By Craig Bouchard, Ecolution kWh
President Joe Biden’s clean energy website leads off with this statement:
“At this moment of profound crisis, we have the opportunity to build a more resilient, sustainable economy – one that will put the United States on an irreversible path to achieve net-zero emissions, economy-wide, by no later than 2050.”
On the other side of the world, Japan’s “Green Growth Strategy” is an action plan in place to drive Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s October pledge to eliminate carbon emissions on a net basis by 2050.
What about the other members of G7; namely Canada, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom? Germany’s Angela Merkel, France’s Emmanuel Macron, the United Kingdom’s Boris Johnson, and Canada’s Justin Trudeau have also all called for their nations to achieve net-zero carbon by 2050.
China, which strives to be a prominent world leader, is not in the lead on net-zero carbon. President Xi has called for the nation of China, one of the world’s leading polluters, to achieve net-zero carbon objectives by 2060. Many believe this to be an impossible goal as China currently accounts for roughly 75% of the world’s total coal consumption.
It is rare that the heads of all seven members of the G7 agree on anything related to the environment. With China’s support, at least on the PR side, the world’s top eight leaders are in consensus. So, the race is on. Which of these countries has the best chance of becoming the leader of the pack?
I discount Germany, France, and the UK in the net-zero carbon race due to their powerful industrial complex which contributes to a lack of political conviction and reliance on carbon to fuel their economies out of the devastating effects of the pandemic. However, I do believe these countries are making progress on alternate fuel technologies, with the UK leading the pack in wind power and China and Japan investing in Hydrogen cell technologies. I also view Canada positively, but it is currently tied too closely to oil and lacking in technological entrepreneurs.
Ultimately, I believe the net-zero carbon race will be won by the United States or Japan, with Japan in the pole position. My reasons for this are steeped in culture; not just the technology, which both countries have in abundance. Much of this reasoning stems from my own experiences living in Tokyo immersed in the close culture of 200 Japanese traders working hard for me in very close quarters. This even inspired me to write a children’s novel based on the experience.
About energy: I believe nuclear power to be a never-ending nightmare and support its total dismantling and ban as an energy source on earth and in space. Japan is in a serious environmental transition. A decade after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident, the affected areas are struggling with a new normal. After the tragedy, many of my friends dropped everything and rushed there to help. A decade later much help is still needed. Residents who returned after evacuation orders were lifted are still without clean air and power. Global environmentalists continue their search for ways to return the beautiful ocean and countryside in the Fukushima Province of Northern Honshu to a clean, sustainable environment. The path forward is not obvious, and the problem remains a festering wound in the psyche of the nation. On the positive side, healing this wound may be the key to a startling rebuild of Japan post-pandemic with the world’s cleanest environment.
What Happened in Fukushima?
To understand why Fukushima might be the key to a sustainable Japan, we need first to look at what caused the disaster. In March 2011, the record 9.0 Tohoku earthquake churned up a tsunami that hit the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, located about 150 miles north of Tokyo. Up to 200,000 residents were evacuated as nuclear radiation spewed from the power plant into the surrounding community and was carried by wind and water as far away as Los Angeles, California resulting in a global disaster.
The Japanese government decided to allow residents to return and had lifted almost all evacuation orders by 2019. While the long-term effects of radiation have not yet shown to be totally safe, many have made the painful decision to move back to their homeland. In fact, the no-entry zone only covers about three percent of the total affected area.
In late 2019, the Japanese government stated that debris removal from the beleaguered nuclear power plant would take place at the start of 2021. However, those plans are now delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent labor restrictions. In addition, Typhoon Hagibis hit the area in October 2019, causing further damage and delays. Then things got worse.
This January, Japan Today reported further devastating news:
A draft investigation report into the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant meltdown, adopted by Japanese nuclear regulators, detected dangerously high levels of radioactive contamination at two of the three reactors, adding to concerns about decommissioning challenges. Nuclear Regulation Commission Chairman Toyoshi Fuketa called the findings “extremely serious” and said they would make melted fuel removal “more difficult.”
Nevertheless, one thing remains abundantly clear. Rebuilding the remote Northern parts of Honshu Island cannot continue without a reliable power source, which isn’t available. That’s where Ecolution kWh may come in.
What is Ecolution kWh?
A culmination of work between myself and fellow co-founders Johnny Then-Gautier and Johanne Medina resulted in a scientific discovery in 2016 that enables the conversion of wasted kinetic energy in moving vehicles into electrical energy. In 2020, our invention received a patent in the United States. Just last month, we received a patent in China. This month we received notice of approval of our global PCT patent claims for the generation of power in train cars. Our invention makes possible the last and possibly greatest frontier of the alternative energies with the potential to be economically larger than solar and wind technology combined.
The transportation sector is responsible for roughly 20% of emissions in developed countries. Therefore, all roads to achieving net-zero carbon flow through e-mobility and recovering the lost energy from trailers, trains, subways, ships, and planes. The obvious first use of the technology is to turn a train or subway car into a power plant able to move energy to where it is most needed. Once there, the energy can be distributed into a train station high-energy-density battery pack, or into the grid for use in powering the commercial and municipal businesses of a town. Initial estimates rendered by Ecolution’s large engineering partners suggest that one train car stopping in multiple locations over a 24-hour period could generate and store as much as five-megawatt hours of power. From those estimates, we immediately think of Japan, the world’s uncontested leader in trains, and home to 15 of the 20 busiest train and subway stations in the world.
