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Initiatives for a business for unutilized energy

Energy-saving technology through power generation from waste heat



Furuta Satoshi

Dr. Furuta has held positions at the Central Research Center in areas such as the development of petrochemical materials, development of petroleum refining catalysts, improvement of refining technology for super heavy crude oil, development of biofuel production technology, and development of hydrogen storage and transportation technology. Currently, Dr. Furuta is in charge of creating innovative technology and service businesses for the development of a low-carbon, recycling-oriented society.

As of May 2020, COVID-19 is rampant around the world, restricting the movement of people and, as a result, global energy consumption is likely to have declined in recent months. This is only temporary, and global warming and climate change will continue to be serious social issues. Perhaps it would be difficult for the human race to give up the convenience afforded by fossil fuels and petroleum-derived products. Based on that assumption, it is expected that global energy demand will not decrease significantly in the future.

Under these circumstances, it will be necessary to promote energy saving and increase the ratio of renewable energy in order to make energy available to all people in the future.

Solving global environmental problems is my life work. The reason that I started to pay attention to the environment was the news of people who suffered from the four major pollution illnesses. At that time, I was in junior high school. I felt strong sympathy for the victims and the people who supported them, and sometimes I was angry at my helplessness. I searched for a path to prevent such tragedies. I read a lot of books and found the answer: technology development.

I majored in chemistry at university and joined ENEOS with the desire to reduce the amount of energy used and the environmental load as a resource consumer. Since joining the company, I have been in charge of energy technology development as a researcher. In my current position, one of the themes I am working on is exploring technology to utilize the energy that has not been utilized (unutilized energy), which is sleeping in various places around the world. I am delighted to be able to consider global environmental problems as my job, and I am searching and investigating for collaboration with start-ups who have new technology.


ENEOS×Unutilized Energy

There is still a lot of energy available in the world. We call this “unutilized energy”. The main sources of unutilized energy are unutilized sunlight, geothermal energy, wave power, and waste heat.

未活用エネルギー 幅射熱などになって、活用されていない太陽光 海の波力 地熱 未利用エネルギー(排熱など)
Principal Unutilized Energy

Whenever we make things and generate energy, we need heat, but most of the heat is thrown away without being used. Moreover, most of it is below 250℃. An example of gas exhaust heat is shown below.

縦軸:排熱量(Tcal/y) 横軸:排熱温度(℃) 紙パルプ 窯業 石油 清掃 鉄鋼 化学 電力などを棒グラフで表示
Waste heat map

Waste heat is generated everywhere, even in Japan.

Example of the waste heat sources

In the future, in order to reduce the load on the global environment, we believe that power generation technology that uses such waste heat will become an option for energy conservation. ENEOS does not have any remarkable strengths regarding such technology. On the other hand, we believe that the use of waste heat has great potential for realizing “creation and innovation in energy, resources, and materials” as stated in the ENEOS Group Philosophy.


Collaboration with E-ThermoGentek Co., Ltd.

Background / Details

As a technology for generating power from waste heat, I am paying attention to the technology that generates power from temperature difference with thermoelectric devices. Thermoelectric devices have a long history of research and their efficiency is improving continuously. Nevertheless, there are still few examples of social implementation as a power generation technology on a large scale. There were two issues to be overcome.
The first was the shape of the heating element that contacts the thermoelectric device. In the conventional technology, a type of module in which many elements are sandwiched between hard ceramic plates is used, making it necessary to manufacture the shape of the ceramic plate perfectly matching the shape of the exhaust heat source.

Conventional thermoelectric device
(Source: E-ThermoGentek Co., Ltd. website)

The second was to maintain the temperature difference. Specifically, as shown below, there must be a temperature difference between A (surface of the heating element) with the thermoelectric module attached and surface B on the heat radiation side.

Power generation mechanism of thermoelectric module

Therefore, it is necessary to provide a heat dissipation or cooling mechanism on the B side. However, the limited shape design of the thermoelectric module made efficient heat dissipation and cooling difficult. With all this in mind, I searched for a company that had the technology to solve these problems, and I found E-ThermoGentek, which I decided to collaborate with.
Since the module that fixes the thermoelectric devices is flexible, it can be attached to any shape of heating surface without creating a gap.

E-ThermoGentek’s thermoelectric module
(Source: E-ThermoGentek Co., Ltd. website)

This makes it possible to improve the efficiency of heat dissipation and cooling.
Also, in discussing the future of waste heat utilization with E-ThermoGentek, we shared the image of a world with no waste heat, and I found their well-balanced management team and strong R&D system to be reliable.

On the other hand, there were several heated discussions within our department, mainly from the perspective of scale-up and profitability. We discussed desirable collaboration with start-up companies. As a result, we decided to collaborate with them for cost reduction, and to adapt to future legal changes and technological innovation. We reached a capital and business alliance with E-ThermoGentek in March, 2020.


Thus, we have just taken a step toward social implementation of temperature difference power generation technology. And we will realize an energy self-sufficient society throughout Japan in the future. ENEOS will play a role as a game changer for energy supply in Japan.
We are still looking for companies and researchers who want to use energy that has not yet been utilized in various situations to realize a low-carbon society.
I look forward to hearing from you.

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