Kuraray has made the creation and expansion of new businesses a key management issue, especially in the environmental sector through the development of original technologies. To this end, the Company established the Environmental Business Development and Promotion Division in April 2009 to mobilize the collective efforts of the Kuraray Group. This Division will take steps to strategically expand "aqua" businesses.
Kuraray announces the development of a new ballast water management system as part of its recent efforts in this area:
Ballast water, which is sucked into a specialized tank in order to maintain balance on cargo ships, is often taken from a port in one country and discharged in the port of another. Such problems as the disruption of ecological systems after foreign plant and animal species have been introduced and the damage being wrought to fishing industries around the world are caused by the dispersal into the environment of non-indigenous aquatic plants and organisms contained within ballast water. For this reason, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) adopted a binding international agreement in February 2004 for mandatory ballast water management that mandates the installation of ballast water treatment equipment in ships.
Ballast water management systems are typically designed with a separation process (front-end process) for large-sized organisms that is made possible through filtration and centrifugation as well as a sterilization process (post process) for small and microscopic organisms through the use of chemical (active substances) and physical (ultraviolet rays, etc.) methods. Surveys reveal that there is a greater burden placed on the post process due to organisms not being sufficiently eliminated in the front-end process. This has led to a significant increase in the amount of active substances used and electricity required for ultraviolet ray usage.
Consequently, making full use of its filtration expertise accumulated from its industrial water treatment membrane business that began in 1976, Kuraray took steps to develop a ballast water management system involving high-precision filtration technology. Through this technology, Kuraray aims to make a contribution to global environmental preservation.
Combining both existing and new ships, it is said that the outlook for the ballast water management market will reach ¥2 trillion.
However, the mandatory installation of ballast water management systems in new ships (beginning with ships that have a ballast tank capacity of up to 5,000 m³), which was initially to commence in 2009, has been delayed. Presently, nearly all industry officials agree that this regulation will be applied sequentially from 2010 onward, if all goes as planned. Moreover, ballast water management systems are expected to become mandatory for all ships in 2017. With the expectation that the full-scale launch of this market will occur around 2012, Kuraray is making preparations to obtain system type approval in fiscal 2011, which is necessary for commercialization of its ballast water management system.
In addition to sales of the system, Kuraray's market concept includes a scheduled investigation into the establishment of storage depots for replacement parts and maintenance bases at major ports worldwide. Through these measures, the Company aims to achieve annual net sales of over ¥50.0 billion when this market peaks (in 2016, just prior to the mandatory implementation for all ships).
In general, it has been suggested that high-precision filtration cannot be applied to the treatment of ballast water in large volumes, ranging from several hundred to several thousand m³ per hour, for the following reasons:
In response to this, the use of a special filter that possesses high-precision filtration capabilities and a low degree of pressure loss, in combination with Kuraray's own operational expertise, results in a filter that surpasses the lifespan of conventional models.
To complement this filtration system, Kuraray for the first time has employed a solid chemical agent that can be stored at room temperature for ballast water treatment. This agent is used as an active substance for the elimination of small and microscopic organism. To date, active substances employed in this process have consisted of liquid chemical agents. However, these must be stored at low temperatures to prevent the deterioration of their chemical ingredients, leading to limitations in storage tank volume. In addition, there are systems that use electrolysis (producing hypochlorous acid), ultraviolet light and ozone during the sterilization stage. Yet in all cases, these pose challenges in terms of their potential impact on ship design, given the fact that ship-board power generators are unable to produce the large amount of electricity that is required and installation space would have to be increased. In response to these challenges, Kuraray has effectively alleviated the limitations to ballast water treatment systems in terms of safety, energy conservation and installation space, thanks to a special solid chemical agent that is easy to use. At the same time, the Company achieved a significant reduction in the volume of the agent that is required by pretreatment with the new unique filtration system.