STAKEHOLDER DIALOGUE

  • In fiscal 2017, the Sekisui Chemical Group will revise its CSR Medium-term Plan and set out approaches, such as the inclusion of “stakeholder engagement” in its CSR activities system, which will enhance dialogue with society. This time, we invited a CSR expert and external stakeholders and held a round-table discussion, in keeping with the Special Issue’s common theme of “The Current Status and Future of the Sekisui Chemical Group,” with employees responsible for future-oriented R&D.

  • April 5, 2017 R&D Center, Sekisui Chemical Co., Ltd.

  • Nagafusa
    Thank you very much for attending today, when you are all so busy. We would like to hear some frank opinions about the Company's efforts. Well then, if the members from the R&D Center could start us off by introducing themselves.
    Suzuki
    My name is Soichiro Suzuki. I am assigned to the team working on the dye-sensitized solar cell project, which is called the (DSC)*1 Project for short. Specifically, I am in charge of the process of assembling the DSCs, which are composed of two films.
    Mori
    Nobuhiro Mori. Assigned to the TEMS Group, I am working on building the mechanism for a town energy management system that, by using solar cells and storage batteries installed in houses, will enable its effective use in an entire town. Currently, I am in charge of the VPP*2 demonstration project, which I have been working on in the city of Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, since last year.
Rasika
As my name is quite long, please just call me Rasika. Since April of this year, I have been looking into the effective utilization of CO2 as part of the research into resolving environmental problems. We are investigating whether we can utilize the technologies that are mainly at the disposal of overseas companies and universities in the Company's CO2 utilization.
Teranishi
My name is Rie Teranishi and I am assigned to the LB*3 Project and engaged in the development of storage batteries. My role partly involves deciding on all types of prerequisites concerning the manufacturing process.
Nakano
Yoshinori Nakano. Although assigned to the Development Center, I work at the Kyoto Plant, where I am in charge of the development of the carbon fiber composite material known as CFRP. We are considering whether these new materials can help to resolve a range of problems, such as disaster prevention and mitigation, or reduce social infrastructure costs.
Nagafusa
Also joining us today are Mr. Arai from TEPCO Power Grid, Incorporated, a partner in the demonstration test of a virtual power plant, Mr. Kikuchi from Secual, Inc., a partner on the DSC Project, and Mr. Ogawa from Craig Consulting, Ltd., who is here as a CSR expert.
Arai
I'm Masahito Arai from TEPCO Power Grid, Incorporated, which is a business corporation that was spun off from Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) in April 2016. Today, TEPCO is divided into four companies: TEPCO Fuel & Power, its power generation business; TEPCO Energy Partner, its retail electricity business; TEPCO Power Grid, where I am; and the holding company. As the general power transmission and distribution contractor among them, we are tasked with the mission of stably supplying electricity to our customers.
  • Kikuchi
    I'm Masakazu Kikuchi from Secual, Inc. Established with the aim of making "security more familiar and casual," the company name has been coined by combining security and casual. In Japan, home security is still classed as a luxury item, and only 3% of the population, mainly people in the higher income bracket, have had systems installed. Secual embarked on the business with a desire to deliver peace of mind cheaply and easily to everyone, including those on lower annual incomes.
    Ogawa
    I'm Mitsuo Ogawa from Craig Consulting, Ltd. Although we are a consulting company, we are aiming to create organizations that are abuzz with CSR and are working with a number of companies. Today, I am wondering to what kind of blessings will everyone's research lead and for whom, and will that research blossom in the future. I would like to hear accounts of that kind.
  • *1:Abbreviation for dye-sensitized solar cell. A type of solar cell that converts light into electricity.
  • *2:Abbreviation for Virtual Power Plant. A system that integrates and controls dispersed small-scale power generation facilities by IoT and functions like a single power plant.
  • *3:LB=Lithium-ion Battery

Are You Looking Some Years Ahead When Conducting R&D?

