Friday, December 30, 2011

No. 396: A low-priced noble metal pigment for the next-generation solar batteries (December 31, 2011)

Business trend
Japanese producers of solar batteries are in fierce price competition for lower production cost with western and Chinese producers. Tanaka Precious Metals will start mass-producing a noble metal pigment for the next-generation solar batteries and put it on the market in 2013 by making the best use of its accumulated technology of noble metal recycling. Developed by a university in Taiwan, the technology is characterized by a high rate of conversion efficiency from solar energy to electricity of 11.4%. The price of the pigment is scheduled to be less than 10,000 yen per gram, less than one twentieth of the international market price. The noble metal pigment is a powdery pigment that uses ruthenium.

The solar battery based on noble metal pigment does not have so much conversion efficiency as the silicon-based solar battery, but it is bendable, lower in production cost, and able to generate even with low-intensity light. In addition, it can be thin to be attached to building walls and household furniture. Domestic solar battery producers are competing in the commercialization of pigment-based solar batteries. At present, only a Swiss company and an Australian company can supply pigments for solar batteries. Tanaka will participate in the market with the technology on low cost production that it has accumulated through recycling hard disk materials. The company will invest 300 million yen to install equipment with an annual production capacity of one ton to achieve annual sales of 300 million yen in 2015.

No. 395: A new polishing technology to smooth the surface of hard materials (December 30, 2011)

A research team led by Kazuya Yamamura, an associate professor of Osaka University, developed a polishing technology to smooth the surface of such hard materials as silicon carbide without damaging it. The technology is to polish the surface using an abrasive grain softer than the base material, while irradiating the surface with plasma to make it soft. It uses cerium oxide abrasive grain used to polish glass that is softer than silicon carbide, while oxidizing the surface using atmospheric-pressure plasma made up of vapor and helium gas.

It takes only about one hour for the newly developed plasma-aided polishing method to smooth the surface of off-the-shelf silicon carbide. Improvement of the efficient use of plasma oxidation can shorten the time. Because it uses glow discharge plasma processable at a low temperature, the surface temperature is lower than 100 degrees centigrade and not affected by temperature rise. In addition, it is eco-friendly because it does not use chemicals and because it is free from any cost to treat the chemicals. It can be applied to the polishing of such ultrahard materials as sapphire substrate, tungsten carbide, and sintered silicon carbide. The research team plans to put the new technology into practical use in alliance with companies.  

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

No. 394: Responding to the growing prices of rare earths (December 29, 2011)

Companies that need rare earths for their products are hastily formulating measures for the growing prices. Green CycleSystems, a subsidiary of Mitsubishi Electric, will start to collect rare-earth magnets including neodymium used in the compressor of air-conditioners next year. The company will install equipment to collect rare-earth magnets from compressors it collects from the home appliances recycling plant that is another Mitsubishi Electric’s subsidiary. It plans to collect about one ton of rare-earth magnets per year starting in 2012.

Mabuchi Motor, one of the leading producers of small motors, developed a motor that does not need neodymium. The company uses ferrite magnet in place of neodymium by improving the circuit. The new motor is smaller than the existing product, and it is 54 mm long and 45 mm in diameter. Mabuchi plans to sell it for such electric power tools as screw driver, drill, and lawnmower. Okamoto Glass, a producer of special glass products, will develop a technology to decrease the consumption of rare earths in the production process. The company currently uses a cerium compound as an abrasive. It also plans to eliminate the polishing process by increasing the precision of the mold used to press glass products. The import prices of rare earths increased 7-10 times last July because of the production and export restrictions imposed by the Chinese government.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

No. 393: A new naphtha cracking technology for lower deterioration of the catalytic activity and higher process yield (December 28, 2011)

A research team led by Prof. TakashiTatsumi of Tokyo Institute of Technology developed a new petrochemical process that slows down the deterioration of the catalytic activity and enables to get more useful components by miniaturizing the zeolite catalyst used for naphtha cracking to a nanometer-scale. The research members examined 27 kinds of zeolite catalysts and narrowed down 2 kinds that have the optimal structure. They decreased the particle diameter of the catalyst to 100-200 nanometers that is about one tenth of the standard diameter and improved the problem with the separation of carbon on the surface of the catalyst, and successfully decreased the separation of carbon by controlling the reaction temperature with added moisture vapor.

The new process has to achieve a longer than 48 hour continuous catalyst reaction and an about 8 hour cycle of catalytic generation for practical application. The research members are confident that further research will enable the process to clear the two targets. Although the propylene yield normally decreases with time, it can be maintained with the help of a nanoscale zeolite catalyst. In addition, the new process enabled the thermal cracking ratio of producing useful components as petrochemical materials, such as ethylene and propylene, to improve about 10% to 67%. Thermal naphtha cracking consumes lots of energy because it needs a high temperature of higher than 800 degrees centigrade without catalyst, but the required temperature can be reduced to 650 degrees centigrade by using a catalyst. The research team is trying to put the new process into practical application as soon as possible.

Monday, December 26, 2011

No. 392: A closed cycle system for low cost aquafarming (December 27, 2011)

A branch laboratory of Fisheries ResearchAgency developed a closed cycle system for low cost aquafarming. The system is complete with a biofiltration unit and a unit to remove impurities using bubbles. It can also be used as effluent treatment equipment because it provides such features as energy-saving and pest prevention. It consists of two devices of biofiltration and foam separation. The filtration device removes residual baits and fece and urine of fish using the principle of siphon, making the water level inside the lauter tub rises and falls automatically. The foam separation device creates microbubbles and makes them adsorb impurities in water to remove them. The water temperature hardly fluctuates because water is continuously circulated. Accordingly heating by a boiler to keep the water temperature stable is not necessary.  

Residual baits and fece and urine of fish produced in the ocean aquafarming accumulate on the seabed and invite fish disease and red tide. More than 50% of discharged organic substance is eluted as ammonia. Because ammonia is highly toxic, a mechanism to remove ammonia from the farming water is necessary for the aquafarming in a tank. The system with a 50-ton tank will be available for 2,000,000 yen. With this system, the cost to farm fries will be reduced from 12 yen to 7 yen a fry. The laboratory plans to commercialize it in collaboration with local companies as the next-generation aquafarming equipment.    

Sunday, December 25, 2011

No. 391: Do you need a steering wheel with a built-in alcohol detection system? (December 26, 2011)

Drunk driving should be avoided by any means, and lots of efforts are being made to eliminate drunk driving in Japan. The replacement driver service is very popular in Japan. A sober driver drives a car on behalf of a drunken person. Hitachi developed a small alcohol detection system that can be built in a steering wheel. The system measures a breath alcohol content using the mass analysis technology. A driver can know his breath alcohol content only by breathing on the system for three seconds.

When a driver breathes into the 140 cm long tube, a very small water cluster in the breath gets to the sensor without spreading, and the mass of the water cluster is detected. Alcohol content is determined by the mass of the water cluster. The sensor is half in size and the control circuit is one tenth of the previous model. The unit whose volume is 540 cc can be put in dashboard, and the tube can be installed in the steering wheel. Because the system determines the alcohol content using the water cluster in the breath, it is impossible for a driver to make an excuse by saying that he mistakenly dropped alcohol. In Japan, a law was enacted in May 2011 that asked all transport companies to measure the alcohol content of all their drivers in time of roll call. The company plans to market the system not only to truck drivers but also to taxi and bus drivers.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

No. 390: Artificial synthesis of oleanolic acid (December 25, 2011)

A research team made of researchers from several universities successfully synthesized oleanolic acid artificially. Oleanolic acid is a major element that whitens the surface of a grape berry. It has the antiaging function besides being helpful to constrain the multiplication of cavity germs. On the market, there are lots of cosmetics that utilize the antibacterial effect and moisturizing action of oleanolic acid, but they have problems with high production cost because oleanolic acid is extracted from the roots and berries of plants. The research leader, Prof.Toshiya Muranaka of Osaka University, says, “Highly-pure oleanolic acid can be produced in volume by increasing the efficiency of the artificial synthesis, and it could be used for functional foods and pharmaceuticals.”

