Takao Fukuma has been working on the diesel engine for the Japanese automobile manufacturer Toyota for 25 years. For a long time this made him something of a rarity in a country where the petrol engine dominates the car market. He is now devoting his time to industrial collective research, because researchers and developers in the Land of the Rising Sun have realised how much dynamism can be generated when experts join forces.
Takao Fukuma pauses and thinks for a moment. Then he leans forward again and says emphatically: ‘If we want to achieve our aim of reducing carbon dioxide emissions, then we need the diesel engine.’ Even though many experts in Europe share Fukuma’s view, it is nonetheless remarkable. That’s because Fukuma works for the Japanese automobile manufacturer Toyota, and in his native land the diesel engine only enjoys a market share of between two and three per cent among all newly registered cars. The situation is quite different in Germany, where one in six Toyota vehicles sold is fitted with a diesel engine – among some German manufacturers sales of petrol and diesel models are even equal. ‘But we need a fast and affordable solution for removing nitrogen oxide from diesel exhaust gases,’ demands Fukuma. ‘We are yet to achieve the technological breakthrough.’
Fukuma can often be seen at Toyota’s European research centre in Brussels
The man from Japan has experience of difficult problems. While studying at the Musashi Institute of Technology, part of Tokyo City University, his doctoral thesis focused on the direct injection of hydrogen into combustion engines. ‘That was the toughest time of my life,’ says Fukuma. ‘At the university and in my small apartment nearby I worked almost every day for 18 hours, even at the weekend. I used the remaining six hours to sleep.’ He ate in the refectory or around the corner in one of the numerous fast-food establishments in the Tokyo district of Oyamadai. It should be noted that Fukuma learnt the art of discipline and determination much earlier: as a ten-year-old he started to learn Kendo, a modified form of Japanese sword fighting in which the combatants compete against each other with bamboo swords and heavy protective armour. ‘In the winter we used to run barefoot across the cold hall floor in the mornings, and the head protection with the metal grille was particularly heavy for us young boys to carry,’ he says. ‘But in this sport you learn to concentrate carefully on a specific goal.’ To this end, those who practise the sport train in three areas: they work on their mentality, their physique and their sword fighting technique.
Fukuma completed his doctoral thesis in 1987 and began working for Toyota, initially involved in developing mass-production lean-burn petrol engines for the European market. But after just four years he turned his attention to the diesel engine, initially overseeing the development of the engine control unit and then the aftertreatment of exhaust gases. ‘At the time we were introducing the common-rail engines and making them compliant with the requirements of the Euro 5 and Euro 6 emissions standards,’ explains Fukuma. ‘The longer we spent optimising the engines, the more it became apparent to us that we would not be able to meet the ever stricter requirements with individual measures, but instead would have to look at the system as a whole.’ Yet while calculation methods are already available for common-rail fuel injection and exhaust gas recirculation, the roles of the particulate filter and denitrification can only be modelled with difficulty, because complex chemical processes are involved. ‘We are talking about conflicting goals here. Certain measures aimed at reducing the particulates lead to higher nitrogen oxide values and vice versa.’
Faced with such issues, researchers and developers in Japan are now resorting to an approach that they learned about in Germany: precompetitive joint research. ‘That is a really new idea here in Japan. There has previously been little dialogue between the universities and the research departments of the various companies,’ says Fukuma, who now works on behalf of Toyota at the Automotive Internal Combustion Engines (AICE) Research Association, among other things as chairman of the research committee for aftertreatment of exhaust gases. Nine Japanese automobile manufacturers and two research institutes founded the AICE in 2014 to conduct joint research based on the model of the German Research Association for Combustion Engines (known as the FVV). Since then, there have been regular meetings between the AICE and the FVV at symposiums and conferences in Europe and Japan. ‘Even though we are only just starting out, we have already noticed how much strength and dynamism can be generated when experts from various companies and research establishments join forces,’ reports Fukuma. ‘We can effectively develop new technical solutions here as a result of the high number of experts alone. Within the individual companies there are often only two or three people who possess extensive knowledge of a specific subject.’
The AICE also sends engineers from the member companies to the universities. That is why Fukuma – who likes to go on cycle and boat tours around Suruga Bay, not far from Shizuoka, in his spare time – currently has another job lecturing as guest professor for Toyota at Waseda University in Tokyo. ‘That is what drives me – apart from my Toyota Landcruiser,’ he says with a smile. Fukuma wants to get young people interested in technological challenges. ‘There is a big difference between someone believing that they have to solve a problem because they see it as their duty and wishing to solve a problem of their own volition.’ On a personal level, he still wants to learn German and has returned to the classroom at the Goethe Institute in Tokyo. There are exams coming up, he says, sounding as if he wishes to remind himself that he still has quite a bit to do.
Photo Credit: FVV | Rui Camilo
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Takao Fukuma was born and raised in Tokyo. He gained his bachelor’s degree in 1982, his master’s degree in 1984 and graduated as a Doctor of Science in 1987 at the Musashi Institute of Technology, part of Tokyo City University. Fukuma has been working for the Toyota Motor Corporation ever since. Between 1987 and 1991 he worked on lean-burn concepts for the petrol engine. He then was responsible for the development of diesel engine control units and the aftertreatment of exhaust gases, overseeing the introduction of the common-rail engines and ensuring compliance with emissions standards. Fukuma currently works on behalf of Toyota at the Japanese AICE Research Association and is also guest professor at Waseda University in Tokyo. Fukuma lives near Shizuoka and has two grown-up children.
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