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SDGs Interviews: Talking Affordable and Clean Energy with Hiroshi Fukuda


Eleventh chapter of SARAYA’s SDGs interviews, talking with Hiroshi Fukuda about recycling, renewable energy, and his approach to SDG No. 7: Affordable and Clean Energy.

SARAYA is one of Japan’s leading companies that implement the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This is the eleventh chapter of SARAYA’s SDG interview series telling the story of those behind SARAYA and how they are working to achieve these goals. In this edition, we spotlight Hiroshi Fukuda, President of KSN, Kansai Saishigen Network Co., Ltd, a subsidiary of Saraya, and discuss their project to recycle food waste to charcoal on an industrial scale as well as their business in the UK which provides electricity generated with food waste, both projects tackling SDG number 7: Affordable and Clean Energy.

Hiroshi Fukuda.

Enjoy the reality of today and always try to make your tomorrow a little better.

Hiroshi Fukuda

Could you tell us about your background?

I was born in a tiny mountain village over 700 meters above sea level on the border between Yamaguchi and Shimane prefectures. In my childhood, I was blessed to play in the great outdoors. There were no traffic lights nor vending machines in my hometown, let alone convenience stores. I grew up running around in the mountains, catching beetles and mamushi snakes, a kind of venomous snake, which I would sell as an ingredient for reinvigorating mamushi sake. During summer, I went diving into rivers day and night to catch fishes with a spear, grilling and eating them on the spot. During winter, I skied at my elementary school ski slope every day. 

My childhood dream was to become a steeplejack. When I was a child, I had a chance to see a steeplejack cleaning the Kanmon Bridge, which connects the islands of Honshu and Kyushu, and I was amazed. I dreamed of having such cool work, climbing high places when I graduated from junior high school.

Since I grew up in such a rural environment, I was inclined to do lots of physical exercises, especially individual sports, so I devoted myself to kendo, a Japanese martial art, since I was in kindergarten and later even made it to the national tournament representing Yamaguchi Prefecture.

By some twist of fate, I went to study applied microbiology at university in Osaka, which later led me to join Saraya. While I am committed to working as a company president at KSN, a subsidiary of Saraya which deals with innovative recycling business, I am blessed with a wife and two daughters at home.

What are your trajectory and current role in Saraya?

I have been working as the president of KSN, a subsidiary of Saraya, for 15 years now.

In 1995, upon my university graduation, I got my first job at Saraya as a food sanitation product sales representative at its Hiroshima office, being in charge of many hospitals in Hiroshima and Yamaguchi prefectures. After about 2 years, I got transferred to Osaka and got a new job, traveling all over Japan to maintain Saraya’s gargling machines and other devices. 

Over time, the service department underwent a period of reform and was to start a business in clean water, and I was put in charge of it. We made a device to separate grease from wastewater for the foodservice industry, which led to a gradual shifting of our focus to the environment. As sales increased, a division was formed and the Environmental Business Promotion Office was established, with me as the first manager of the office in 2001. Under it, we created a water purification equipment, called GT Clean Grease Trap, which we successfully sold. It was exciting to work on a new business. 

In 2003, I was 27 and was assigned to start another new business of recycling in preparation for this KSN project. KSN’s main business is to make charcoal from food waste. To prepare to establish the company, I was sent to another charcoal manufacturer located in Yamagata prefecture, in northern Japan, for six-month training. Afterward, I was stationed in Thailand for a few years to start a joint venture recycling business there.

What does KSN do?

 

KSN bases its contributions to society under 3 main pillars, renewable energy, material & thermal recycling, and carbon sink, helping in the achievement of the SDGs.
 KSN bases its contributions to society under 3 main pillars, renewable energy, material & thermal recycling, and carbon sink, helping in the achievement of the SDGs.

 

KSN, Kansai Shigen Network in Japanese or Kansai Recycle & Resources Network Co., Ltd. in English, recycles organic waste, mainly food waste. We recycle food waste by carbonization, making charcoal to use as an energy resource. Carbonization is a technology to immobilize carbon in organic wastes by pyrolysis, the thermal decomposition of materials at elevated temperatures, in oxygen-free or minimal oxygen states. This technology has been known for a long time as a process to produce charcoal, but we are the first company in Japan to use food waste on an industrial scale.

