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Bringing Japanese Technology to the World: The Future of the Steel Pipe Business, According to Industry Professionals

“I want to create a globally competitive business using Japanese state-of-art technology.” This phrase defines the passion of Sogo Kuroiwa, currently stationed at Sumitomo Corporation Europe’s Norway branch. He joined Sumitomo Corporation as a mid-career employee in 2018. Kuroiwa’s goal for the next generation of the steel pipe business is to contribute to the energy industry through Japan’s superior technology. Why did Kuroiwa, who previously worked at a foreign-owned company, choose Sumitomo Corporation, and what does he hope to accomplish at the company today?

  • Sumitomo Corporation Europe
    Metal Products Business Unit Norway Branch

    Sogo Kuroiwa

    Joined Sumitomo Corporation in 2018 as a mid-career employee from an international oilfield services company. After working in the Energy and Equipment Service Division of the Tubular Products Division, he has held his current position since 2020. In Norway, he plays a business development role focused on enhancing efficiency and reducing carbon footprint in the oil and gas industry. This involves leveraging new digital technologies at Sekal AS, a company to which he was seconded.

Enriching the World With Japanese Technology and Sumitomo Corporation’s Business Network

After more than 10 years working at a large foreign-owned company, why did you choose Sumitomo Corporation?

My previous company provides a variety of services to the upstream oil and gas market, and I was involved in many aspects of both upstream oilfield operations and R&D. The company was truly global, from its business activities to the way it operates, and was a superb place for me to grow as a globally minded employee.

At the same time, as a Japanese national, I've developed a sense that there is something we can do more by leveraging Japanese state-of-art technology . Japan boasts a vast array of world-class technologies, but unfortunately, many of them are not well known on a global scale. As I grew older and more experienced, I realized I wanted to do something for my country and my own personal growth, and this became my motivation to change jobs.

To this end, I began looking into positions at Japanese companies, and Sumitomo Corporation caught my eye. Very few Japanese companies have a long reach in the service and solutions sector of the energy industry, but I thought that by utilizing Sumitomo Corporation’s resources and business network, we might be able to realize my goal of enriching the world through Japanese technology.

You have been keeping your eye on a Japanese start-up company, Superconductive Sensor Technology (SUSTEC), since you were working in your previous job, and after moving to Sumitomo Corporation, you chose to invest in the company, correct?

Geophysical exploration using the SUSTEC’s proprietary system.

Yes – I believe that SUSTEC’s superconducting technology has a lot of potential to change the conventional manner in the energy industry. Superconductivity is a phenomenon in which electrical resistance becomes zero, and it is brought about by cooling specific materials to very low temperatures. It was also my subject of study at university.

Electrical resistance entails resistance against the flow of electricity, and this usually means a loss in power transmission. As one of example here, superconducting technology has the potential to solve many of the world’s energy problems, as it can reduce loss in power transmission to as close to zero as possible.

In fact, there was an ambitious project to build a solar power plant in the Sahara Desert and transmit electricity around the world via superconducting cables. This project will take a long time to realize, but it provides us with one example of the remarkable potential of superconductivity, while also encouraging us to conjure new, innovative ideas for the future.

Similarly, superconducting technology, which SUSTEC has also been researching and developing for a few decades, has the potential for massive impact in terms of efficiency, cost reduction and decarbonization in the energy industry.

When I was working for my previous company, I once offered to take part in joint R&D with SUSTEC, but unfortunately it did not come to fruition. However, having conducted research on superconductivity in my university life, I was convinced of the potential of the company’s technology and I was not ready to give up. For this reason, on my second day working at Sumitomo Corporation, I immediately approached SUSTEC.

Eager To Collaborate, Even if That Meant Changing Jobs: Japanese Technology Driving Decarbonization

We heard that you encountered a number of challenges until the decision was made to invest in SUSTEC.

That’s true. SUSTEC readily agreed, saying they would be happy to work with Sumitomo Corporation, but it took some time to make things work internally here.