The research team found the gene associated with the synthesis of oleanolic aid in a legume plant and two similar genes in grape. Researchers combined them with other genes and brought them into action in an enzyme and a cell of an insect, and successfully oleanolic acid artificially. They succeeded in synthesizing ursocholic acid and betulic acid, both of which have the anticancer effect and anti-inflammatory effect, by changing the gene to be combined with the artificially synthesized oleanolic acid. The research results will be published in Plant and Cell Physiology that is the English journal of the Japanese Society of PlantPhysiologists

Friday, December 23, 2011

No. 389: An organic material that becomes liquid by ultraviolet radiation and returns to be a solid by heating (December 24, 2011)

A research group led by Dr. Yasuo Norikane of National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology developed an organic material that becomes liquid by ultraviolet irradiation and returns to a solid by heating. The newly developed material couples azobenzene in a circular pattern and allows for an endless repetition between liquefaction and solidification. When it is in a solid state, it is liquefied if it is irradiated by ultraviolet. If the liquefied sample is heated, it becomes a solid through crystallization and returns to liquid if the crystal is irradiated by ultraviolet. It does not show any deterioration even if liquefaction and solidification was repeated 10 times.

It is known that particles of azobenzene change with irradiation and heating, but the change is supposed to occur only in solution. There has been no such material that can change between solid and liquid endlessly with the help of the response of a compound to light. The research team thinks that the new material can be applied to a recyclable photoresist and a new kind of adhesive. It will make further efforts to improve the reaction efficiency of the new material to put it into practical use because its reaction efficiency is still low.  

No. 388: Next-generation microcomputer with a circuit line of 40 micrometers wide (December 23, 2011)

With the help of miniaturization technology, Renesas Electronics developed the next-generation microcomputer that uses a circuit line of 40 micrometers wide for the first time in the world. More circuits are built in one chip, and the built-in flash memory for data storage is 20% faster. As a result, a broad range of functions can be managed. Currently, a circuit line of 90 micrometers is the smallest size. The company plans to commercialize it next fall, and market it for the automotive market as a product that epitomizes its state-of-the-art technology.

A microcomputer inside a vehicle operates various functions using the software memorized by the built-in flash memory. The company will increase the readout speed of the built-in flash memory to 120 MHz for faster control of instruments. After having it verified by customers around the world, the company will mass-produce it between 2013 and 2014.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

No. 387: Successful adherence of platinum to carbon nanowall (December 22, 2011)

A research team lead by Prof. MasaruTachibana of Yokohama City University developed a technology to make platinum attached to a carbon nanowall (CNW). Platinum is used for the catalyst of a fuel cell, and the research team successfully the same degree of catalytic activity with platinum that they get with carbon black (CB) that is generally used for electrodes. The new technology can be applied to the development of an electrode that has more than 1,000 times higher conductivity than CB.

The research team used the solution reduction method to mix a CNW with platinum solution and make platinum attached to the CNW. The team members made the CNW apart by layer for uniform attachment, and applied platinum with a particle size of 3.6 nanometers on average to 18% in weight ratio. The effective activity area of one gram of platinum is about 70 square meters, which is the same level of CB. Because the CNW gets platinum on it while maintaining the structure of graphite, it is supposed to have catalytic activity, conductivity, and chemical stability, all of which are characteristics specific to graphite. A high degree of catalytic activity and conductivity are vital to increase the energy efficiency of a fuel cell. CB has a big specific surface area and a large amount of catalyst can be attached to it, but it is low in conductivity and chemical stability. On the other hand, graphite has a high degree of conductivity, but a low degree of adherability of catalyst. A carbon nanowall is a carbon nanomaterial composed of small graphite crystals.  

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

No. 386: A transparent film that transmits 95% of the light and blocks 90% of the heat (December 21, 2011)

A research team led by Prof. Masayoshi Fuji of Nagoya Institute of Technology developed a film with high thermal insulation performance. It has dispersed hollow particles inside the film made of polymer resin. It is 10 micrometers thick, and it transmits 95 of the light and blocks 90% of the heat. In the substantiative experiment, the film reduced the power consumption of an air-conditioner by 30%. It will be put on the market in the spring of 2012 through Toyohozai and sold for 2,000-3,000 yen per square meter.

The research team applied silica to the surfaces of calcium carbonate particles, each of which 10-300 nanometers in diameter, and synthesized hollow silica particles by dissolving calcium carbonate by acid. After the surfaces of silica particles are reformed to adapt to polymer, they are combined with raw materials of polymer resin to make a film. A high degree of cutoff performance was achieved because silica particles are dispersed uniformly. The existing film does not have as high a degree of cutoff performance as the newly developed film because it is made only of polymer resin without further processing. In the substantiative test, the power consumption of an air-conditioner operated in a room with windows on which the new film is attached was 6,000 kW per hour on average for 24 hour continuous running at a temperature of 25.0 degrees centigrade, 30% less than the power consumption in a room with normal windows.

Monday, December 19, 2011

No. 385: Figuring out the magnitude of a big earthquake in one hundredth of a second (December 20, 2011)

Railway Technical Research Institute developed a technology to figure out the magnitude of a big earthquake instantly. The institute focused on how long it takes the quake grows strongest after the arrival of the S wave that is the second wave of an earthquake. The technology figures out the time using the data of past earthquakes higher than 5.0 in magnitude accumulated by National Research Institute for Earth Science andDisaster Prevention. The existing technology needs two days to figure out the magnitude of such a big earthquake as the East Japan Great Earthquake that is about 9.0 in magnitude, but the new technology can figure out the magnitude in one hundredth of a second. The institute plans to put this new technology into practical use in half a year as a correction technology.

The study on the time between the arrival of the S wave and the maximization of the quake revealed that the bigger an earthquake is, the longer the time between the two points is. For example, the time is 7-8 seconds in the case of an earthquake of magnitude of 7.0, but it is 30-40 seconds if an earthquake is 8.0 in magnitude. If an earthquake is 9.0 in magnitude, the time grows to be about 100 seconds. The new technology calculates back the magnitude of an earthquake using the time between the two points. The method currently used by Japan Meteorological Agency tends to underestimate an earthquake higher than 8.0 in magnitude. In fact, Japan Meteorological Agency claimed that the East Japan Great Earthquake was 7.9 in magnitude on the day, but it corrected its magnitude as 9.0 two days later.    

Sunday, December 18, 2011

No. 384: A trial sheet-like bio-battery that can generate electricity using sugar (December 19, 2011)

Sony developed a trial sheet-like bio-battery that generates electricity using sugar. The trial product can generate electricity if you drop juice on it. It can play the music box incorporated in a Christmas card several times with a few drops of juice. It sandwiches the electrode between two sheets of paper, and juice is to be dropped onto the hole at the center of the paper. It has an enzyme that a creature needs to get energy by dissolving sugar.

It is a few millimeters thick, and carbon is used in place of a metal for the electrode to make it lighter. It is environmentally-friendly because dissolving sugar only produces water. Theoretically, a bowl of rice contains sugar that generates energy equivalent to the energy created by 96 size AA alkaline batteries. Sony plans to increase the generation capacity of this sheet-like bio-battery and develop devices that can make the best use of its lightweight and thinness. Sony already developed a box-type bio-battery capable to allow a Walkman to play music for several hours.