Nagafusa
The subject of this round-table discussion is "The Sekisui Chemical Group's Future Vision toward the Realization of a Sustainable Society." Is there anything you would like to ask each other about this subject?
  • Nakano
    Are you all looking some years ahead as you conduct your day-to-day R&D? Although I think that you are most likely mixing recent awareness with visions of the future, as someone in the same research profession, I participated today as I would like to ask whether you are all looking some years ahead.
    Teranishi
    Although I think long-term viewpoints are needed, I have not had much opportunity to give them much thought. In my case, the day-to-day objectives involve burning issues: making society's use of power storage technologies more widespread; bringing to fruition the effective use of energy; and realizing a reduction in CO2. As a team, however, there are moves to look even further ahead, beyond lithium-ion batteries, and to set up a department to develop next-generation batteries.
    Nagafusa
    Does that mean that you will develop a battery ahead of the film-type lithium-ion batteries?
Teranishi
That's right. I think that it is necessary to not confine ourselves to lithium-ion batteries and to look further ahead and provide new products and value.
Nagafusa
What kind of value will be offered to the future society by advancing the research?
  • Teranishi
    With regard to the social value that storage batteries can realize, I believe that, besides the "effective use of energy" that I mentioned in my self-introduction, there is also the "realization of a low-carbon society." Although there are sources of renewable energy that do not emit greenhouse gas, solar cells for example cannot generate electricity at night, and the amount of power generation is not constant, and cannot be effectively utilized unless saved in a storage battery. What is required is to improve storage battery performance. I think that the ability to store large amounts of energy in more compact, lighter batteries will be increasingly required in the years to come.
    Mori
    I am looking at both the short term and the long term. From the point of view of the final objective, what we will be able to do in the near future is really of little consequence, but I feel that the expectation that the future lies beyond an accumulation of those inconsequential things forms my own motivation.
    Nagafusa
    Mr. Mori, what are you working on from a medium- to long-term perspective?
Mori
The project I am promoting is also related to renewable energy, which even now is used a lot, but represents an insignificant amount of the total output of electricity. If you consider society in 20 to 30 years' time, however, I think that ratio is certain to rise. Utilizing our know-how as a housing manufacturer, we want to resolve the problem with renewable energy, that its power generation output is not constant, by controlling in an integrated manner photovoltaic power generation and storage batteries installed in houses and utilizing them as wide-area power sources, and we are advancing research to that end.
Arai
Among us, renewable energy is called a "naturally fluctuating power source." As Mr. Mori has pointed out, however, there are a number of issues. For example, there is a problem that the amount of electricity generation becomes excessive in specific time bands, but I think this will improve usability by storing any excess electricity in batteries. That's why Mr. Mori is proceeding with the VPP demonstration experiment using an existing household storage battery. Today, I heard about Ms. Teranishi's film-type lithium ion battery and am also interested in that.
Nagafusa
Mr. Suzuki, looking a few years ahead, in what R&D will you be engaged?
  • Suzuki
    The short term of the next one to two years will naturally see an improvement in dye-sensitized cell (DSC) performance. Over the medium term, in around five years' time, the ‘how nice it would be if the project were completed in the near future' process will be under way. I cannot divulge the nature of the research, but I am giving consideration to a project that looks into the future, and experiments are being conducted overseas.
    Recently, a child was born. For my long-term vision, more than 10 years hence, in the future in which that child will be living, I am painting a picture in which I want to realize a garbage-free world through the power of chemistry.
    Kikuchi
    Secual is working together with Dr. Suzuki on the DSC Project. I am creating a range of security-related products under the Internet of Things (IoT) banner, but now we are using indoor light as a power source, based on a dye sensitized battery, and are collaborating on the development of usable devices. In my case, I get the feeling that commercialization will be at intervals of three to six months. When seen from our perspective, one or two years hence is medium term.
Nagafusa
I see, Secual is applying Sekisui Chemical-developed batteries and making business that will deliver new value to consumers, but there are slight differences between the two companies in your sense of the speed of commercialization.
Kikuchi
In major corporations, is there not a high ratio of scenarios in which some long-awaited technology did not quite lead to product commercialization, and the research outcomes, which were immensely time-consuming and costly, are lying dormant? I feel that unearthing these scenarios, and bringing them to commercialization within a short period of time, would be a way to give rise to innovation for Secual.
Suzuki
One or two years away is medium term? (Laughs). Now that certainly might be the case.
Nagafusa
Mr. Rasika, is your research conducted from a rather long-term perspective?
Rasika
In my case, the "effective utilization of CO2" project I'm engaged in at the moment is itself "generation after next" rather than next generation. It is positioned in the really far-off future. The project is at the stage at which we are drawing on technologies possessed by research institutions, such as Japanese and overseas universities, and investigating whether those technologies can be used in the utilization of CO2.
Arai
I was unaware that Sekisui Chemical is researching uses for CO2. Even our company has yet to start anything like that, so I would imagine that it's a progressive initiative.

