The Chemical Daily recently conducted a round of interviews with the heads of R&D divisions of major Japanese chemical companies. For this installment, we talked with Jinichi Igarashi, currently president of JX Nippon Research Institute Ltd. (resigned from director and senior VP of JXTG Nippon Oil & Energy Corp on March 31).
Amid the once-in-a-century paradigm shift known as the fourth industrial revolution, or Society 5.0, JXTG has been thinking about what sort of company it should be going forward, Igarashi said. This has seen JXTG settle on a detailed strategy through its R&D division, he explained, with the direction of this being to look at how the company can contribute to a low-carbon society.
As one pillar of this strategy, Igarashi said, JXTG is conducting technological development for crude-to-chemicals processes. These see crude oil converted into raw materials and chemicals rather than being burned.
One example given by Igarashi here is that JXTG has completed technology for high-severity fluid catalytic cracking (HS-FCC), a process able to efficiently produce propylene from heavy oil. He noted that commercial facilities making use of this are already operating at an overseas refinery in which a stake is held by JV partner Saudi Arabian Oil Co., commonly known as Saudi Aramco.
But this sort of technological development takes significant time, Igarashi said. He explained that JXTG is as such looking 10–20 years into the future and continuously developing technologies to this end – looking here to efficiently convert petroleum fractions to chemicals that have high added value, such as butadiene and aromatics.
Another major pillar of JXTG’s strategy going forward incorporates hydrogen-focused efforts for a low-carbon society, Igarashi said. At present, he said, the company is making progress here by rolling out hydrogen stations able to supply hydrogen to fuel cell vehicles, as well as by developing technologies for more efficient hydrogen transport and storage.
Going forward, JXTG is also looking into a range of technologies aimed at establishing a supply chain for CO2-free hydrogen, Igarashi said. One example he gave here is electrolytic reduction technology able to directly produce methylcyclohexane – an organic hydride that serves as a prominent hydrogen carrier – from toluene and water by using electricity. Igarashi said that this technology will facilitate the long-distance transportation and long-term storage of power generated from renewable energies such as wind and solar.