Friday, December 16, 2011

No. 383: An image remains clear even if it is magnified by eight times (December 17, 2011)

An image naturally becomes unclear should it be magnified. The bigger the magnification is, the more ambiguous the image is. If an image remains clear even if it is magnified by eight times, it will become easier to read letters and identify objects in the original image. NECdeveloped a technology to create a clear magnified image. It is now possible to read letters and identify objects in an image clearly even if it is magnified by eight times. If the new technology is applied to a monitoring camera, it will be possible to see clearly the face of a person and the license plate of a car. It will be of great help to criminal investigation. The company plans to put this technology into practical application in 2012.  

The new technology uses an image database that has lots of images of person’s face, letter, figure, and car. In magnifying an image filmed by a monitoring camera, NEC’s new technology picks up an image that shares the same characteristics with the ambiguous part of the magnified image from the database. Based on the image in the database, it composes a magnified image. It can magnify an image in one second at the longest. It is possible to get a clear image even if it is magnified by 4-8 times depending on the kind of a subject, whereas the traditional technology allows for magnification of 2-3 times at most.  

Thursday, December 15, 2011

No. 382: Collecting zinc from plating wastes for recycling (December 16, 2011)

JFE Engineering will start the business to recycle zinc contained in the acid waste fluid from hot-dip galvanization plants next April. Its subsidiary, JFE Kankyo, developed and established a technology to separate zinc and iron from waste acid fluid produced in the plating process. The subsidiary will buy waste fluid from plating plants and sell collected zinc to zinc smelting companies. Acid waste fluid used to rinse metals before plating contains 5-15% zinc and 5-10% iron. It is currently neutralized by alkaline fluid and dehydrated, and subsequently buried as a solid mixed with zinc and iron because it is hard to separate iron and zinc from the acid waste fluid. About 900 tons of zinc is discarded in the East Japan area alone.

The company focused on the difference of deposition conditions between zinc and iron depending on the concentration of hydrogen ion, and developed a processing system by controlling the concentration of hydrogen ion. Alkaline fluid is put in the reaction tank of waste fluid to increase the pH from less than one to five that is suitable for the oxidation of iron. Subsequently, air is instilled into the fluid tank to oxygenate the iron ion, and the oxygenated iron ion is extracted as a solid. Subsequently alkaline fluid is put into the iron-free waste tank, and solid zinc is collected through dehydration. It takes 12-24 hours to collect zinc, and the concentration of zinc is higher than 50%. The company plans to process 1,700 tons of acid waste fluid of this kind in 2012. The cost of processing is expected to be lower than the cost required for landfill disposal.   

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

No. 381: Move to utilize steel slag is growing fast (December 15, 2011)

Steelmakers are busily occupied with the development of technology to apply steel slag to the reconstruction of disaster-stricken areas in the Tohoku region. JEF Steel developed the material called “SmartGrout” to fill in the hollow space created by liquefaction of ground. Made of three major elements of steel slag, blast furnace cement, and bentonite, it is a mortar-like material that combines reasonably water and air bubbles created by a surface active agent. Thanks to the high flowability, it easily flows in every corner of a hollow space. At the same time, it does not hurt pipes in the ground like water pipe because it has only one tenth of the strength of concrete when it is solidified. Nippon Steel proposes a technology to adulterate the sludge brought to land by tunami in alliance with Nippon Steel Engineering. The technology puts a steel slag-based reforming material into sludge mixed with wreckage, and hydrates and solidifies silica component in the sludge and calcium in slag while eliminating wreckage from the sludge. It adulterates the sludge to be usable as a material for embankment and reconstruction of the devastated region.   

In the steelmaking process, 40 kg of slag is generated for every one ton of raw steel. The domestic slag production increased 16.5% over the previous year to about 40 million tons in 2010. Slag is mostly mixed with standard cement to create furnace cement and used a base course material. Japanese steelmakers are increasing slag exports because of the dwindling public investment and the growing competition with other kinds of recycled products in the domestic market. In the export business, the competition with Chinese and Korean steelmakers is expected to intensify. Nippon SlagAssociation is intensifying its efforts to spread slag as an environmental material in alliance with the Japan Iron and Steel Federation.        

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

No. 380: Wireless data transmission and power supply to a memory card (December 14, 2011)

Two professors of Keio University developed a technology to transmit data and supply power to a memory card wirelessly. Wireless data transmission and power supply will eliminate metal terminals from a memory card. In addition, metal terminals will be free from deterioration, and a circuit to prevent fracture due to static electricity will not be necessary. Accordingly, it will be possible to make a memory card less glitchy and totally waterproof.

Because the research team already succeeded in wireless data transmission, it tried to unwire power supply. A memory card gets electricity from a device like digital camera and uses it to write and read data. During this short period of several tens of microseconds, power consumption fluctuates more than 10 times. The research team applied the magnetic coupling technology that transmits signals by creating a magnetic field with a coil, and successfully increased and decreased electric energy instantaneously and supplied electricity of one watt necessary to run a memory card with an efficiency of 50%. The coil can be made easily because all that is necessary is to wire it on the substrate. The research team is planning to make the new technology applicable to the international standards in alliance with memory card manufacturers.

Monday, December 12, 2011

No. 379: Controlling multiple storage batteries for optimal charge and discharge (December 13, 2011)

Toshiba will commercialize a new storage system that combines multiple storage batteries with different characteristics to allow for the optimal charge and discharge of the storage depending on the usage. It is designed for the back-up system in power outage, control of power consumption, and charge of an electric vehicle. The system is called “smartbattery” that incorporates Toshiba’s self-developed lithium-ion battery SciB and a lead battery. The SciB is suitable for the back-up power supply for emergency because it allows for quick charge and discharge, while the lead battery is suitable for leveling off power consumption because it can store power in the night.

The system controls each battery depending on the usage and frequency. It allows for the connection to a photovoltaic generation system and power interchange between batteries. The company offers the optimal system that satisfies the requirements of a user at the lowest cost with the longest life. It sets a storage capacity of 10 kW/h as one unit. The price varies with the architecture and the number of units to be incorporated. A system consisting of an SciB and a lead battery, one unit of each, will be about 5,000,000 yen. The company plans to market the system to buildings, apartments, and plants beginning in 2012.   

Sunday, December 11, 2011

No. 378: A single-seater electric vehicle from Honda (December 12, 2011)

Honda Motor unveiled its new single-seaterelectric vehicle that looks like a chair. It is named Uni-Cub. The rider can sit on it as if he sits on a chair. He can travel back and forth and around by operating the lever on the unit. He can move the unit by turning the small level to the direction he wants it to take by the right hand.

Based on the U3-X single-seater electricvehicle released in 2009, it has additional small safety wheels on the rear to increase the stability and facilitate the rotating move. The maximum speed is 10 km per hour, and it allows the elderly and a child to travel long without fatigue. The company plans to commercialize it through substantiative experiments and market it for industrial use in commercial facilities and exhibition sites as well as for personal use. 

No. 377: Development of a gallium nitride wafer for LED elements and power semiconductors (December 11, 2011)

NGK Insulators developed a gallium nitride wafer to be used for LED elements and power semiconductors for the inverter of electric vehicles. Using the liquid phase method that creates crystals from liquid materials, the company successfully produced a single-crystal gallium nitride wafer. It hopefully can increase the luminance efficiency of an LED element and can be used for the inverter of electric vehicles.

The method used is NGK’s self-developed flux method that is a kind of liquid phase method. Using this method, the company successfully made a wafer completely transparent and colorless. The surface defect density is as low as 100,000 per square centimeter. Therefore, a wafer produced by liquid phase method can increase the illuminance efficiency of an LED element greater than a wafer produced by the gas phase method that create crystals from gaseous materials. The company plans to start mass production of its new wafer by 2014 and wishes to achieve sales of 10 billion yen in 2018.