SUSTEC’s solution is a quite new for industry, and although relatively niche applications within a geophysical exploration space, I believe that it has considerable advantages compared to solutions available in the rest of the world. In the fields of geophysical exploration, including monitoring for carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS) and geothermal reservoir evaluation, etc., SUSTEC’s proprietary solution based on their unique technology known as SQUID (Superconducting Quantum Interference Device; a quantum sensor with ultimate sensitivity derived by leveraging a quantum phenomenon of superconducting state) is able to unlock many opportunities which a conventional method cannot address. One of important note I would like to highlight here is that it will bring the alternative option to the industry, which can be more cost competitive, more value to the customer, but less carbon footprint.

No matter how much we talk about advantage of technology and market potential, it was not easy to obtain buy-in from the people who usually suspect new things which is not familiar with. In addition, the energy industry such as oil and gas industry usually take really conservative way for new technology implementation, and SUSTEC technology is also no exception in this regard. These are obviously common challenges when we look at emerging technology.

How did you persuade Sumitomo Corporation to invest in SUSTEC?

I thought that in-depth explanation, especially describing a clear value proposition, would be the only way to convince a people. but the COVID19 pandemic began during this lengthy process. This made a very challenging situation, but thanks to great support from my colleagues who understand my ambition and SUSTEC’s potential, the initial investment was finally realized in September 2023. This was also further supported by the people’s clear mind that we have to take some action to develop new business within decarbonization space.

This is one of small steps that made me feel that I stand now at the kind of starting line toward one of my ambition “do something to help the world, especially for energy industry, by combining Sumitomo Corporation’s business network with Japanese state-of-art technology”. At this stage, we have made only an investment and have not accomplished anything yet. Our goal is still far away from where we are today, and obviously there are many things to do to realize things we want.

The Artificial Reef Project in Malaysia you are currently working on is an example to contribute to both “nature positive” and “circular economy” within the blue economy space, is that correct?

Scrap steel-pipe based artificial reef structure deployed into the Malaysian sea.

Yes, this project aims to enhance a marine life namely biodiversity and to realize a circular economy at the same time. One of main differentiator is to repurpose the scrap materials and equipment including steel pipes no longer needed in oil and gas development projects, and turn them into artificial reefs. I believe that artificial reefs play a quite important role for local marine ecosystem that can simply increase yields of fish that also generate local co-benefits. Moreover, I would say it will greatly contribute to food-related issues from longer term perspective. We are currently working alongside the Department of Fisheries, Malaysia and PETRONAS, Malaysia’s state-owned oil and gas development company, in partnership with one of professional Japanese company who has a considerable track records of artificial reefs deployment as domestic projects.

Looking back on Japanese history, artificial reef technology has been deployed here since the Edo era, around 400 years ago. However, even with such a long history and proven technology, I am feeling that it is still a little known fact that Japan is one of leading country with regards to artificial reef. Therefore, this is another case, same as SUSTEC project, that we try to enrich the world based on the leading Japanese technology and solution, while focusing on the blue economy space in this project.

Through this project, we try to develop a mechanism that can balance between business model (circular economy) and ESG model (Nature Positive). It is not as simple as saying for sure, but this continues to be our motivation for this project.

A World Where Energy Is Shared Equally

What is your sense of mission as a member of the energy industry, now that companies are increasingly required to operate sustainable business?

Everybody in the industry agrees that oil and gas companies should achieve “net zero” greenhouse gas emissions. Nevertheless, demand for oil and gas will not suddenly disappear, even though fossil fuels are increasingly being replaced with renewable energy sources.

For this reason, I believe new technology is still necessary and demanding to increase more operational efficiency while reduce number of people to be involved, which also results in to accelerate the decarbonization aspects of oil and gas development and production. Of course, in parallel, we must proactively take actions that carbon capture storage (CCS) becomes commercially viable in order to achieve “net zero” ambition.

What do your values and Sumitomo Corporation’s corporate message of “Enriching lives and the world” have in common?

I first took an interest in the energy industry when I was a student, backpacking around the world and witnessing poverty and the other inequalities that are reality in developing countries. Furthermore, after working in Africa as part of my previous job, I became convinced that energy has the power to change this unfair situation. Oil and gas are resources that enrich people’s lives, but they can also be a cause of conflict.

The concept of “enriching lives” has a very different meaning in developing and developed countries. If there is one common denominator regarding enriched lives that is difficult to get a consensus on, I think it is energy.

Above all, I aspire to accomplish our goal of sharing the energy created by nature equally, developing the energy field in a sustainable manner for all.


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