The SDGs and other environmental issues are being addressed worldwide, and the energy industry is one of the areas that needs to be reformed. The process of producing electricity, which is indispensable in supporting people’s daily lives, places a heavy burden on the global environment and sometimes poses a great risk to us. The accident at the nuclear power plant caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake is emblematic of this risk.
Hideki Yoshino, President and CEO of Clean Planet, Inc., whom we interviewed this time, is among those who feel threatened by the current situation. He believes in the necessity of an energy revolution from a global perspective and is working hard to commercialize the safest and cleanest way to generate electricity. Why did this entrepreneur, who founded the English conversation school GABA when he was a student and later sold it, take on the challenge of the energy industry? In this article, we will discuss what kind of clean energy will change the future of the Earth, along with the story of Yasuhiro Iwamura, a specially appointed professor at Tohoku University.
・Developing countries, Canada, and the Great East Japan Earthquake – How the founder of GABA became involved in environmental issues
・Mr. Yoshino sees the potential of quantum hydrogen energy, a next-generation technology for generating power.
・The job of a manager is to communicate the vision and create the research environment.
・Finding the essential “mission” for realizing the vision
President and Representative Director, Clean Planet Co.
Born in Yokosuka City. Graduated from Kaisei High School and then from the University of Tokyo Faculty of Law.
While in college, he founded GABA Corporation to rebuild Japan’s competitive advantage based on language skills and encourage people to chase their dreams. GABA was the top-rated company in the Japanese education space in 2004 with Yoshino at the company’s helm as president. He then moved to Europe to complete his Master’s in Finance at the London Business School.
After witnessing the Great East Japan Earthquake, he retired from a career in investment. In order to re-establish Japan’s competitive advantage in energy, he started Clean Planet Inc. by reaching out to scientists around the world.
Research Fellow at Tohoku University. Father of two girls and one boy.
Specially appointed Professor, Condensed Matter Nuclear Reaction Research Division, Research Center for Electron Photon Science at Tohoku University. In 1990, Dr. Iwamura earned his doctorate in Nuclear Engineering from the University of Tokyo and joined Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ Basic Technology Laboratory. Dr. Iwamura has since been engaged in research on plasma utilization technology, neutron-based explosive detection technology, and condensed matter nuclear science, as well as research planning and management. Dr. Iwamura was awarded the Giuliano Preparata Medal from the International Society for Condensed Matter Nuclear Science (ISCMNS) in March 2004. Dr. Iwamura is currently involved in the research and development of quantum hydrogen energy generated by hydrogen and nanoscale metals.
Developing countries, Canada, and the Great East Japan Earthquake – How the founder of GABA became involved in environmental issues
Yoshino founded the English conversation company GABA when he was a student. This is what he had to say about how an entrepreneur in the English conversation industry came to be interested in environmental issues.
Yoshino:“The reason I originally wanted to found GABA was because I thought it was a shame that Japanese people, who have so much potential, could not express themselves in the global arena because they could not speak English. I thought that if we could be more proactive in sending out and absorbing information in English, Japanese people could be more active in the world.
After running GABA for about six years, I was able to establish the company to some extent, and so I passed the baton to people who could take it to the next stage. As for myself, I enrolled in a graduate school in London because I wanted to see and study more of the world. There, I was able to interact with a variety of people, and among them, I was particularly interested in what are referred to as ‘emerging markets’.”
Intrigued by emerging markets, Mr. Yoshino actually went to India and Brazil. What he saw there were large numbers of people and exhaust fumes.
Yoshino: “Anyway, I was overwhelmed by the number of people everywhere. During rush hour, it was like a huge river of people. At the same time, I was worried about the exhaust gas. I wondered if the Earth was being put at risk by such a high level of air pollution.
Later, I moved to Vancouver, Canada, with my family. There, environmental awareness is very high, and I began to recall vividly the scenery I witnessed in developing countries. The schools my children attended were also teaching them about environmental issues, and I myself became more and more aware of the need to use our limited resources with care.
From then on, I started to participate in projects related to environmental issues and became an environmental investor. When I was a student, I was satisfied with just making investments, but when I graduated from graduate school, I began to feel unsatisfied. I had always been involved in my own business, and my desire to start my own business grew stronger each day.”
While he was doing research around the world to find out what he should do and what he should devote his life to, the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 2011 occurred. Mr. Yoshino immediately returned to Japan with his family. When he rushed to the disaster area and saw that it was completely dark due to rolling blackouts and that people’s hearts were also sinking, he felt something well up inside him.
Yoshino:“The accident at the nuclear power plant was so dangerous that in the worst-case scenario, all the people in eastern Japan would have to move to western Japan. We just barely escaped the worst of it, but seeing the horrible situation in the affected areas, I felt strongly that we can’t leave the future of energy in the hands of something so dangerous.”
Arahama, Wakabayashi Ward, Sendai City, after being damaged by the tsunami
Mr. Yoshino sees the potential of quantum hydrogen energy, a next-generation technology for generating power.
After the Great East Japan Earthquake, Yoshino began a frenzied search for a way to generate power without emitting harmful substances or CO2 and without the risk of explosion. He went to meet various scholars, and several world-renowned scholars recommended that he go to an academic conference in Korea.
Yoshino:“Many scholars from more than 10 countries gathered at an academic conference held in Korea in 2012. It was there that I met Dr. Iwamura, a professor at Tohoku University. I felt that the ‘quantum hydrogen energy’ he was researching had the potential to overturn the history of mankind, so I established ‘Clean Planet’ as soon as I returned to Japan.”
