Content - Innovation Areas in Focus

Biotechnology

Biotechnology is one of the strategic sectors which the Japanese government is particularly keen to promote. As a cross-cutting technology, it stimulates other sectors of the economy such as the pharmaceutical industry, agriculture, the chemical industry, and the environment industry.
Investment in biotechnology is increasing both from the state and from the private sector, with the main emphasis on the development and commercialisation of active ingredients and processes. The Japanese government has identified four key areas in its biotech strategy:  

  • pharmaceutical research
  • medical devices and procedures
  • stem cell research and new genetic materials
  • health-promoting food and food additives  

To make better use of university research findings, the establishment of start-up companies has been encouraged for a number of years, with considerable success. Japan now has around 600 companies in the biotech sector which have evolved as spin-offs from university research projects. This growing market promises foreign companies encouraging sales potential and opportunities for collaboration. German companies are able to benefit by supplying measurement, control and laboratory technology. At the same time, Japanese institutes welcome joint research opportunities with international partners in this age of globalisation. The main research centers and biotech companies are concentrated in technology clusters in the Tokyo conurbation (Chiba, Yokohama), in Osaka (Saiki) and in Kobe (Port Island).

Energy and Environmental Technologies

There are particularly good prospects for cooperation between German and Japanese organisations in the energy and environment industry, since in Japan Germany is considered to be a pioneer in the field of environmental engineering. Like Germany, Japan is keen to drive forward the climate process and is making great efforts to reduce CO2 emissions. It is committed to energy-efficient manufacturing methods, fuel cells, e-mobility, renewable energies, and nuclear technology. Its processing industry is one of the most energy efficient consumers worldwide. Even the automotive industry in recent years has invested heavily in the development of fuel-efficient engines, using hybrid technology for example. Consequently Japanese cars are now amongst the most environmentally friendly vehicles in the world. The electronics industry is also researching more energy efficient methods. Japan's Top Runner programme, which sets efficiency standards for a wide range of products, provides new impetus for research and promotes competition between companies. In the future, electrical devices such as PCs will be run on fuel cells. As far as renewable energies are concerned, solar technology is particularly well advanced in Japan. Japan remains the largest producer of solar cells in the world, though it lags behind Germany in the use of solar energy.

Japanese companies and research institutes are the driving force behind the development of new, more efficient technologies such as spherical or even multi-layered solar cells. In contrast, wind energy and biomass are still relatively undeveloped. However, wind energy in particular is thought to have significant potential. Large wind turbines are generally imported from Europe, although Japan has made significant advances in the development of small, highly efficient wind turbines. It's also worth noting that Japan has been generating power from geothermal for 40 years. However, it plans to rely on nuclear energy to meet its energy requirement, so nuclear research will still be seen as a field of innovation in the future. 

Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology is a highly significant field of innovation in Japan. The Nanotechnology Initiative launched with percipience by the government at the end of the 1990s has ensured that Japan now ranks as a world leader in this cross-cutting technology. Numerous state universities have also set up research programmes and are seeking to develop new applications. The main focus of Japanese nanotechnology research is the development of applications for the following sectors:

  • fuel cells
  • robots
  • consumer electronics
  • health
  • environment  

Japanese suppliers of nano materials and devices to produce structures at nano-level have already produced impressive results. Progress can be seen in the microscopic range and increasingly in the non-visible range as the use of nanotechnology to produce minute particles, and the processes and devices to manipulate them, are increasingly attracting attention as cross-disciplinary enabling technologies. The electronics industry is constantly in search of new materials and processes to further miniaturise semiconductors and other components, whilst at the same time increasing their performance. Numerous companies in Japan are involved in nano-printing and nano-processing. In other sectors, nanotechnology is helping to produce lighter components or materials with modified characteristics, for example in the aerospace and automotive industry.

Nanotechnology Researchers Network Center of Japan

Tsukuba Innovation Arena

Robotics

Robotics has been at the forefront of Japanese research for decades. Japan was the first country in the world to use robots on a large-scale in the production process. Manufacturing without robots is now unthinkable in the automotive and electronics industry, the principal users of robotic systems. Increased automation is enabling companies to keep production facilities in their own country. Japanese industrial robots are also in high demand throughout the world. Two thirds of the robots produced in Japan are sold on foreign markets. Private enterprises and research institutes are investing in the development of robotic technology and the testing of new applications. This trend is set to continue in Japan in the coming years due to demographic developments. Meanwhile scientists are tirelessly working on the development of the service robots. Although the majority of these are still prototypes, some interactive machines have already found a practical niche. Small numbers of assistant robots are sold in the nursing and medical sector. To retain their prominent position in robotic engineering, the companies will need to continue investing in the following areas in the future:

  • industrial robots
  • reconnaissance robots
  • transport robots
  • service robots / domestic robots
  • autonomous mobile robots
  • humanoid robots    

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