At the time of KSN’s establishment in 2004, various recycling laws were enacted based on “The Basic Law for Establishing the Recycling-based Society.” We, as part of the Saraya Group, came to develop a new food recycling market with carbonization as our core competence, to acquire new business opportunities with our customers by building a business that complies with Japan’s Food Recycling Law.

As Saraya offers food sanitation products, we were already familiar with the food industry and the food waste that comes with the industry, be it by supermarkets, convenience stores, food factories, department stores, etc.

The design of our factory plant was done by a mechanical engineering specialist and myself because it was too costly to outsource, and now we even have a staff member who specializes in mechanical design. It is a large, complex system that makes us proud as we built it ourselves.

 

KSN factory.
KSN factory.

 

Our business model is to get a fee from the customer for processing the waste, and then sell the processed product, generating income from both sides. It sounds like a great model, but it also requires a permit to prevent illegal dumping, which is not easy to obtain.

After about five years of conducting various tests, we received approval from the Ministry of the Environment, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry as a new method under the Food Recycling Law (at the time, we were the only company in Japan to receive such approval), and we are now contributing to carbon neutrality. As you know, the world is gaining momentum for a green industrial revolution towards the 2030 SDGs and further towards the 2050 vision of net carbon neutrality.

At KSN, food waste is converted into charcoal. What type and how?

 

Powdered charcoal made from food waste at KSN.
Powdered charcoal made from food waste at KSN.

 

We make powdered charcoal from food waste so, unlike ordinary charcoal made of wood, powdered charcoal burns quickly when set on fire, which is better for industrial use since a faster burn means a higher heat. Also, powdered charcoal has no odor and does not require a pressing process.

Iron and steel companies normally use coke, which is made from crushed coals, but this powdered coal is cheaper because it is already crushed. Therefore, the demand for the powdered coal produced here is high. Currently, the Covid-19 pandemic period brought us somewhat of a quiet time, but our sales schedule was full before it started.

When food waste gets delivered, the first thing we need to do is to separate it from plastic packaged materials, which we sell later as fuel, done by a machine we created capable of separating 90 to 95 percent of food and packaging. 5 to 10 percent of the plastic cannot be removed, but when heated at 500 to 550 degrees Celsius, it vaporizes and does not remain in the charcoal.

 

Food waste arriving at the KSN factory. Mainly vegetables. Food waste arriving at the KSN factory. Mainly bread.
Food waste arriving at the KSN factory. Mainly meat. Food waste arriving at the KSN factory. Mainly chicken.
Different types of food waste received from a large shopping center. Plastic is separated and recycled, while food waste is converted into charcoal.

 

The next step is to process the food waste, done with a machine that carbonizes food scraps. Carbonization produces carbon monoxide gas and combustible gas, which makes charcoal highly flammable. To prevent the accumulation production of dioxin, a toxic substance, the waste gas is burned at a high temperature of about 800℃. The generated heat is transported and used as a heat source for operating machinery, as a co-generator.

 

Herriard Bio Power logo, KSN’s subsidiary in the UK.
Herriard Bio Power logo, KSN’s subsidiary in the UK.

 

Since 2020, we also have started a subsidiary, Herriard Bio Power Co., Ltd. in the UK. This company collects food waste, which is converted into biogas which produces over 10 million kWh of clean green energy every year – enough to power 2,200 homes. They also supply farmers in the region with thousands of tonnes of premium bio-fertilizer, another product of the process.

 

Herriard Bio Power food waste recycling process.
Herriard Bio Power food waste recycling process.

 

Do you remember any difficulty in particular that KSN had to overcome?

We had to overcome many difficulties over the years, but the hardest one was a fire incident that occurred on July 14, 2011, a date I will never forget.

A fire broke out at the factory. I was at Sakai City Hall and had a business meeting scheduled for 1:00 p.m. When I pulled into the parking lot, I got a call about the fire and rushed back to the factory. When I arrived at the scene, there were already 30 fire engines ready to spray water on the factory. Fortunately, no one was injured. I thought, "If they spray water, everything will be ruined! And it'll be the end of the company." Many thoughts swirled around in my mind. More importantly, then I suddenly realized that If they spray water, the steam will cause an explosion! I asked the fire department not to spray water since there was a possibility that the facilities were filled with carbon monoxide, which could explode when the water is poured. I told them not to spray water, as the fire should go out by itself in an hour.