Friday, December 9, 2011

No. 376: A new simulation technology to estimate the concentration of a particulate matter (December 10, 2011)

In North America and Europe, it is planned to intensify the regulation on the emissions of a particulate matter (PM) generated in the burning process of a gasoline engine beginning in 2014. Hitachi developed a simulation technology to estimate the concentration of a PM smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter emitted from a gasoline engine. Hitachi’s new simulation technology is expected to halve the testing frequency of engine parts to control PM emissions, allowing automakers to develop a fuel system satisfying the new regulation effectively. The company plans to put engine parts developed by this new technology into practical use toward 2016.

In collaboration with Technische Universität München of Germany, the company developed an analysis technology to construct a precise model of PM generation using a chemical reaction formula. It worked out a simultaneous equation with only four variables of temperature and pressure of fluid, concentration of fuel, and extent of reaction, and successfully shortened the computation time required for the simulation of intricately-shaped engine parts to one hundredth. The newly developed simulation technology combined with Hitachi’s self-developed 3D fluid simulation technology and the technology jointly developed with Technische Universität München has made it possible to conduct simulations of PM generation consistently. It is expected that Hitachi’s new simulation technology will reduce the man-hour required to develop a whole engine fuel system by about 30%.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

No. 375: Using a robot to clean ship bottoms (December 9, 2011)

Located in Kita Kyushu city, RoboPlus Hibikino is a venture company founded in 2006. This company specializes in the design and development of mechatronics, and is scheduled to put an “under water robot for ship bottom cleaning” into practical application in 2013. It developed the robot in alliance with Kyushu Institute of Technology and SanyuPlant Service. A trial product is being built and will be completed by March 2012. Demonstration, validation, and drawing a business plan are scheduled during 2012. This may be the first practical application of a robot that can clear ship bottoms in water. It is an automated guided vehicle with robot and able to halve the time required to clean the ship bottom as compared with manual labor.

The robot has two revolving brushes and takes out shellfishes on the ship bottom using them, while decreasing the pressure between the ship bottom and shellfishes. The operator runs the robot by remote control viewing the video coming from the camera installed on the robot. The robot can clean the bottom of a ship of about 30 m long in about 24 hours. Because shellfishes on the sea bottom deteriorate the fuel consumption, it is necessary to eliminate them once a year. Divers have to do the cleaning job that takes several days. It is strongly desired to develop a system to reduce the heavy labor of the divers. In addition to reducing the burden of the divers, the robot can halve the labor hours and reduce the fuel consumption. The price will be about 5,000,000 yen a unit.  

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

No. 374: An oil well tube with a high degree of strength and corrosion resistance for the development of deep sea drilling (December 8, 2011)

Sumitomo Metals developed an oil well tube stronger and more corrosion resistant than the existing products despite a lower production cost. It is designed for deep sea drilling to develop oil fields and gas fields to meet the demand of oil majors for lower development cost. Deep sea drilling in search of oil fields and gas fields needs more technologically advanced oil well tubes. Sumitomo’s newly developed tube is called “Super 17 chrome steel” that is a stainless seamless pipe containing chrome (17%) strong to the corrosion caused by carbon dioxide gas.

Currently, the oil well tube containing chrome (13%) is widely used for oil fields that contain lots of carbon dioxide gas. However, the temperature is nearly 200 degrees centigrade in the point deeper than 6,000 m, and corrosion develops to make the currently-used 13 chrome tube liable to crack. In this circumstance, a special steel tube containing such expensive alloyed metals as nickel and molybdenum is indispensable. A special tube is very expensive because it needs cold working after hot rolling to increase strength and because it contains expensive alloyed metals. However, Sumitomo’s new product does not need cold working, and the content of expensive alloyed metals is low. In addition, it can be produced using the same manufacturing facilities used for 13 chrome tubes.     

No. 373: Establishing a mass production method of a moss for rooftop gardening (December 7, 2011)

A subsidiary of Konica Minolta started to grow a moss on the rooftop of its plant building in Tokyo. The employees are expected to develop the optimal mass production method of a moss for rooftop gardening while they grow it. It often takes two or three years to grow a moss, and the low productivity prevents the application of moss to rooftop gardening from spreading. The employees are scheduled to verify the method of transplanting a moss after they grow it inside a building to develop a moss strong to sunlight.

A moss on the rooftop is effective to shut down sunlight and prevent heat from running through a building. It absorbs water and allows a building to cool down while it discharges the heat piecemeal. The company already confirmed that a moss on the rooftop reduced the surface temperature of the rooftop by 20 degrees centigrade. Should trees and a lawn be sued for rooftop gardening, paving soil on the rooftop is necessary. Accordingly, the rooftop should be reinforced to increase the strength. But using a moss does not require any additional measures. An increasing number of buildings use a moss for rooftop gardening, and sheet moss is available on the market. The company plans to enter into the rooftop gardening business once it succeeds in establishing a moss production method that can differentiates itself from the methods on the market.

Monday, December 5, 2011

No. 372: Denso’s next-generation idle reduction mechanism is practicable in 2015 (December 6, 2011)

Denso, Japan’s leading maker of vehicle equipment, will translate the next-generation idle reduction mechanism into practical applications toward 2015. The new mechanism not only stops the engine during deceleration and shutdown but also stores regenerative energy as electric energy to supply electricity to the car navigation system and auxiliaries including head lamps. The current idle reduction mechanism can reduce fuel consumption by 3%, but the new mechanism can realize a 10% reduction in fuel consumption and allow a gasoline vehicle to have the same level of fuel consumption of a hybrid vehicle.

The new mechanism can improve fuel consumption drastically because storing and using regenerative energy mitigates the load of an engine and eliminates the necessity to run an alternator. As a result, a vehicle loaded with this mechanism is very close to a hybrid vehicle that uses a motor at start-up, though the new mechanism does not have a function to assist the engine drive using a motor like a hybrid vehicle. The company plans to combine the new mechanism with multiple technologies for lower fuel consumption including the exhaust gas recirculation system (EGR) to build a system that improves the fuel consumption of a gasoline vehicle by 20%.   

Sunday, December 4, 2011

No. 371: New binder for the cathode of lithium-ion secondary batteries (December 5, 2011)

JSR will put its new binder for the cathode of lithium-ion secondary batteries on the market in December. The new binder can halve the required amount as compared with the existing products. Smaller amount used reduces the resistance of a cathode and improves the high-speed charge-discharge characteristics of a battery. At the same time, the new binder does not require equipment to collect solvent in the electrode production line because it is granulous latex dispersed in water, thus the production cost can be reduced.

The latex binder has not been used for cathodes because the oxidation reaction of a cathode deteriorates the latex binder. The company solved the problem by creating a composite using fluorinated polymer excellent in oxidation resistance and acrylate polymer with adhesion force on a molecule level. The polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF) is current used for cathodes, but it requires equipment to collect solvent because it is dispersed in solvent. The company plans to market the new binder with an emphasis on the fact that it is dispersed not in solvent but in water and that it can reduce the initial investment in the battery production line. Evaluations by customers confirmed that the new binder exhibits the same adhesion force with less than half the amount required by PVDF.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

No. 370: A carbon nanofiber with less electric resistance suitable for EV’s batteries (December 4, 2011)

Teijin and Tokyo Institute of Technology jointly developed a carbon nanofiber (CNF) with 30-40% less electric resistance than the existing products. It is longer than 20 micrometers that is more than 10 times longer than the existing products, and it has less electric resistance because graphite crystals are arranged in a single orientation in layers. This is the world’s first CNF with an oval cross section where graphite crystals are arranged in a single orientation in layers.