Awareness Born of Differences in Priorities, Paths Open Up

  • Ogawa
    For Mr. Suzuki and Mr. Kikuchi to have different definitions of short term and medium term, I think that their own priorities often differ from those of their business partners. I feel that is of vital importance to exchange opinions when priorities are at odds from each other. There is an awareness that when you say "Oh, is that so?" paths will suddenly open up. Seen from the outside, I'm wondering if it might be worthwhile to increase such methods of engagement. But hasn't everyone had that kind of experience?
    Nakano
    In the case of the R&D Center, the researchers themselves possess the unique ability to conduct technological development while engaging in PR activities with customers. At divisional companies, I believe few researchers come into contact with customers, although here the number of people that do is surprisingly high.
    Rasika
    Management are always saying "Consider the business model." Also "consider to whom you will be selling from the outset" and "For how much would you sell this?"...
Nagafusa
Think about your own end-user and market to customers yourself. Has this become the motivation behind R&D?
Suzuki
That's right, since the biggest motivator when I'd joined Sekisui Chemical was hearing that I could do everything by myself, from creating the seed of a product idea to marketing the finished product, from the very top of the upstream to the very bottom of the downstream.
Mori
I myself have received battery-related requests from Mr. Arai. The giving of advice is of really great assistance in, for example, enabling his company to contribute to the safe implementation of the power transmission network and in making the use of renewable energy more widespread.
  • Arai
    Sekisui Chemical has a wealth of housing-related expertise at its disposal. In contrast, although TEPCO Power Grid possesses knowledge as a power business contractor, we do not know that much about housing, where electric power is ultimately used. Our company has received a number of proposals from Sekisui Chemical covering, for example, the technologies necessary for energy management in the home and on how to use storage batteries. That is of benefit to us, and I think that it will likely be of major benefit to Sekisui Chemical, too.
    Mori
    Despite being a manufacturer of chemicals, as you know we took on the challenges of the electricity business, but the fact is that we kind of jumped in knowing absolutely nothing of the lie of the land and without any inkling of industry common practice. It's hard to imagine ever being able to undertake business in a different field, even if you thought of a project you would like to undertake at Sekisui Chemical alone. There have been many aspects that I have gained an awareness of through my exchanges with Mr. Arai.
Suzuki
Since I was not aware of the value of successful customer communication, I could not effectively convey the products appeal three years ago, when I joined the DSC project.
However, through having had a variety of sessions with customers, including Mr. Kikuchi, over the past year or so, I feel there have been many factors that have enabled me to increase speed at a stroke toward the realization of my research.
Kikuchi
It is because we see consumers and customers in front of us. Conversely, there are areas in the information relating to the materials and technologies with which I'm unfamiliar.
Suzuki
When it comes to technologies, we are able to manage somehow or another on our own, but where things get difficult is knowing where those technologies should be applied and who will be interested.
  • Kikuchi
    Taking the case of mobile phone batteries, for example, consumer interest lies in them lasting 100 times longer than they do now, in being able to charge the battery at 1/100th of the speed or even in being able to charge using indoor light. I think that this kind of technological revolution, which is happening close at hand, will easily gain access to the hearts and minds of most consumers. Sekisui Chemical possesses upgraded and expanded resources characteristic of a major corporation that we at Secual don't have, and thus by all means we would like to effectively utilize those resources and open up the future that lies ahead.
    Ogawa
    Having received such critical evaluations from stakeholders, we repeatedly discuss our real intentions with each other and make recommendations without fear of conflict. I think that kind of thing will foster the people and organizations that will support the next Sekisui Chemical and that this is what is known as Open Innovation.
    Nagafusa
    From what I have seen in this discussion, I am gaining a feel for how Sekisui Chemical should be tackling its R&D initiatives for the future. I would now like to hear opinions on the projects on which you are currently working.

Expectations for "Integration" of Each R&D Project

  • Rasika
    Although we have not dealt with specifics up to now, I am considering if there is any way to create value from CO2, which is being dismissed as the arch villain in global warming, through the power of chemistry. Since it would have a major impact on the world if CO2 could be put to good use, I believe that it would lead to something that would also assist the country I come from, Sri Lanka.
    Nakano
    I utilized the characteristics of carbon fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP), which is strong but lightweight, and commercialized waterproof panels that can be easily handled by the elderly. As the waterproof panels are installed at the entrances to underground shopping malls to prevent floods, for example at times of sudden torrential rainfall, and the ages of the people who install them are now increasing, there was a problem that the conventional aluminum panels were heavy and could not be used, a problem that we were able to resolve by deciding to make the panels out of CFRP.
    Teranishi
    Under the LB project, we completed the development of a high-capacity, film-type lithium-ion battery. This is installed in the "Smart Power Station '100% Edition'" that was launched as a household storage battery in January 2017. We are also beginning its development and evaluation as an automotive battery. I would like the battery to be given a thorough evaluation by an automobile manufacture that would lead to the next phase of R&D.
Suzuki
The film-type, dye-sensitized solar cell that I am involved with enables power generation even at a light intensity of 500 lux or less, and leverages its two unique characteristics: a thinness of less than 1mm and bendability. We are aiming for sales as an independent power source for electronic public notice boards and IoT sensors from the middle of fiscal 2017. This is precisely the project to be working in partnership with Secual.
Kikuchi
The ideas that we are describing are sensors that are pre-incorporated into some building materials, and the mental image of batteries that are capable of producing power solely from the light inside a room being cleverly built into those materials. Without having to wire them up throughout a house, each type of building material will automatically generate electricity to operate sensors that will watch over the safety of the people living there. I would like to be involved in something like that in the future.
Suzuki
Under the DSC Project, I am thinking that I would like to try to develop various types of solar cells. However, since it will naturally be important to know to what extent these can be completed without causing battery degradation and to make sure to what extent power can be generated over long periods of time, I would like to resolve the kinds of issues that I am confronting one by one.
Kikuchi
Would the strongest proposition not be to use Ms. Teranishi's film-type lithium-ion battery in combination after products such as high-efficiency power generation and the storage of electricity in paper have reached fruition? I would like to commercialize such groundbreaking ideas in the next six months to a year or so.
  • Mori
    For my part, working with TEPCO Power Grid right now, I am in the middle of a demonstration test of a virtual power plant that interconnects household storage batteries on subdivisions in the city of Tsukuba. Integrating and controlling 20 energy self-sufficient homes and Tsukuba business sites through TEMS, the power plant utilizes the existing distribution network to match the power usage status of the entire demonstration test site and shares the electricity stored in the household storage batteries.
    Arai
    Mainly with Sekisui Chemical, I am working on a demonstration test with household storage batteries, but I think that, at any rate, we will also be targeting the automotive storage battery that Ms. Teranishi was speaking about.
    Mori
    In the past, electric power companies generated electricity at power stations they owned in rural areas and sent that electricity to urban areas, the consumption sites that used that electricity. That was commonplace back then. In the past 10 years, however, it has become commonplace for there to be solar panels on the roofs of houses and for there to be mega solar power plants in residential areas, so we have reached the situation where power generation facilities are everywhere.
Arai
Also, since storage batteries are becoming increasingly prevalent, from large business-use models to smaller versions for household use, it will become more important for various storage batteries to provide power adjustment capabilities.
