The 21st century industrial revolution: evolution from a carbon hunting society to a carbon cultivating society.
We depend on carbon fixed by plants through photosynthesis for most of the food, energy, and materials necessary for life. Humans successfully transformed from a hunting society to a cultivating society by inventing agriculture and succeeded in acquiring large amounts of food. However, modern society is still a hunting carbon society that depends on fossil fuels, and ancient fixed carbon resources, for energy and materials. The opening of Pandora’s jar of fossil fuels has brought about the disaster of global warming due to the increase in CO₂ in exchange for the development of our current civilization.
Global CO₂ fixation is possible only through photosynthesis. However, the amount of CO₂ fixed by agriculture and other means is limited compared to the amount of emissions, and the fixed carbon is not effectively used. In Japan, the amount of CO₂ fixed by photosynthesis in agriculture and forests is less than 1/10 of the amount of emissions. Furthermore, the carbon fixed in agriculture is consumed as food, and much of it is not used effectively. Carbon fixed in forests is also abandoned except for use as wood and paper. There is an urgent need to create new technologies and societies that tackle these issues head-on.
Although solar, wind and hydroelectric power generation can provide energy cultivation without carbon, carbon cycling through carbon cultivation using biomass is essential because we will continue to depend on carbon for fuels and materials. Carbon cultivation is the only way to capture CO₂ released into the atmosphere. We challenge to realize an industrial revolution from a carbon-hunting society to a carbon-cultivating society through carbon cultivation.
The essence of carbon cultivation is the active production, valorization, and recycling and reuse of biomass. Carbon-negative characteristics are achieved through the development of cultivation methods that greatly increase biomass fixation and carbon accumulation. Furthermore, we will strongly promote the value-adding of biomass and convert abandoned and underutilized land into biomass production lands entirely due to economic reasons.
To realize carbon cultivation, it is essential to increase the production of biomass. However, Japan has a limited area under cultivation and a low food self-sufficiency rate. We will promote carbon cultivation using rice, the most mass-produced agricultural product in Japan, timber from forests that cover about 70% of the country’s land, and algae, which has great potential for Japan, which is surrounded by the sea. First, we will establish carbon-arable rice cultivation by developing rice varieties with high CO₂ fixation and biomass production capacity. This rice is also useful in terms of security in the event of a food crisis. We will create a new short-season, high-efficiency forestry industry that places the highest priority on the rate of carbon fixation. We will also establish a carbon-cultivated fishery using algae.
For example, only about 30% of the carbon fixed by rice plants becomes rice. The remaining 70% of carbon is contained in rice straw and rice husks. Carbon cultivation requires technology to utilize and store the fixed carbon without wasting it. Greenhouse gas emissions and chemical fertilizer consumption in rice cultivation and forestry are also major issues. We will research to clarify these issues and develop technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and recycle fertilizer components. Carbon cultivation requires the coordination of all conversion and recycling technologies from agriculture and forestry to energy and materials. We will also conduct comprehensive research and development with the aim of co-creating mutually linked technologies. Efficient material circulation throughout the region is also necessary for the social implementation of carbon cultivation. In addition to the Tama region where we are located, we will promote R&D and business activities in various locations in Japan. It will also expand into a global hub through collaboration with Thailand, Indonesia, and other Southeast Asian countries. To enhance the value of this hub, it is also important to create value in the international market, and we aim to create and lead the global standard in new industries derived from agricultural and forestry resources. Furthermore, we will develop our existing activities to solve problems create value in local communities, and achieve value creation and industrial collaboration that can spread to the international community. In addition, through dialogue with society, we will demonstrate how a resource-recycling society should be. In particular, the hub will be responsible for the development of technological seeds, human resource development, introduction of private-sector funding, and establishment of partnerships for the creation of next-generation industries, and will serve as a hub for value creation in practice.
Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology
Deputy Project Leader
Special Professor, Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology