KYUSHU UNIVERSITY 先生の森KYUSHU UNIVERSITY 先生の森

Carbon as a Savior of Earth : Looking a Century Ahead Toward the Creation of a Low-Energy Consumption Society Using Advanced Carbon Materials Carbon as a Savior of Earth : Looking a Century Ahead Toward the Creation of a Low-Energy Consumption Society Using Advanced Carbon Materials Institute for Materials Chemistry and Engineering Interdisciplinary Graduate School of Engineering Sciences Research and Education Center for Advanced Energy Materials, Devices, and Systems Professor Seong-Ho Yoon

Institute for Materials Chemistry and Engineering Interdisciplinary Graduate School of Engineering Sciences Research and Education Center for Advanced Energy Materials, Devices, and Systems Professor

Seong-Ho Yoon

Seong-Ho Yoon is one of the world leaders in the field of carbon resource science and an expert in how we can use it to develop a low-energy consumption society by taking the by-products that have long accompanied the consumption of fossil fuels like biomass, petroleum, and coal and turning them into renewable carbon resources. In 2016, he received the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Award (Technological Development Award) and is widely recognized for his global leadership in the sustainable use of fossil energy resources.

Seong-Ho Yoon is one of the world leaders in the field of carbon resource science and an expert in how we can use it to develop a low-energy consumption society by taking the by-products that have long accompanied the consumption of fossil fuels like biomass, petroleum, and coal and turning them into renewable carbon resources. In 2016, he received the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Award (Technological Development Award) and is widely recognized for his global leadership in the sustainable use of fossil energy resources.

Profile Details

Seong-Ho Yoon was born in Busan, South Korea. He attended Seoul National University in 1979 while the country was in the midst of its democratization process, and during his first year, was more engaged with student activism than with his studies. He was particularly active as a reporter for the university newspaper. From his second year onward, he became more concerned with his future and with finding stable employment for the sake of his family. After graduation and upon encouragement from his father, he went on to graduate school to study polymer science and obtained his master's degree in 1986 and completed his doctoral coursework in 1988. He married while still a student and completed six months of mandatory military service before joining POSCO, South Korea's largest steel maker, in 1988. The company soon recognized him for his outstanding performance, POSCO’s president handpicking him to work on the development of pitch-based carbon materials. That is how he discovered the research topic that would fascinate him for the rest of his career: advanced carbon materials from fossil resources. In 1991, he went in search of a better research environment and paid out of his own pocket to leave Korea and study at the Kyushu University Interdisciplinary Graduate School of Engineering Sciences. There, he studied under Professor Isao Mochida and earned a Ph.D. in Material Engineering in 1994. After graduation, he worked as a research assistant at the university's Institute for Materials Chemistry and Engineering. In 1995, he joined Hanwha Petrochemical Co., Ltd. (now Hanwha Total Petrochemical Co., Ltd.), a major South Korean corporation. However, when the country's economic crisis in 1997 forced the company to scale back its research efforts, Yoon moved to the USA. Though he returned to South Korea after just a year of research at Northeastern University, he decided to move back to Japan to continue his research work in a state-of-the-art environment under the tutelage of his mentor Professor Mochida. In 2001, he became an associate professor at the Kyushu University Institute for Materials Chemistry and Engineering and has held his current position since 2008.

What is your research about?What is your research about?

Professor Yoon was thoughtful and courteous in his responses to our questions. Despite his easy-going nature, Professor Yoon has shown a great deal of initiative and courage, having traveled abroad to both Japan and the US for the sake of his research.

Carbon Saves the Earth (CSE) is a symposium that is held between Japan, China, and South Korea. He has his students attend the conference, which he sees an important, borderless platform for information exchange.

The exhibition room of the Research and Education Center of Carbon Resources can be found on the second floor of Building E on Chikushi Campus. The space is filled with objects and displays about coke and coal. This photo shows raw coal from the Taiheiyo mine (more information here).

Professor Yoon was thoughtful and courteous in his responses to our questions. Despite his easy-going nature, Professor Yoon has shown a great deal of initiative and courage, having traveled abroad to both Japan and the US for the sake of his research.

Carbon—derived from fossil fuel resources—has long been used for everyday items like pencils, inks, and more. Yet researchers today have continued to study carbon, discovering new uses for it in many areas, especially in the manufacturing industry. Take pitch-based carbon fibers, for example, which are created by taking heavy oil or coal tar—by-products of petroleum and coal—and carbonizing them at high temperatures. The resulting carbon fibers are relatively light and strong, making them alternatives for reinforcing portable devices, buildings, bridges, and other objects where every ounce matters. They have many applications, for example in electric cars, robotic arms, and other smart devices.

Carbon Saves the Earth (CSE) is a symposium that is held between Japan, China, and South Korea. He has his students attend the conference, which he sees an important, borderless platform for information exchange.

Carbon materials created from the by-products of fossil fuels like coal play a vital role as a technical option in cutting-edge industries. However, since the start of the industrial revolution in 18th-century England, the world has consumed too much fossil fuel in order to generate energy. This is considered one of the major reasons for the severe environmental pollution we see today.

The exhibition room of the Research and Education Center of Carbon Resources can be found on the second floor of Building E on Chikushi Campus. The space is filled with objects and displays about coke and coal. This photo shows raw coal from the Taiheiyo mine (more information here).

Did you know that coke, a material that is formed by simple coal heating, is indispensable for steel manufacturing? However, steel must be manufactured at temperatures of more than 1,600 degrees Celsius. When iron ore (iron oxide) is turned into steel, coke is transformed into carbon monoxide, which results in large CO2 emissions. Until the end of the 20th century, developed countries in particular powered their economies with energy generated from enormous amounts of fossil fuels. Today, developing countries like China, India, and other Southeast Asian countries also rely on inefficient and excessive consumption of fossil fuels like coal for rapid economic development. This trend is expected to continue beyond 2050.

Fossil fuels are important resources that allow us to efficiently extract the raw materials we need for industry and generate the cheap energy we need to live. However, the earth holds limited reserves of fossil fuels, reserves that some predict will run out by the end of this century. That makes stable acquisition and efficient use of fossil fuels so crucial for future development that it is now a matter of national policy.

I want to solve carbon dioxide-related problems by developing advanced carbon materials for energy-saving and environmentally protective devices through the efficient use of fossil fuel by-products. I mainly do this by developing and applying novel high-functioning carbon materials. My major research interests are: (1) developing novel functional carbon materials and improving their performance for industrial uses (including carbon fibers, activated charcoal, and artificial graphite); (2) using coal and petroleum as energy sources with high efficiency (including coal gasification and petroleum reforming); (3) reducing air pollution by applying novel carbon materials for environmental remediation (including capacitors, absorption heat pumps, elimination of nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulphur oxides (SOx), and volatile organic compounds (VOC)); and (4) exploring the fundamentals of carbon structures to improve our academic understanding of such materials. I am planning to take advantage of into the research into hydrogen being done at Kyushu University by proposing associated research on coal gasification, which is the cheapest way to produce hydrogen.

Japan's carbon industry has always taken a leading role in the world when it comes to research and technology sharing. However, this position is now under threat from the rapid technological development and market expansion that we see in countries like China and South Korea. In light of this situation, I truly hope that we can revolutionize Japan's carbon industry by integrating nano-carbons and other manufacturing technologies that are based on conventional functional carbon materials. This should create novel advanced carbon materials that will improve performance and help bring down prices, expanding the market. I want to help the Japanese carbon industry maintain its leadership position by continuing my research on high-efficiency use of fossil fuels and development of carbon materials that aid in environmental protection.

Fossil fuel resources like biomass, petroleum, and coal are gifts from God. I believe that we can indeed create a zero-emissions society through the efficient use of those resources if we apply them with the utmost care. I want to do my utmost to make this happen.

The key to this research course is here!!The key to this research course is here!!

A Timeless Material:Solving Global Issues with the Profound Power of Industrial CarbonsA Timeless Material:Solving Global Issues with the Profound Power of Industrial Carbons

Around the world, scholars are conducting cutting-edge research on carbon. These days most scholars are paying attention to nanotechnology like carbon nanotubes, which were first discovered in Japan. However, the results of that cutting-edge research are actually relatively easy to manufacture. Compare that with research on the conventional carbons that remain after burning fossil fuels. Research on materials that has been with us since ancient times is rare because those materials are simply taken for granted. But that is precisely why we must understand carbon materials more thoroughly, and that is what I have been doing for the past 30 years.

I am satisfied knowing that my research is beneficial to humanity. To me, it is a mission. These days, China is eagerly pursuing a research agenda that pushes the practical uses of conventional carbon materials. Indeed, the country is on the cusp of overtaking Japan. China's dedication to this field highlights the fact that it knows how important carbon materials are for industry and for environmental protection, and wants to push hard to advance their technical development. Turning research results into practical applications is always hard, and that goes for research on conventional carbons as well. However, I believe Japan should work to maintain healthy competition with China while holding on to its position of leadership.

Carbon materials are made from the by-products of biomass, petroleum, and coal, which are given to us like gifts from the faraway past. As industry develops, we are constantly uncovering new functions and abilities of these materials. And that is what makes carbon research so appealing and interesting: the fact that it is both old and new. I'm confident that our efforts can lead to the discovery of novel carbon materials that can sustain Japan's state-of-the-art manufacturing industry.

Studying at Kyushu UStudying at Kyushu U

I think it's important to create an environment in which students can learn through liberal thinking and close relationships that are based on mutual cooperation with others. Half of the students in my laboratory come from abroad. Many of them return to their home countries upon graduation to work with local universities, industry, and politics. Many talented young people in Asia look to the US as a study-abroad destination, but I think Japan should do more to publicize the many academic fields in which it is actually ahead of the US. However, many Japanese people aren't aware of their own country's strengths and weaknesses. I believe that once we host more foreign students and participate in more exchanges and other projects with foreign universities, we will rediscover Japan's strengths and find out how to grow even further. I think Kyushu University is doing a good job of creating an excellent environment that remedies this situation.

DAILY SCHEDULEDAILY SCHEDULE


OFFの1コマ

On Sundays, the professor and his wife spend the day in a leisurely fashion, shopping and visiting bookstores. If he decides to go mountain climbing, he takes some leave and heads off on Friday evening to one or other of his favorite mountains in other parts of the country, camping out in the mountains with friends from the area. Professor Osanai also enjoys picking and cooking edible wild plants. His specialty is pasta made with rawanbuki, the biggest variety of giant Japanese butterbur! These plants are so big that “standing under a rawanbuki makes you feel like one of the korpokkur of Ainu legend,” says the professor, referring to the little people whom the indigenous people of Hokkaido believe lived under the leaves of ordinary butterbur plants.On Sundays, the professor and his wife spend the day in a leisurely fashion, shopping and visiting bookstores. If he decides to go mountain climbing, he takes some leave and heads off on Friday evening to one or other of his favorite mountains in other parts of the country, camping out in the mountains with friends from the area. Professor Osanai also enjoys picking and cooking edible wild plants. His specialty is pasta made with rawanbuki, the biggest variety of giant Japanese butterbur! These plants are so big that "standing under a rawanbuki makes you feel like one of the korpokkur of Ainu legend," says the professor, referring to the little people whom the indigenous people of Hokkaido believe lived under the leaves of ordinary butterbur plants.

The Teacher's Must-have Items!The Teacher's Must-have Items!

Refillable Lighter

Pitch-based carbon fibers are made by spinning and carbonizing pitch. That means fire is a necessity to check the state of various carbons!

Iron Spatula

This tool is both a spoon and a spatula. Coke, a fuel made from coal, is placed on the tool and heated with a rechargeable lighter to observe its current state. It is also used when crushing coke to measure its size.

Whiteboard & Markers

Day after day, Professor Yoon experiments by modifying the amount of coke and the temperature at which it is heated. The results are different every time. He explains the complexities of the process to his students using a whiteboard.

Message to the StudentsMessage to the Students

Research for the Benefit of Others,
No Matter How Small the Question

I often tell my students that they should do research that they would be glad for God to see. The world we live in was originally nothing. God made something out of nothing, He made order out of chaos, and that process is what we call God's Creation. To me, science means discovering and making sense of the order created by God. There are times when I feel that I'm moving into research territory that God does not want us to explore just yet. This often happens in the scientific world. What I want to do in our laboratory is to develop and commercialize things that are useful to people, within the boundaries of what God will allow. All research starts from a single question: "Why?" This is the most important question there is. The question kindles in us an instinctive curiosity that cannot be denied. Questions, and the state of confusion and disorder they represent, are gifts from God. It's crucial that we give serious thought to even the smallest of questions and look for the answers ourselves. It's also crucial to try anything, without forgetting to feel grateful. Research is a process of creation aimed at helping people live better lives.

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