The technology can produce a highly pure CNF because it does not use any catalyst in the production process. On top of that, the production cost will be reasonable because existing facilities can be used for the production. It uses the melt spinning method that is the standard method to produce chemical fibers. The new product will be suitable for secondary batteries for EVs like lithium-ion battery, electrode materials like capacitor, electrode additive, and resin additive. It can also be used for a reinforcement material and gas diffusion layer of a fuel cell. Shipment of samples will start soon.

Friday, December 2, 2011

No. 369: World’s thinnest fiber ready for mass production next year (December 3, 2011)

Toray developed the world thinnest fiber that is 500 nanometers in diameter designed for the application for high-performance apparel, polishing agent, and battery material. The new fiber is long- and nano-fibered polyester, and the mass production is scheduled to start next year. The company plans to produce100 tons annually at its plant in Shizuoka Prefecture by modifying the existing production line, without making a large investment.

Because the new fiber makes the diameter between meshes smaller and finer if it is textured, it will be suitable for a polishing agent for precision parts and components. The company also announced that it had developed a long nanofiber 300 nanometers in diameters and a fiber spinning technology to triangulate and hexagonize the cross section of a fiber. The company plans to start the mass production of these revolutionary kinds of fibers after 2013.  

Thursday, December 1, 2011

No. 368: A tire that does not need air inside (December 2, 2011)

A new tire that does not need air inside will be displayed in the Tokyo Motor Show 2011 opened to the public starting on December 3. Bridgestone has announced that it successfully developed a new typethat does not air inside. It sustains the weight by dint of the structure that weaves specially shaped resins inside the tire. It sets the car driver free from the anxiety about puncture and reduces the maintenance cost.

It employs completely renewable materials for the resins of the inside and rubbers on the tire surface to satisfy the requirements from the environment point of view. The company confirmed that the new tire has the satisfactory level of ride quality using a single-seater electric cart. It plans to increase the durability to make it applicable to vehicles.  

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

No. 367: Toyota’s Prius PHV debuts on January 30, 2012 (December 1, 2011)

Toyota Motor started to take orders for Prius plug-in hybrid vehicle (PHV) on November 29. The Prius PHV is rechargeable using household power supply, and it can travel 61 km per one liter of gasoline, about two times longer than the distance achieved by Prius HV. It can travel 26.4 km on a full charge without gasoline. The driver does not have to worry about an engine stop due to battery exhaustion because it travels on a hybrid mode when gasoline runs out. This sense of security characterizes Prius PHV, and is helpful for the differentiation from Nissan’s Leaf. Although Nissan’s Leaf can travel 200 km on a full charge, the distance will be shorter if the driver runs the air-conditioner and turns on the lights. The current EV does not seem to an ideal means of transport for a distance longer than 100 km, according to a Toyota official.

It is possible to charge a Prius PHV in about 90 minutes using 200 V household power source. It costs only 30 yen to charge a Prius PHV if it is charged in the night when inexpensive power is available. A Prius PHV needs only one third of the cost required by a Prius HV to travel the same distance. The price of a Prius PHV starts from 3,200,000 yen, but it is possible to buy one starting 2,750,000 yen with the subsidy for clean energy vehicle. Toyota will put the Prius PHV on the U.S. market next spring and the European market next summer. Toyota plans to sell 35,000-40,000 units in the domestic market and 60,000 units worldwide per year. While increasing the popularity of the Prius PHV, Toyota wishes to introduce the PHV system to other models.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

No. 366: Use energy-saving technology to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in manufacturing (November 30, 2011)

Several Japanese companies are trying to reduce carbon dioxide emissions using energy-saving technology. Fujifilm focused attention on the steam discharged to the air in the manufacturing process and developed a system to heat the wind for drying films by reusing the heat of steam generated in the production of deflecting plate protective films. The system will be introduced into its six plants across the country by next September to reduce additional 12,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions in 2013. Nissan Motor will dispatch its special team for energy saving to the plants around the world. The team studies energy input and consumption of each equipment and formulate measures to eliminate wastes like leaking heat. The company wishes to reduce carbon dioxide emissions per vehicle by 20% from the level in 2005.

Steel companies including Nippon Steel have been trying to upgrade their state-of-the-art iron-making technology. JFE Steel, for example, has been doing experiments to separate and collect carbon dioxide in the test plant “ASCOA-3.” The company wishes to establish a technology to eliminate carbon dioxide contained in the gas coming out from the furnace using absorbent. It previously cost 4,000 yen to eliminate one ton of carbon dioxide, but the company successfully reduced the cost to 2,500 yen by improving the materials of absorbent. Although it is necessary to reduce the cost to 2,000 yen to make the technology applicable, but the target is expected to be achieved in the near future. Besides reducing carbon dioxide emissions, steel companies are developing a technology to increase the efficiency of chemical reactions in the manufacturing process with a view to reducing the emissions by 30%. The Japanese government plans to promote bilateral credit in exchange for providing energy-saving technology to foreign countries.       

Monday, November 28, 2011

No. 365: New technology to increase the generation efficiency of coal fired thermal power to higher than 55% (November 29, 2011)

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) will work on the development of a new type coal thermal power plant in alliance with Chugoku Electric Power and J-Power. The new type will be characterized by the combination of fuel cells and the state-of-the-art coal fired thermal power that generates electricity by gasifying coals. It will have generation efficiency higher than 55% with less carbon dioxide emissions. The construction of a test plant will start next year, and the substantiative experiment is scheduled for 2020.

The new type is called the Integrated Coal Gasification Fuel Cell Combined Cycle (IGFC). It steams and burns coals, and subsequently generates electricity using fuel cells with the help of hydrogen collected from the gases. And it runs the gas turbine using the generated gases, and subsequently runs the steam turbine using the steam generated by the heat from the turbine. The three step generation system features the IGFC. Osaki CoolGen founded by Chugoku Electric and J-Power on a 50-50 basis will start building the test plant with a capacity of 170,000 kW next year with an investment of more than 100 billion yen, third of which is subsidy from the METI. The conventional coal fired thermal power has generation efficiency of 42% at most, while the generation efficiency of the Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) is between 46% and 48%. Coal fired thermal power accounts for about 25% of Japan’s total power generation at present. Because of the Fukushima disaster, demand for coal fired thermal generation is expected to grow in the future.   

Sunday, November 27, 2011

No. 364: High performance film for effective separation of carbon dioxide form exhaust fumes (November 28, 2011)

A research team made up of researchers from Research Institute of Innovative Technology for the Earth, Kurary, and NittoDenko developed a high performance film that can separate carbon dioxide from exhaust fumes effectively. Should it be used in combination with carbon dioxide storage technology, it will be highly applicable to coal fired power generation that hardly emits global warming gases. The newly developed film has a structure that diverges in a radial pattern from the center called dendrimer. It permeates only carbon dioxide by dint of nitrogen in the compound. The envisioned usage is to flow exhaust fumes in a pipe and collect leaking carbon dioxide into a container.

Because the newly developed film has enough nature to permeate carbon dioxide, it is necessary to increase the permeation speed to a practical level besides decreasing the thickness from the current 500 micrometers to 10 micrometers. The research team wishes to achieve the goals in less than one year. It plans to build large-scale equipment and conduct a substantiative experiment using the gases of an iron works in 2015. The chemical absorption method that uses a special solution is widespread to collect and store carbon dioxide in fired power generation plants. It will be possible to half the collection cost should the new film be used for the collection. The three companies and Nippon Steel Engineering founded an organization for the study of the next-generation technology of film module last February.  

