastics. That will demand more than just scientists discussing ideas with each other at work, it demands a different approach, and I think it will help to get some fresh ideas from outside sources.
Conventional plastic is popular because it has many advantages, so I think that plastics will continue. Meanwhile, our next task is to identify output items for these alternative materials.

The movement to replace plastic is progressing, but there is still much to discover about what items can be made from new alternative materials. What new possibilities does Professor Uyama see in plastics and bioplastics?

The Future Potential Hidden in Polysaccharides

I think that polysaccharides have hidden potential for bioplastic materials. More specifically, things like seaweed agar and starchy bases. I still have 9 years until my tenure expires, so I’m hoping to make one more great accomplishment in my research by making bioplastics from polysaccharides.
The trend for plastic alternatives is speeding up, so I want to engage in this research through industry-academic collaboration and support the efforts of SME.

Finally, Professor Uyama shares hints that can lead the expansion of possibilities for new plastics and bioplastics. His unique perspective is inspired by his daily opportunities for close encounters with the university students working in his lab.

Expanding the Possibilities of New Plastics

What should businesses and researchers be doing as the worldwide movement for plastic substitutes speeds up? We’re still figuring it out. (laughs) Frankly, people like me who have been engaged in research for too long don’t come up with new ideas very easily. You can’t expect companies to come up with fresh ideas and opinions very quickly either.
But still, for example, if we can get creators and young entrepreneurs who are eager to innovate together to discuss plastic substitutes, then they will share ideas for making products. If the best and most business appropriate ideas can be backed up by SME, then real change can begin to happen. I hope that projects like that will spread and increase awareness of plastic alternatives around the world. This concept is usually called “open innovation.” If we can get people of all ages across all fields to contribute ideas about plastic substitutes, then I think we can expand the possibilities of these new plastics even more.

Interview Date: November 5, 2018



Plastics Created the Modern Chemical Industry

It’s important to clarify required output when developing new plastics.

Industry-Academia Collaboration Needs Mutual Trust Between Universities & Companies

Finding Ideas for Plastic Alternatives Through Open Innovation

Hiroshi Uyama

Born 1962 in Kobe. Graduated from the Kyoto University Faculty of Engineering & Graduate School of Engineering. Worked as a researcher at Kao Corporation before joining the Tohoku University School of Engineering as a research assistant in 1988. Rejoined the Kyoto University Graduate School of Engineering as a research assistant in 1997, and became an assistant professor in 2000. Currently a professor at the Division of Applied Chemistry, Graduate School of Engineering, Osaka University since 2004. Involved in collaborative research and development with companies through SME Japan as a specialist in polymer materials chemistry.

Awards & Honors
・Polymer Journal, Paper Award (1995)
「Dispersion Polymerization of N-Vinylformamide in Polar Media. Preparation of Monodisperse Hydrophilic Polymer Particles」
・Chemical Society of Japan, Progress Award (1997)
“Pioneering Polymerization Using Enzymatic Catalysts.”
・Japan Society for Bioscience, Biotechnology and Agrochemistry, Agrochemical Planning Award (2005)
“Development of New Green Polymers Based on Renewable Plant Resources”
・8th Bio Business Competition Japan, Grand Prize (2008)
“Development of New Polylactide Materials from Low-Cost Biomass Resources.”
・The Society of Polymer Science, Japan, 2017 Mitsubishi Chemical Award (2017)
“Development of High-Performance Polymer Materials from Plant Oils.”

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