J-STORIES - In 2023 alone, there have been major earthquakes in Turkey, Syria, Morocco, Afghanistan and other parts of the world that have killed thousands to tens of thousands of people. The majority of deaths in these major earthquakes are caused by suffocation or crushing to death due to collapsed buildings.
Now, one Japanese company is aiming for "zero earthquake victims" around the world through the use of earthquake-resistant materials that can be applied to exterior walls to make them more flexible and resistant to earthquakes.
Because of the frequency of earthquakes in Japan, the country is one of the most advanced in developing earthquake resistant technology. Tokyo-based company Aster, for example, has developed a paste-on resin called “Power Coating,” which the company says can make even 500-year-old buildings more resistant to earthquakes.
The company has gained attention from as far as Turkey, where some 20,000 people were killed in massive quakes earlier this year and local residents are seeking ways to make their existing homes more resistant to future disasters.
Alongside the Power Coating, which is one tenth to one twentieth the cost of other high-performance resins and takes no special skills to apply, an in-depth evaluation is provided beforehand which analyses the seismic performance of the building. Afterwards, a design is created which highlights the necessary areas requiring the coating in order to ensure optimal safety and resistance to earthquakes.
The company's structural analysis technology for masonry buildings has made this inexpensive and simple seismic strengthening possible. Until now, it has been difficult to accurately simulate the entire process of a masonry building during an earthquake, making it impossible to perform an earthquake-resistance diagnosis. By applying Power Coating to areas that need to be reinforced to withstand earthquakes, such as areas that are subject to load during the tremors, it is possible to create a strong structure that is resistant to the potential damages.
The Power Coating product was originally inspired by the first-hand damage witnessed by the company's president Masaomi Suzuki in central Italy after the massive 2016 earthquake.
Two hundred and forty people died as a result of fierce tremors from the magnitude 6.2 quake in Italy. Suzuki found a toy still making noise in the debris and his heart sank as he pictured the child victim it had surely belonged to. Today, Suzuki is working to popularize the use of a paste that provides earthquake resistance, which he created through joint research with the University of Tokyo.
Unlike in Japan, where most residential buildings are made of wood, many buildings in Italy are constructed of brick and stone. The collapse of these masonry buildings was one of the reasons for such extensive quake damage.
Suzuki made a powerful vow. “Even if I have to quit the family business, I will devote my life, body, and soul to the manufacture of this earthquake-resistant material.” He founded a new company, Aster, in Tokyo to develop his “Power Coating” business.
Simply applying Power Coating to exterior walls can make them more flexible and resistant to earthquakes. It is one tenth to one twentieth the cost of other high-performance resins, and takes no special skills to apply. According to Suzuki, it can make even 500-year-old buildings more resistant to earthquakes.
Brick and stone buildings are still being constructed in many countries because they do not require advanced technology. Also, the raw materials are cheap and easy to obtain. The Japanese earthquake intensity scale tops out at 7, but, according to Aster, these buildings can collapse at an intensity of just 3 to 4. Some studies suggest that about 80 percent of the fatalities from earthquakes in the 100 years from 1915 to 2015 were caused by collapsed masonry buildings. It’s believed that about 60 percent of the world’s population lives in buildings that are vulnerable to earthquakes.
According to Suzuki, the company has received requests from all over the world for its earthquake-resistant materials. It’s looking at the Philippines, Nepal, and Colombia as possible major markets.
Another problem is that manufacturing cement, a main material for masonry buildings, produces carbon dioxide. Suzuki suggests Power Coating could be an alternative to cement. If successful, the project could potentially reduce annual carbon dioxide emissions worldwide by 2.8 billion tons.
On the other hand, Suzuki has experienced a lot of frustration in Japan. His company’s product is overlooked because earthquake-resistant construction technology advances so rapidly in Japan.
Yet, the company was selected as a Grand Prix winner out of 105 participating companies in a venture business model contest in 2022 held by Nikkei Inc.
Suzuki told J-Stories, “I want to prove that it is possible to both do business and make products that are useful to society. Such things should become normal in the future. I hope that people will make this technology a success and continue to do business in a way that is useful to society.”
Translation and Editing by Tony McNicol
Top page photo by Aster
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