Saturday, November 26, 2011

No. 363: Honda selects Toshiba’s lithium-ion battery for its Fit EV (November 27, 2011)

Honda decided to employ Toshiba’s lithium-ion battery for its small electric vehicle “Fit EV” scheduled to be put on the market in Japan and the U.S. in 2012. Because Toshiba already acquired an order from Mitsubishi Motors, Honda is the second automaker that selected Toshiba’s lithium-ion battery. Honda picked Toshiba’s self-developed lithium-ion battery called “SCiB” that allows for recharge up to 80% in 15 minutes and 4,000 times of charge and discharge. It needs only half the time required by the generally used in-car lithium-ion battery for recharge. Honda plans to start lease sale of its Fit EV in the U.S. in the summer of 2012 with a view to selling about 1,100 units in three years, and put it on the Japanese market within 2012. 

Toshiba is the last entrant to the in-car lithium-ion battery market. It is currently shipping its lithium-ion batteries to Mitsubishi Motors for the electric vehicle “i-MiEV” and Honda’s electric motorcycles. NEC that is shipping its lithium-ion batteries to Nissan for the “Leaf” is ahead of Toshiba. The competition to get orders from automakers is growing harder among lithium-ion battery makers.

Friday, November 25, 2011

No. 362: Eco-illumination that an LED creates a situation illuminated by several tens of LEDs (November 26, 2011)

Fujikura, one of Japan’s leading manufacturers of electrical wires, will start the business of eco-illumination that an LED creates a situation illuminated by several tens of LEDs. Using the optics design technology, the company developed the processing method that allows a white LED to look like an LED of various kinds of colors and several LEDs to look like about 100 LEDs. Fujikura’s new technology forms special reflecting dots on the panel on which an LED is irradiated. Called the rainbow illumination panel, the originally processed panel has an LED that can produce various kinds of colors depending on the angle of the dots and the arrangement of optical sources.

The new technology can reduce the number of modules and costs necessary for wiring. In addition, it has overcome the problem with the difficulty of the high-intensity illumination that the standard laser processing cannot solve. Using Fujikura’s self-developed equipment, the size and depth of the can be modified to uniform the illumination and change the amount of illumination. The company plans to market the new newly developed panel to a wide area of applications including recreational facilities, sign displays, and architecture.    

Thursday, November 24, 2011

No. 361: Use water solution in place of organic solvent as electrolyte for a secondary sodium-ion battery (November 25, 2011)

A research team of Kyushu University led by an associate professor Shigeto Okada successfully built a sodium-ion secondary battery that uses water solution in place of organic solvent as electrolyte on trial. The trial product is the beaker cell type, and it has a capacity of about one fifth of the existing lithium-ion secondary battery. The research team will work on the trial product to make it a coil-cell type battery, and try to increase the capacity to about 75% of the existing lithium-ion secondary battery.

The sodium-ion secondary battery is very promising as an inexpensive next-generation secondary battery, but ongoing research projects mostly use organic solvent as electrolyte. This is because an appropriate negative-electrode material is not developed for a sodium-ion secondary battery that uses water solution as electrolyte. The research team verified that a material made of sodium and titanium can be used as negative-electrode. The trial product uses a material made of sodium, manganese, and oxygen as positive-electrode and water solution of sodium sulfate can charge and discharge at room temperature. If the trial product is put into practical application, the cost of sodium-ion battery will be one fourth of the existing lithium-ion battery.

No. 360: Using carbon dioxide for tomato cultivation in the plant factory (November 24, 2011)

Tokyo Gas will start research on the technology to use carbon dioxide for tomato cultivation in the plant factory in alliance with Chiba University. The technology they wish to develop is to accelerate plant photosynthesis and increase the tomato harvest by 20%. The hydrogen station for fuel cells operated by Tokyo Gas in Tokyo produces carbon dioxide as a by-product. They will separate and collect carbon dioxide in this station, and store it in cylinders.

Starting coming December, Tokyo Gas will supply two cylinders (about 320 kg) of carbon dioxide every month to the plant factory operated by Chiba University. Using the supplied carbon dioxide, the research team will increase carbon dioxide concentration inside the cultivation facilities to 2.5 times as high as the concentration in the air. They will study operation cost and mass production effect, and establish the technology usable for measures for global warming and methodology to increase the efficiency of food production.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

No. 359: Developing a technology to reduce the volume of contaminanted soil is under way (November 23, 2011)

Toshiba developed a technology to dissolve cesium in contaminated soil with the help of oxalic acid solution used to cleanse metal products. The research team put a soil sample collected from the Fukushima area into oxalic solution and confirmed that the cesium concentration decreased by one digit. If the cesium concentration is reduced below the standard specified by the government, the soil can be returned to nature. Mineral substances adsorb cesium dissolved in the oxalic acid solution, and the solution can be reused for the purification treatment. Nippon Steel Engineering is developing the same kind of technology. The company combines acid and alkali to dissolve cesium, and uses a chemically treated special cloth to adsorb cesium.

A professor of Tokyo Institute of Technology opened up the prospect of separating cesium by a combined usage of iron blue ferric ferrocyanide for pigment and a precipitation agent. If his technology succeeds in returning about one cubic meter of pool water to the environment, the residual is estimated at about 2 kg. Cesium bonds with clay inside the soil. Focusing on this fact, Konoike is trying to commercialize the technology to wash away contaminated soil to separate clay. The research team predicts that the amount needed to be buried in drums will be reduced to 20-30% of the contaminated soil, and substances other than clay can be returned to nature. The amount of contaminated soil and wastes is estimated at 3,100 cubic meters in the disaster-stricken area, and it is urgent to establish the volume reduction technology.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

No. 358: Ozone and black carbon in the troposphere are about half responsible for global warming as carbon dioxide (November 22, 2011)

Ozone and black carbon in the troposphere up to the altitude of about 10 km are also responsible for global warming. They affect global warming about 45% as much as carbon dioxide does. A research team of Japan Environment Sanitation Center conducted the research using a supercomputer as a strategic research and development project sponsored by the Ministry of the Environment. It calculated how much each substance contributed to the temperature increase after the Industrial Revolution and found that carbon dioxide increased the temperature by 1.31 degrees centigrade, while ozone and black carbon increased it by 0.31 and 0.28 degrees centigrade, respectively.

Reducing carbon oxide emissions is given the highest priority, but reducing these two substances is expected to contribute greatly to the mitigation of global warming. The research team said, “Reducing carbon oxide emissions is very important for the prevention of global warming, but we can see the effect only after the second half of the 21st century. However, if appropriate measures are taken to reduce these air pollutants, we can see the effect around 2030.”

Sunday, November 20, 2011

No. 357: Charging a robot by remote control in the nuclear power plant in Fukushima (November 21, 2011)

Chiba Institute of Technology developed a new robot that can be charged by remote control. The new robot succeeds Quince that was also developed the same college. Named Rose Mary tentatively, it eliminates the replacement of batteries because it is a plug-in robot chargeable by remote control. It carries a more powerful motor than Quince and allows for a five hour continuous operation. The operator makes it travel to the always-on charging equipment installed near the building and connects it to the charging equipment at night when it is not in use. It takes 3-4 hours to finish charging the new model. Because a Quince requires a worker to spend 15 minutes on changing the battery, the new model reduces the amount of radioactivity that a worker receives.

The new model is loaded with a motor of 150 W that is 2.5 times more powerful than Quince, and it can carry instruments and cameras up to a total weight of 50 kg. The existing model, Quince, can carry up to 20 kg and allows only for a three hour continuous operation. The Quince brought to a standstill in the contaminated building because of battery exhaustion is abandoned and left untouched at present. The new model will be ready within the month.