Since as household storage batteries they are dispersed everywhere, how to go about controlling them collectively is becoming a subject for future technological development. By using storage batteries as adjustment power, we can make use of a wide variety of power sources where there was only a large-scale power generation form such as thermal power generation, so we can also work to reduce the transmission cost of sending electricity to houses. If that becomes the case, then I think that we may be able to contribute to wider society.
Mori
I agree. Since the flow of electricity is changing from the old days, I think that the ways in which electricity is used also need a different method than before. I am working on the VPP demonstration project with the thought of wanting to utilize the technologies that we have at our disposal so that they can be used well from the viewpoint of electricity usage.
Arai
Today, I have been able to find out about Sekisui Chemical's wide-ranging initiatives, such as battery development and the utilization of CO2. Mr. Rasika's account in particular has been very helpful, not only for renewable energy but also how to utilize already generated CO2.
Having participated in this dialogue, to say that "Sekisui Chemical is making important efforts to create a sustainable society" is my honest opinion. In that sense, I have felt that it would probably be better if we were to strengthen partnerships within Sekisui Chemical and collaborate with researchers from various fields on the occasions of demonstration tests of this kind.
Nakano
Including each divisional company, how would you go about integrating each R&D project that is under way? That might be a problem in the future.
Kikuchi
I think so, too, but when looked at on an individual basis, even when cooperation appears difficult, for example with the talk of the energy management of an entire town being advanced with TEPCO Power Grid, there are areas of overlap with the security management of an entire town for which we are aiming. How to make cities in which people can live in a safe, secure and comfortable way. When mutual aims are close, I would like to make a joint contribution. If we can successfully combine the knowledge, technology and materials that we possess individually, we will be able to expand the scope of each challenge.
Rasika
I've always thought that Sekisui Chemical was a company that possessed the potential to change the world, but today I was able to discover that people from other departments also intend to do the same. I was able to ask how this might be viewed from outside the company. I think that I knew that there would be many aspects in which it can seem that there is "still some way to go," but I'm glad to have been able to participate in the dialogue.
Teranishi
I agree. Since there are not many opportunities like this, today I was able to listen to the opinions of people from outside the Company and learned a great deal. Particularly what Mr. Kikuchi said was very exciting in the sense of how to use batteries from a new perspective.

Nagafusa
In closing, perhaps Mr. Ogawa would be so kind as to give us his thoughts and impressions on this discussion.
Ogawa
I get the feeling that you have shown us the potential with regard to Sekisui Chemical's environment and energy fields. The world is currently undergoing major change, and society has great expectations with regard to companies that are seeking to change. Previously, an evaluation of a company focused mainly on whether its financial situation was good or bad, but as the concept of CSR has become more ingrained, it has become a world where money is drawn from investors against big visions of "wanting to create such a world." As I think you are one of the companies that bears that kind of weight of expectation, and you are on record as having said that "the Sekisui Chemical Group has a dream to create that kind of world in 10 or 20 years' time," I would like to see you by all means call attention to that sort of vision through your R&D. For that reason, I would like to make more use of stakeholder feedback.
Nagafusa
As Mr. Ogawa pointed out, I think that it this not an era in which to speak of companies by financial information alone. In that sense, I was delighted to see that this time the dialogue was held with the participation of all the stakeholders, and the foundations laid for further exchanges of opinions down the line.
I thank you all so much for lending your valuable opinions to today's proceedings.