The EU-Japan Centre is pleased to start a new weekly service by publishing brief summary of the latest information from the Japanese governmental organizations & private companies/organizations. A couple of minutes reading to be informed about what is happening in Japan's policy, economy, EU-Japan relations, and innovation.

*Information is deemed correct at the time of release. 

JAXA, H3 rocket launch successful
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced on February 17 that it launched the second next-generation flagship rocket, H3, entered its target orbit, and completed its flight as planned. This is the first successful launch of H3. H3 was launched from Tanegashima Space Center (Kagoshima Prefecture) at 9:22 a.m. on February 17. Five minutes later, the second-stage engine, which had failed on the first plane, was successfully activated. It then ascended to its target orbit and launched two microsatellites.

This is the first successful launch of a completely new large rocket in Japan in 30 years, since the H2 in 1994. It has been 23 years since the current H2A, an improved version of the H2, first flew in 2001. Demand for rocket launches is increasing worldwide due to the increase in the number of communication satellites and security concerns. The number of launches worldwide in 2023 was 212, an 18% increase compared to 2022, and the highest ever. As space development competition intensifies among countries, the focus is on whether Japan can demonstrate its presence with the H3, which is both larger and lower in cost.

JAXA website:

Marubeni to produce recycled aviation fuel from household waste in Dubai
Marubeni will manufacture recycled aviation fuel (SAF) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE). The raw material is general waste such as household garbage. The company aims to complete initial research by the end of 2024 and start commercial production around 2030. The company has signed a memorandum of understanding regarding manufacturing research with two companies: Emirates National Oil Company, Dubai's state-run oil and gas company, and Basics (Belgium), which handles waste treatment in the country. Marubeni has invested in a company that manufactures SAF derived from general waste in the United States, and will provide its knowledge on SAF manufacturing, including plant construction and operational management. The annual production volume is currently being adjusted, but commercial production of SAF generally exceeds tens of thousands of kiloliters, and it is expected to be about the same amount. The UAE plans to replace 1% of its jet fuel demand with SAF by 2031, and is considering supplying it to airlines such as Emirates.

Marubeni website:

Mitsubishi Chemical develops biodegradable resin with more than 60% biomass and turns it into soil in 31 weeks
The Mitsubishi Chemical Group announced that it has developed a new biodegradable bio polyester resin with a biomass content of over 60% and high flexibility. It is expected to be used in a variety of applications, including food packaging, plastic bags, and agricultural mulch film. The developed resin achieved a high degree of biomass, flexibility, high tear strength, and excellent processability by combining biomass-derived monomers using the group's unique material design technology. Other features include high transparency and impact strength, and excellent compatibility with other biodegradable resins.

Since biodegradable resins are decomposed by microorganisms in nature, they can be expected to reduce the amount of garbage and CO2 emissions generated during incineration. According to the company's disintegration test conducted using compost, it was confirmed that most of the material had decomposed within 31 weeks. Sample work for this bio polyester resin has been carried out in Japan and Europe since January, and technology development is scheduled to begin in the United States in the future.

Mitsubishi Chemical Group website:

Idemitsu, ENEOS, Hokuden, one of the largest hydrogen production bases in Japan in Hokkaido
On February 20, Idemitsu Kosan, ENEOS, and Hokkaido Electric Power Company announced that they will begin consideration for constructing one of Japan's largest green hydrogen production bases in Tomakomai City, Hokkaido. The plan is to build a plant that will produce 10,000 tons of hydrogen per year around 2030. It will supply hydrogen to the surrounding industrial area and support local decarbonization efforts. The production cost of green hydrogen depends on electricity costs, so hydrogen produced in Japan, where there are few suitable areas for renewable energy, is expensive. However, Hokkaido has a limited demand for electricity, and the company determined that using surplus electricity to produce green hydrogen would be profitable.

Idemitsu Kosan website (in Japanese):

Five electric power companies transfer plutonium in France to Kyushu Electric and Shikoku Electric
On February 16, the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan announced a plan to process plutonium extracted from spent nuclear fuel into uranium-plutonium mixed oxide (MOX) fuel in France and then consume it. It will be used at the nuclear power plants of Kyushu Electric Power and Shikoku Electric Power from 2027 onwards. Both companies do not have plutonium in France that can be used immediately, and the five electric power companies that own it, including Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings (HD), will transfer it.