No. 356: A new emitting material for low cost production of organic electroluminescence for big screens (November 20, 2011)

An emitting material is the core material on which the panel color depends, and the low monocular type emitting material is widespread at present. Although it is stable in quality, it is mainly used for the small screen of a smartphone because it is not suitable for a big screen. Sumitomo Chemical developed a new emitting material that enables to produce big screens at a lower cost. The Sumitomo’s product is the high molecular type emitting material. Because it can easily be printable as ink, it is suitable for the mass production of screens bigger than 40 inches. It can reduce the cost necessary to process the emitting material on the panel by up to 50%. At the same time, the company is confident that its new emitting material has an enough product life for the application on the panel.

The company will build facilities for the mass production of this new product within the year with an investment of several billion yen and start mass production early next year as the first company in the world. It will ship new products to panel makers in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. According to a survey by a U.S. research company, the world market of organic EL panels will increase 13.6 times to about 1,650 billion yen in 2016 over the level in 2010. Actually, it is expected to grow quite rapidly even though its market size is only one fifth of the total liquid crystal panel market. The liquid crystal panel market is estimated to grow 14% in 2016 over the level in 2010 because of the foreseeable slow growth in advanced countries.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

No. 355: A Japanese plant factory technology goes to China (November 19, 2011)

A Japanese plant factory technology developed by Mitsubishi Plastics, a member company of the Mitsubishi ChemicalHoldings, will go to China. The company will market the nutriculture system that utilizes sunlight starting in 2012 in alliance with a cooperative association in Jiangsu province. Demand for the water-saving agricultural method has been growing in China. MKV Dream that is a subsidiary of Mitsubishi Plastics concluded an agreement with the Chinese cooperative association in Nanjing. The two companies built test facilities for the plant factory to culture tomatoes and spinaches with an investment of about 60 million yen.

This technology cultures nursery plants in a PVC greenhouse to decrease the outbreak of diseases and the consumption of agrichemicals. The nursery plants are cultured by dense planting in boxes filled with culture solution. It is expected that about 50 tons of tomatoes, which is 2.5 times more volume than the culture in a conventional greenhouse, can be harvested annually for every 10 are. Because this technology can utilize the existing greenhouse, it does not need so much initial investment as the plant factory that depends totally on artificial light. In addition, the cultivation cost is estimated to decrease to one sixth. In China, the area of protected horticulture will increase 20% over the previous year to about 3,600,000 hectare that is about 70 times larger area in Japan in 2011.

Friday, November 18, 2011

No. 354: A new technology to prevent illegal copies from Dainippon Printing (November 18, 2011)

Dainippon Printing, Japan’s leading printing company, developed a new digital watermarking technology to embed noise data in a music content for the prevention of illegal copies. It is the mechanism to generate a noise in the reproduced sound if an illegally copied sound source is reproduced. The company will conduct the evaluation experiment of this technology with a view to translating it into practical applications, and propose it to production companies and distribution companies of music contents.

The new technology is based on the auditory masking phenomenon that when a big sound and a small sound of relatively close frequencies are reproduced simultaneously, the small sound becomes hard to hear or inaudible. The technology erases the small sound to prevent the auditory masking from working when an illegally copied sound source is narrowed down to the sound territory between 200 Hz and 12 kHz. Thereby, the listener hears the sound source as a noise because only the big sound is reproduced.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

No. 353: A new capsule with encapsulated microorganism to collect rare metals using a microorganism (November 17, 2011)

The test production of capsules to collect rare metals will start next spring. Morishita Jintan that has an advanced technology of capsule development will start test production of capsules with an encapsulated microorganism that adsorbs rare metals. The company will build special production facilities with an investment of about 130 million yen. The scheduled annual production volume is 20 tons. It plans to ship the newly developed capsules to electronic manufacturers with a view to developing the method to improve the collection efficiency and narrowing down the kinds of rare metals to collect. The mass production is scheduled to start in three years.

The newly developed capsule is a semipermeable membrane resin 4-5 mm in diameter. A specific microorganism that ingests rare metals is encapsulated inside. When the capsule is immersed in a solution like an industrial effluent that contains rare metals, the encapsulated microorganism adsorbs the metallic ions of rare metals. If the capsule is burnt, the resin will melt to make it possible to collect rare metals. At present, burning about 1 kg of capsules can collect 10-20 grams of rare metals. The company will improve the collection method and specifications of capsule to prepare for the mass production.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

No. 352: A new transmission system that allows for satellite communications from a helicopter (November 16, 2011)

Helisat is a transmission system developed by Mitsubishi Electric. It allows for satellite communications from a helicopter. It is based on the existing airborne use satellite system. The research team successfully made the autoguider antenna of 40 cm in diameter 30 kg lighter and the in-flight modem 20 kg lighter, and solved the problems with radio wave interference by introducing the intermittent transmission synchronous with the rotary wing. It has a transmission capacity of 6-10 Mb per second. The company wishes to market it as a system for the extensive environmental monitoring service with an emphasis on its ability to transmit images of high vision quality. It is busily occupied with the commercialization of this new transmission system.

The existing transmission from a helicopter has limitations in transmission distance because it uses microwave base stations on the ground. Because the new system can operate on the sea and desert where no ground equipment is available, it will be a valuable transmission system in disaster-stricken areas in time of flood and tsunami. Many local governments and communications companies show interest in the new system because it can be utilized to transmit video information should it be connected to a high-resolution camera and because it has the ability to meet the requirements of base stations of mobile communications.

Monday, November 14, 2011

No. 351: Mono-color electronic paper capable of displaying three colors (November 15, 2011)

Toppan Printing developed new electronic paper that can display a total of three colors including black and white in alliance with a Taiwanese company. They combined Toppan’s monitor with the electronic paper developed by the Taiwanese company. Toppan will market the new product in the Japanese domestic market, while the Taiwanese company will market it in foreign markets. Toppan has already started the test marketing of the new product with a view to placing it on the domestic market within the year. The color to be added to black and white can be picked up from four colors of red, blue, green, and yellow.

The trial product measures 7.2 inches (about 18.28 cm). The reflection coefficient of the new product is more than 30%. It has a high degree of readability because its contrast (difference between light and dark) is 13 to 1. The color part can be positioned anywhere on the display. The new product is energy-saving, the feature that characterizes the existing black and white electronic paper. It will be applied for various purposes, such as signboards in railway stations and boards in meeting rooms.  

Sunday, November 13, 2011

No. 350: Using the smell of wasabi for a smoke alarm designed for hearing-impaired people (November 14, 2011)

Why don’t you use the smell of wasabi (Japanese horseradish) to inform hearing-impaired people of the outbreak of a fire? A seven-member Japanese research team developed equipment that sprays a gas smell of wasabi (Japanese horseradish) to tell the outbreak of a fire. The research team won the Ig Nobel Prize for 2011 with this wasabi smoke alarm. According to the government sources, there are about 60 million hearing-impaired people in Japan. The spread rate of smoke alarm is still 70% despite the government policy, and the spread rate of smoke alarm for hearing-impaired people is merely 2%. Smoke alarms that flash or vibrate are available for hearing-impaired people at present.

To improve the present situation, Fire andDisaster Management Agency is planning to implement a policy to distribute smoke alarms to low-income households of hearing-impaired people for free. The agency is also planning to revise the regulation to install smoke alarms of this kind in hotels and movie theaters. The maker that developed the wasabi smoke large has been receiving lots of inquiries. It costs several tens of thousand yen to install a smoke alarm for hearing-impaired people, while it costs several thousand yen to install a standard type smoke alarm.   

