Poverty in developing countries is the main target of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Among the causes of poverty, water pollution and starvation are urgent issues directly related to human life. Since there are various other factors of poverty such as the vulnerability of economic infrastructure and the imbalance of educational opportunity, a comprehensive solution based on multidisciplinary approaches is required.
In this project, we propose "Plankton Eco-engineering" as a new interdisciplinary research field to contribute to environmental conservation and the elimination of hunger in developing countries through constructing a sustainable recycling society. Plankton Eco-engineering ranges from science & engineering research (e.g., environmental restoration and biomass production) to humanity research (e.g., commercialization, business modeling, and education) in order to enrich human society with the power of plankton such as Chlorella and Spirulina.
The science & engineering team aims to develop energy & nutrient recovery, biomass production, and useful bioproduct production technologies that are suitable for developing countries. Meanwhile, the economics and education team aims to commercialize plankton-based products, and to educate young local engineers and entrepreneurs. By conducting practical education for Soka Univ. students, we will establish a brand as "a university which produces a person capable in international society".
B. Research themes
To construct a sustainable recycling society that contributes to environmental conservation and the elimination of hunger in developing countries, four research themes were decided.
- Two themes by the science and engineering departments and graduate schools: (1) Development of energy & nutrient recovery system from waste and wastewater, and (2) Development of conversion system from nutrients into useful material with local plankton.
- Two themes by the humanities departments and graduate schools: (3) Development of international value chain for commercialization of plankton products, and (4) Implementation of environmental & economic education for young engineers, researchers, entrepreneurs.
We will carry out the project in two phases: Phase 1 (1st – 3rd years) as information gathering and basic research, and Phase 2 (4th – 5th years) as social implementation.
As a model case of developing countries, Ethiopia was selected. About a quarter of the population of Ethiopia is said to be undernourished, but it is considered as an important food production base of the countries in the surrounding area. It is also the center of African diplomacy, where many headquarters and regional offices of international organizations such as the African Union (AU) and the United Nations African Economic Commission (UNECA) are located, and the suitability as a model case for this project is high. In this project, we will propose a roadmap for the formation of a recycling society using solar energy and biological resources of developing countries located in the San Belt area.
[Research theme 1]: Research and development of energy and nutrient recovery technology from waste and wastewater suitable for developing countries
Methane fermentation is an energy-saving waste/wastewater treatment method that can simultaneously create energy, and thus expected to spread in developing countries. However, effective biogas recovery using inexpensive methane fermentation tanks are difficult because decomposition efficiency is low due to insufficient stirring. At our Graduate School of Engineering, we have been engaged in the research and development of methane fermentation technology through R & D on Biomass Resource Recycling Utilization Technology (Private University Strategic Research Base Formation Support Project, 2009-2013). Since 2014, we have conducted collaborative research and development on methane fermentation technology with Ethiopia and Jimma University, and we are currently carrying out field trials as an international collaborative research project (2016-) of our Faculty of Science and Technology. In this project, we will develop an inexpensive, non-powered stirring methane fermentation tank.
[Research theme 2]: Research and development of biomass • valuable resource production technology by local plankton
Phytoplankton utilize solar energy, CO2, and nutrients for growth. Thus, phytoplankton can play an important role to convert nutrients into plankton-based valuable products. Phytoplankton-derived proteins are used as highly functional feed and food whereas valuable bioproducts such as pigments and antioxidants are commercialized as natural colorants, cosmetics, and health supplements. Currently, due to the Convention on Biological Diversity, export and import of biological resources is restricted, we will explore valuable plankton species (Chlorella, Spirulina, Haematococcus etc) locally produced and establish valuable production technology. At the Graduate School of Engineering, we are developing a new reactor to mass cultivate local phytoplankton in Malaysia and conduct research on valuable production methods (JST-JICA SATREPS, 2016-2020). In addition, the development of microfluidic disks that facilitate the isolation of microorganisms (private university strategic foundation research support project, 2010-2014), sugar chain science research (JST Life Science Database Integration Promotion Project, 2017-). In this project, we will integrate these technologies to isolate locally produced plankton, mass culture, search for functional substances, and conduct research and development on nutrient salt recovery, mass culture, valuable resource production technology.
[Research theme 3]: Proposal and construction of international value chain for commercialization of plankton-based products
To effectively utilize materials produced by plankton, the value chain of phytoplankton-derived products should be established in cooperation with JETRO and local NGOs. In our university's undergraduate and graduate school classes, we are trying to improve the practical research and analysis capabilities by utilizing the PDCA cycle. As a result, we have attended and hosted a variety of business contests, and some proposed business models were actualized in local NGO activities. In this project, Soka University students will collaborate with international organizations, such as local NGOs, to gather information about local needs and opportunities. The information will be used to establish an international value chain and to propose base of pyramid (BOP) businesses.
[Research theme 4]: Environmental and economic education for local young engineers, researchers, entrepreneurs
To promote the construction of the plankton-based sustainable recycling society, it is important to involve local residents, engineers, researchers, and entrepreneurs. At our university, active learning is introduced through collaborative educational research promotion project (Private University Strategic Foundation Research Support Project, 2013-2015). We have also tackled education in developing countries through a teaching material development project for improvement of nutrition in Zambia (Alliance Forum Foundation, 2015) and a guidance development project for early secondary science education in Cambodia (JICA, 2000-). In this project, we will conduct environmental and economic education to improve the environmental consciousness of residents and train up local entrepreneurs by supporting local students to study at Soka University and holding local workshops with international organizations such as the United Nations and NGOs.
C. Expected Contributions of Research
[Environment and health]
By treating waste and wastewater released to the environment, the natural environment and public health would be improved and the health of local residents would be improved (Theme 1 & 2). Since phytoplankton has high nutritional value, if it is commercialized as highly functional feed or health supplement, it will lead to improvement of nutrition of the poor (Theme 2 & 3).
[Education for Soka students and the locals]
This project will contribute to the development of creative human beings aimed at the university through on-site survey and business plan proposals (Theme 3). By providing high-quality practical education, capacity development of local researchers and engineers will be possible (Theme 1, 2 & 4). Exchange among our students, faculty and staff, local residents, the United Nations, NGOs etc. will lead to the formation of platforms for young researchers and establishment of international partnerships (All themes).
[Formation of industrial infrastructure]
Establishing an international value chain of plankton-based products is expected to create new industries in developing countries, and the local entrepreneurs are expected to create jobs in the area (Theme 2, 3 & 4).
Phytoplankton biomass and valuable material production system utilizing solar energy and local biological resources can be developed horizontally in developing countries of the San Belt area (All themes).