Quantum hydrogen energy is a next-generation clean-energy technology that uses hydrogen as a fuel but has an enormous energy density more than 1,000 times greater than gasoline. Mr. Iwamura, who has been conducting research for more than 30 years and is known as an expert in the field, spoke with us in detail.
Iwamura: “Quantum hydrogen energy is a method of generating electricity by reacting hydrogen with metals. The phenomenon itself was announced in 1989, but it has long been regarded with skepticism because it is not reproducible due to lack of theoretical clarity. It is no wonder that scholars are not convinced by such a dream-like story of something that can generate vast amounts of energy safely and inexpensively with just simple equipment.
However, even though the theory has not been established, we have been able to establish a way to create the phenomenon in a reproducible manner. Although it is not yet practical, we have reached a point where we can stably produce the same amount of energy if the conditions are right. As more research is conducted and more attention is paid to the practical use of this technology, young and talented researchers will be able to clarify the theory as well.”
Until now, even scientists have frowned upon quantum hydrogen energy, and it has not been an attractive research topic. However, if its existence is proven and its practical use is promoted, Iwamura said, the number of scientists studying it should naturally increase. So what exactly is needed for practical use?
Iwamura: “Right now, we can reproduce phenomena under certain conditions, but if we want to put this technology to practical use, we need to be able to control it so that it can reproduce under various conditions. We need to be able to use the device in hot or cold environments, and if necessary, we may need to make the device more compact.
In any case, the basic research stage is almost complete, and all that remains is to control the phenomenon. We are just one step away from commercialization.”
The job of a manager is to communicate the vision and create the research environment.
Clean Planet is a start-up supported by scientists, including Dr. Iwamura. As a non-scientist, what is your role as a manager?
Yoshino:“Tech is king in this field, any way you slice it. If you don’t have technology, you can’t start anything, and if you have excellent technology, experts in each field will gather around you. Even if you want to attract experts in law or devices, you have to have leading technology.
To achieve this, it is the job of management to create an environment where researchers can immerse themselves in their research. There were times when I felt uneasy at first, but I kept thinking about what I could do to support them outside of research by reading many papers and visiting overseas research institutes.”
It is also said to be important to communicate the company’s vision in order to create an environment for research and to attract talented people. Yoshino continues to assert that there are certain things that he takes care of when communicating the vision.
Yoshino: “It’s not enough to communicate your vision blindly. Even if your message is picked up by the mass media, it will simply go in one ear and out the other. To communicate your vision, it is important to share it with people who are on the same wavelength. If people have a vision in the same direction, the business will progress by continuing to communicate the vision.
The same is true for communicating your vision to your team members you work with. As long as the goal to be achieved and the purpose of the work is shared, the professionals will work beyond your imagination. It is the same in my current role and also at GABA previously. The only thing management can do is to provide direction and cultivate the environment.”
Finding the essential “mission” for realizing the vision
Quantum hydrogen energy is on the verge of commercialization. We asked Mr. Yoshino when the most difficult time was for him thus far.
Yoshino:「“Things were really tough until recently. As Dr. Iwamura said, quantum hydrogen energy is a technology that, until recently, was thought to be a lie even by scientists. We were the only ones who believed in it, but we had to be patient. I think we were able to do this because we had the conviction to create this safe energy.”
Believing in his own mission, Yoshino has been running this far. However, few people can find their own mission and run with it. What does it take to find one’s own mission and put it into action?
Yoshino:“Nowadays, it seems like I am running toward my mission, but actually, after I sold GABA, there was a time when I was struggling to find what I wanted to do. I wondered what I was living for. During that time, I studied various things to broaden my horizons and visited the world on my own. In the end, I think what I learned was very helpful in finding my own mission.
Another important thing is to trust your instincts and just act. If it is not what you really want to do, you will stop when you hit a wall or when you hear a critical voice. However, if it is something you really want to do, you will stick to it no matter what people say, even if it is hard. I believe that in life, you have to keep trying until you come across something like that.”
Finally, we asked Mr. Yoshino to tell us what kind of future he sees for quantum hydrogen energy once it finds practical application.
Yoshino: “If quantum hydrogen energy can be put to practical use, it will be a power-generation technology that can replace all current power plants. The beauty of this technology is that it can generate power anywhere as long as there is a supply of hydrogen. Eventually, we will be able to deliver electricity to all areas of the world where people live. In the future, I would like to install a quantum hydrogen energy generator in every household, so that each household can provide its own electricity.”
This would be an evolutionary step in human history that would have an impact comparable to the discovery of fire. If we can create clean energy anywhere, we can free humanity from the shackles of economic development, war, and other risks. With the best of science at our disposal, the dream is getting closer. I would like to put this innovation to practical use as soon as possible, so that we can promote the discontinuous evolution of humanity.
・After passing the baton with GABA, Yoshino relocated to Vancouver, where he became increasingly aware of the need to carefully manage the use of non-renewable resources.
・In March 2011, the Great East Japan Earthquake struck while Yoshino was searching for his next move.
・Believing that quantum hydrogen energy may hold the potential to revolutionize the course of mankind, Yoshino established “Clean Planet.”
・The basic research on quantum hydrogen energy is almost complete, and practical application is within our reach.
・It is the job of the management of a technology startup to create an environment where researchers can immerse themselves in their research and to communicate the company’s vision.
・To find your own “mission,” learning about a wide range of topics, broadening one’s horizons, trusting one’s intuition, and executing are key.