Shinjuku Station and Tokyo Station (where 4000 trains arrive and depart each day) are the two busiest train stations in the world. Each could one day become a world leader in storing and distributing energy. There are roughly 60,000 train cars operating daily in Japan including commuter cars, freight cars, and the Shinkansen, not including subway cars. If roughly 8000 train cars were outfitted with the Ecolution technology, the combined power generation and storage could equal that which reached the consumer from the two gigawatts lost at the Fukushima nuclear plant. It becomes easy to imagine trains running north to Fukushima generating the power required to rebuild the region, with train stations becoming the e-mobility headquarters of each town along the way. It’s then possible to imagine Shinjuku Station, Tokyo Station, and others powering much of Tokyo. The question is: can a nation change? I certainly think so.
Many private rail companies in Japan rank amongst the largest corporations in the country. The railways were built by private companies developing integrated communities along the rails which allowed the rail companies to develop an entrepreneurial spirit not shared by other big railroad companies around the world. The Japanese rail companies diversified into real estate and retail businesses, becoming profitable and integral parts of the community.
Where patronage declined and became unprofitable, they were sized down or eliminated. An example? The 108-kilometer Sanko line serving, of all places, Hiroshima, is just one. It was shut down as recently as March 31, 2018. Before that, the JNR shut down many lines in Hokkaido and Kyushu. Perhaps that should now be rethought. They could become rolling power grids with reasonably limited capital investment.
About the Ecolution “MARS” Technology
Short for Module Active Response System, the MARS unit generates electrical energy by transforming lost kinetic energy in a moving vehicle into electrical charge using an alternator or a generator. The device, which can be retrofitted onto a train or subway car, creates energy in any vehicle movement scenario including acceleration, steady speed, or decelerating modes. Take, as an example, a 20-million-pound train. It uses an enormous amount of energy to reach even a speed of 50 kilometers per hour. Then it stops at a station and all that energy is wasted. Our technology recycles it.
Electric cars use a technology called “regenerative braking” to create electricity as the car stops. In Japan, JR East, Toyota, and Hitachi are developing hydrogen cell technology to utilize regenerative braking to generate electricity in train cars. Ecolution’s technology is complementary and additive to this exciting prospect. In the MARS system applied to trains, subways, or even trailers being hauled by trucks, the most energy-efficient mode is clearly recapturing energy in deceleration mode, where no carbon is being used to create electric energy. But MARS also can produce energy in steady-state and in the acceleration of the vehicle. In deceleration mode, it is clean, emission-free energy, which also slows the vehicle considerably, thus reducing wear on the braking components of the train. The MARS power generating device is connected to a rotation mass, typically a brake disc or brake drum modified to drive a belt or a chain connecting the alternator and the brake device.
Once the electrical energy is created, it is inverted from AC voltage to DC voltage and then stored in a battery storage array. It is expected that the system can be scaled up or down based on the power levels requested by the customer for that application as the basic principles are largely interchangeable.
At scale, a network of one to two thousand train cars with this system installed could potentially generate sufficient power to avoid the construction of any more 500 megawatt nuclear or traditional coal or natural gas electrical power plants. The end game is the ability to supply local town centers with the affordable clean energy they need through their train stations. The technology can also be used to reduce carbon emitted by diesel trucks, refrigerated trailers, or refrigerated train containers.
Why is our mission so critical? A flame first needs a spark. Around the globe, smart cities must be designed to accomplish net-zero carbon goals. By developing technologies that enable clean electric power to be moved to where it is most needed, the goal suddenly becomes possible. The critical question in Japan will be: Can companies like The JR Group, Tobu, Nihon Express, Toyota, Hitachi and others grasp the profound implication of becoming clean energy companies, propelling their nation towards a sustainable future, and winning the race to net-zero carbon? Could Japan’s shut-down rail lines be brought back to form a national micro-grid of electricity, in the process creating the most dominant clean energy company in the world? Some of America and Japan’s greatest inventors just might have thought this to be a good idea.
Tanaka Hisashige, is fondly referred to as the Thomas Edison of Japan. He was the Japanese rengaku scholar, engineer, and inventor who in 1875 founded what is today the Toshiba Corporation. Converting a train company into an energy company will require a large investment in high energy density batteries. What if the massive number of batteries needed to store energy on trains and in train stations came from… Toshiba? Toshiba is today a world leader in battery technology.
Thomas Edison was one of America’s greatest inventors, renowned globally for his invention of the incandescent light bulb. Yet, the success of his bulb was enabled, in part, by an essential component he found only in Japan. After months of research, Edison found that a filament made of bamboo from Yawata City, Kyoto could burn for over 1200 hours – better than any other material tested. Edison was a celebrated friend of Japan.
Edison’s assistant was a brilliant young engineer named Yoshiro Okabe. Okabe was a second sub-lieutenant in the Imperial Japanese Navy and a first mate on an English ship. He caught typhoid fever while that ship was anchored in New York City, recovered there, and went to work for Edison in Menlo Park, New Jersey. Okabe brought Edison to Japan, became an industrialist, and established the steel industry in Kobe before World War 2. He became wealthy repairing ships for Northern Europe before being killed in Kobe during a US air raid during the war.
The E-linkage between America and Japan is a century in the making. We have enjoyed the pure genius of inventors born in both countries. It will be fascinating to observe the race for preeminent leadership in repairing our environment. Net-zero carbon by 2050 must happen. I’m placing my wager (and hope) on Japan. If the Japanese reach net-zero carbon emissions before the others, it may well be because of a national determination to fix the tragic nuclear accident in a remote region of Northern Honshu.