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Emerging Technology Report #30: October 31, 2002

Industry-University Collaboration to Support Biofuel Cell Technology Research in Japan

Global Emerging Technology Institute

A recently announced industry-university research collaboration arrangement will likely support bio-fuel cell technology research in Japan. The Research Institute of Innovative Technology for the Earth (RITE), a non-profit research organization based in Kyoto, has played a central role in the establishment of the Bio Electron Research Consortium in an attempt to develop several research projects. A dozen high-technology companies such as Kansai Electric, Toray, Sharp and Horiba, as well as the University of Tokyo and Kyoto University will take part in the consortium. The research consortium will carry out several projects including the development of next-generation equipment that tests and monitors biological functions and mechanisms.

The consortium plans to promote research into developing micro fuel cells that will use hydrogen synthesized by special bacteria. Genetic engineering will be used to enhance the bacteria's capability to synthesize hydrogen. The research consortium also plans to develop highly efficient solar cells based on the photosynthesis mechanism of plants and highly sensitive bio sensors capable of detecting environmentally harmful substances. It is expected that a number of projects stemming from this research will be launched in fiscal 2003.

In the US, research on the construction of a bio-hydrogen fuel cell employing environmental sources of carbohydrates is being carried out at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. Their research objective is to develop the technology so it can be utilized for the operation of sensors that do not require much power in order to operate. News coverage regarding RITE research efforts recently mentioned the possibility of developing bio-fuel cells that would enable a laptop computer to run 24 hours. The feasibility of the aforementioned, when reviewed, looks limited given the bacteria's ability to synthesize hydrogen.

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