The major electric power companies are expected to have 40.1 tons of fuel by the end of fiscal 2023, and are trying to reduce their holdings by using MOX fuel. There are only four nuclear power plants in Japan that can operate using MOX fuel: Kyushu, Shikoku and Kansai Electric Power. This time, in order to reduce the amount held as soon as possible, companies that are not yet able to use the service cooperated. The Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan aims to have at least 12 nuclear power plants operating on MOX fuel by 2030. The plan announced on the same day aims to use 2.1 tons of plutonium in fiscal 2027 and approximately 6.6 tons per year by fiscal 2030.

The Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan website:

Azure adopted as computational resource for domestic LLM development project “GENIAC”
On February 16, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) announced that Microsoft's Azure will be used as a computing resource for the GENIAC (Generative AI Accelerator Challenge) project, which aims to develop domestic large-scale language models (LLMs). At the same time, METI has started recruiting additional businesses to participate in GENIAC.

GENIAC is a project led by METI that provides support such as securing computational resources for LLM development and subsidizing usage fees, as well as operating a community centered on LLM developers participating in the program. The aim is to accelerate LLM development by Japanese companies by procuring computational resources that are a bottleneck in LLM development and providing some subsidies. Seven companies have already been selected, including Preferred Elements, ABEJA, Stockmark, and the University of Tokyo. The seven existing companies will use Google's Google Cloud.

METI website (in Japanese):

Japan-Ukraine economic recovery promotion meeting held in Tokyo
On the morning of February 19, the government of Japan held the Japan-Ukraine Economic Reconstruction Promotion Council for the first time at the Keidanren Hall in Otemachi, Tokyo, to discuss recovery and reconstruction measures for Ukraine. They have set out a policy of providing focused support in a coordinated manner. A total of 56 cooperation documents were signed by organizations and companies from both countries to provide concrete support. The meeting was attended by approximately 300 people, including Prime Minister Kishida and Ukrainian Prime Minister Denis Shmikhaly, as well as government and business officials from both countries. The aim is to increase momentum for international support ahead of the 24th anniversary of Russia's invasion to Ukraine.

A joint statement was adopted between the two governments stating that “Japan will provide the necessary long-term support to ensure the stability of Ukraine's economy.'' The statement includes 1) conclusion of a new tax treaty to promote investment by Japanese companies, 2) relaxation of requirements for issuance of business visas for Ukrainian companies, and 3) establishment of the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) office in the capital Kiiv. Additionally, on the same day, the government eased travel restrictions to the capital Kiiv for Japanese companies and organizations involved in the recovery and reconstruction of Ukraine. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will maintain the highest level of evacuation advisory out of the four levels of danger information, while allowing travel under conditions such as thorough safety measures.

MOFA website:

SoftBank Group and Saudi government-affiliated company manufacturing industrial robots
SoftBank Group (SBG) announced on February 20 that it will establish a joint venture with a company affiliated with a Saudi Arabian sovereign wealth fund to manufacture industrial robots. The two companies will invest up to $150 million to establish a manufacturing base in the capital, Riyadh, with the aim of opening in December. It has entered into a strategic partnership with Alat, a subsidiary of the Public Investment Fund (PIF) led by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed. Utilizing the intellectual property of SBG and related companies, they aim to manufacture next-generation robots optimized for assembly, manufacturing, and production fields.

SoftBank Group website:

Chubu Electric Power and others create a roadmap for zero fossil fuels in the Galapagos Islands
On February 9, Chubu Electric Power announced that it will launch a project to support the creation of a roadmap toward zero fossil fuels in Ecuador's Galapagos Islands. It was commissioned by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) jointly with the Okinawa Electric Power Group and Nippon Koei. In this project, they will formulate a renewable energy development scenario, examine and propose grid stabilization measures and energy conservation measures in the Galapagos Islands. Specifically, in formulating renewable energy development scenarios, they will conduct potential surveys of solar and wind power generation as well as geothermal power generation.

In the Galapagos Islands, fossil fuel-based thermal power generation, mainly diesel power generation, accounts for the majority of the power source. Furthermore, the demand for electricity is expected to increase significantly in the future due to the population increase associated with the development of the tourism industry. Under these circumstances, the Ecuadorian government is focusing on environmental conservation in the Galapagos Islands, and is accelerating efforts to curb the use of fossil fuels, such as formulating an energy transition plan for the islands, with the aim of responding to sustainable development. 

Chubu Electric Power website:

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