I then waited with the firemen until the fire was out. It took about a few hours.

The accident was widely reported and a helicopter from a TV station hovered around the scene. We were suspended from business for one month. In times like this, what is needed is a transparent response. We immediately posted an explanation of the situation and an apology on our website.

It’s been 10 years, but I still remember it vividly. I am sure the equipment would have been ruined if water had been poured on it. We replaced some of the parts that were damaged by the fire, but we are still using the same system. You can still see black spots here and there from soot left from that time. It was an immense learning experience.

SDGs no.7 is "Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all". What does KSN do to fulfill it?

As of 2021, we are producing 10 million kWh of renewable electricity and 14 million kWh of renewable gas per year from 50,000 tons of organic waste per year at our subsidiary Herriard Bio Power in the UK. All the electricity used in the production process is provided by our green power generation system, which supplies electricity to 2,200 nearby households.

 

Herriard Bio Power facilities where Food waste is converted into biogas.
Herriard Bio Power facilities where Food waste is converted into biogas.

 

By 2030, we will shift to a biogas business that uses biogas directly as gas, solving the issues that “traditional biogas” power generation faces, power storage and loss. For this purpose, we will upgrade and optimize the gas produced by our methane technology to concentrate natural gas (CNG) and liquefy it, to be used in carbon dioxide dosing in greenhouse horticulture.

While this doesn’t directly improve energy efficiency, by 2021 we will be receiving a total of 20,000 tons of organic waste per year and shipping 2,000 tons of the carbon material (fossil alternative fuel). This will result in a reduction of 1,000 tons of carbon fixation (net carbon), or about 4,000 tons of carbon dioxide on a primary energy basis.

Also, by 2030, we plan to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide by about 1.5 times compared to 2021. We will promote access to clean energy research and technologies, including renewable energy, energy efficiency, and advanced fossil fuel technologies with low environmental impact, and strengthen international cooperation to promote investment in energy-related infrastructure and clean energy technologies.

Research and development of technologies and operational know-how for "renewable electricity" and "renewable gas," with methane technology at the core, will be conducted through affiliates in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, two leading renewable energy countries. These technologies will then be standardized and deployed horizontally in other countries, to make this modern energy available to more people and fulfill SDGs No.7 goals.

And regarding Japan?

With the global need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, there is an urgent need for three initiatives to redesign our socio-economy, especially in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, to achieve the 2030 vision stated in the SDGs. These are the realization of a “decarbonized society”, a “circular economy”, and a “decentralized society”. Inside these initiatives, climate-friendly growth strategies, a gradual increase of the carbon price, the introduction of a carbon price to support sustainable growth, ESG (environmental, social, and corporate) investments, ensuring fair and equitable intentions for green transformation, and the prevention of carbon leakage (transfer of production of emission-intensive industries to countries with low carbon prices) will need to be tackled.

In Japan we are taking a major step forward as a company that creates renewable energy, focusing on our management resources on the carbon recycling business, with carbonization technology as the core. Renewable energy answers the social demand for clean energy, which we provide through carbon recycling and carbon sinks in greenhouses. We will accelerate our business development as a company that practices carbon neutrality by simultaneously providing energy sustainability and socio-economic development through businesses based on carbonization technology in Japan, and the creation of renewable electricity and renewable gas businesses based on methane technology overseas. At the same time, we aim to enter the carbon pricing market based on the carbon cycle, which is becoming institutionalized mainly in Europe.

Be it the UK or Japan, we will continue to work hard to make the world a better place by developing businesses that address environmental issues.

Please give a message to the next generation

Young people have dreams, hopes, desires, disappointments, and various thoughts in their corporate and private life. On the opposite side, I believe that it is important to always be aware of the gap between ideal and reality. I think you won’t know whether your life was fulfilling, regrettable, or useful to society until you have one foot in your coffin.

So until then, enjoy the reality of today and try to always make your tomorrow a little better.

 

Read more SDGs interviews by clicking here.

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