Friday, November 11, 2011

No. 349: Building a gas station resistant to a disaster (November 12, 2011)

After the Fukushima disaster, many companies are busily occupied with formulating measures for a possible disaster in the future. In view of the gasoline shortage that people in the disaster-affected area experienced, the JX Group will build disaster-resistant gas stations across the country. In addition to being a gas station, the new type gas station is expected to be disaster-prevention facilities for the community. The store is a two–story building, and equipped with an emergency generator with a capacity of 70 kW to supply power for lighting and fueling, and a fuel cell. New watertight fuel equipment, which is under development in alliance with equipment maker, will also be installed to allow for fueling in a disaster.  

The store building is about 7 m high, and the rooftop will be used for the evacuation center of employees and residents of the community. A water tank with a capacity of 4,000 liters and charging equipment for mobile phones will also be installed. It will be possible to heat water pumped up from a well using the fuel cell. The new type gas station costs 1.5 times more than the conventional gas station that needs an investment of about 100 million yen. The company will build this type gas station in the 12 locations specified as possible tsunami victims in the future by the government. The first gas station of the new type will be open next March in the disaster-stricken area.  

Thursday, November 10, 2011

No. 348: A new air-conditioner allows you to feel warmer by five degrees centigrade than the setup temperature (November 11, 2011)

You can increase your sensible temperature by five degrees centigrade if you replace your air-conditioner with a new model from Daikin Industries. Besides increasing humidity, the new air-conditioner warms the place where you stand in a focused way with the help of the build-in sensor. An energy-saving model, it needs 30% less power than the existing models of this company. It will be added to the high-end models as a new product.

In the heating mode, the new model humidifies the room and detects the place where you stand using the sensor to warm it intensively. This function enables your sensible temperature to be 25 degrees centigrade even though the setup temperature is 20 degrees centigrade demanded by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry as an energy saving measure for this winter. In the cooling mode, the new model allows you to have a sensible temperature three degrees centigrade below the setup temperature at the maximum. It will be put on the market in February 2012, and the model with an output of 2.8 kW will be priced at about 240,000 yen a unit.       

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

No. 347: Introducing smart grids to 30 buildings in the business district of Tokyo (November 10, 2011)

Mitsubishi Estate will introduce smart grids, the next-generation power grid, to about 30 office buildings it owns in the business district of Tokyo. The company will install a system that optimizes energy supply and demand using IT technology for effective power utilization together with cogeneration equipment to deconcentrate the supply sources of energy. It will start the feasibility study with the Tokyo Metropolitan Government shortly. Several office buildings will get the system installed for experiment in 2012. Beginning in 2013, the system will be installed in the buildings one after another.

The smart meters installed in these 30 buildings will be networked for 24-hour monitoring of power demand of the tenants. Huge solar panels will be set up in the rooftop of the buildings, and a system to use exhaust heat from sewage will also be employed. The above measures will help the consumption of renewable energy increase. Wind and photovoltaic generation systems have only 10% share at present. There are worries about power shortage among tenants after the Fukushima disaster, and such tenants motivated Mitsuishi Estate.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

No. 346: Honda’s new ASIMO can communicate in sign language (November 9, 2011)

Honda announced that it had developed a new model of its human robot ASIMO. With rather improved physical ability, the new model can trot along and take optimal actions responding to his surroundings. It was released to the public at Fundamental Technology Research Center of Honda Research Institute. Besides increasing the maximum walking speed from 6 km/h to 9 km/h, it now can run, walk forward and backward, walk on the bumpy road, and hop on one foot continuously. In addition, it has the ability to unscrew a bottle cap, communicate in sign language, and make up three words simultaneously.

Although the previous model takes actions only in accordance with the built-in program, the new model can move forward at his discretion without colliding with people by analyzing their moving direction with the help of build-in multiple sensors. The company also built a test model of an arm robot that can be used for jobs in the place inaccessible to human. Using the technology accumulated in developing ASIMO, It developed this model taking advice and suggestions from Tokyo Electric Power into consideration. It is designed to do jobs inside a nuclear power plant.

Monday, November 7, 2011

No. 345: Production of high-performance black lead is expanded to prepare for the growing demand of solar battery (November 8, 2011)

It is highly likely that demand for solar battery will grow in the long and medium terms. To prepare for the growing demand of solar battery, Tokai Carbon decided to increase its current annual production capacity of high-performance black lead by 50% to 15,000 tons by late 2012 with an investment of about 5 billion yen. Despite the current highly appreciated yen, the company will expand the domestic facilities to crush cokes and mix them with petroleum pitch, instead of building a new plant in a foreign country. The investment is to increase the production capacity of isotropic graphite that is a special carbon product.

The company studied the demand forecast of solar battery and came to the conclusion that the world demand for isotropic graphite will grow 30% over the level in 2011 to 60,000 tons in 2013. Isotropic graphite is used to build a crucible for the production of a silicon ingot, which is the raw material of a solar battery cell (power generation element), and an electrode for electric discharge of the die for vehicle production. Tokai Carbon supposed to be second place in the production of isotropic graphite with a 20% share in the world market. The company plans to increase the sales of special carbon products 50% over the current 10 billion yen in three to four years.   

Sunday, November 6, 2011

No. 344: A new plant in Poland to produce parts for emission gas purification of diesel vehicles (November 7, 2011)

Unlike in Japan where hybrid vehicles and e-vehicles are growing their presence, low-pollutant diesel vehicles are still enjoying a high popularity in Europe. Because environmental regulations are expected to grow more stringent in Europe, Sumitomo Chemical will build a plant to produce parts for emission gas purification of diesel vehicles in Poland with an investment of about 15 billion yen. The new plant will produce parts for more than 2 million vehicles annually, most of which will be sold to European automakers. The construction will start early 2012, and the new plant is scheduled to start operations late 2013.

The part is the diesel particulate filter (DPF) to be built in the exhaust mechanism. The DPF is generally made of silicon carbide, and NGK Insulators and Ibiden are the two leading producers of this model. Sumitomo Chemical, however, developed the next-generation DPF that is made of aluminum titanate. Sumitomo’s next-generation DPF was successful in the performance examination by automakers. The company has already got informal approval from some European automakers. In addition to the plant in Poland, the company is also building DPF equipment in one of its domestic plants with an investment of about 2 billion yen. This domestic plant is scheduled to ship DPFs to Hyundai of Korea and manufacturers of construction and farming machinery in Asia.   

Friday, November 4, 2011

No. 343: A new household photovoltaic generation system from NTT DoCoMo (November 5, 2011)

NTT DoCoMo will enter the the household photovoltaic generation market in alliance with electronics companies both at home and abroad. The initial system, which comes with a small solar battery and a storage battery, will be launched in 2012 for a unit price of less than 100,000 yen. It will be a portable system with a generation capacity of less than 1 kW. It can be used as an emergency power source for a PC and lighting in case of a power outage. The storage battery is detachable, and it comes with an end connection for charging a mobile phone. The new system will be sold through about 2,400 NTT DoCoMo shops across the country. 

Amid the growing concern over power saving, the company plans to open up a new market by integrating its excellent communication technology with a smartphone for the surveillance and management of power consumption in household. It further intends to develop software programs for the management of power consumption in households and remote areas alike. It has already developed a system to know power consumption in detail using a small-size power meter with a wireless communication function. In the future, the company will develop a large-scale photovoltaic generation system with housing makers and volume retailers of electric appliances. Ultimately, it wishes to establish a dominant position in the market of household energy management by dint of its excellent communication technology.

No. 342: Four kinds of medical and nursing-care robots from Toyota (November 4, 2011)

Toyota has been developing partner robots in four fields since 2007: medical, nursing-care, manufacturing, and product development. It is collaborating with Fujita Health University in Aichi Prefecture in the development of medical and nursing-care robots. The company disclosed four kinds of medical and nursing-care robots. They are robots for waling without human aid, walking exercises, balancing exercises, and transferring support. These robots are designed to help people with difficulty walking independently and those with difficulty getting out bed independently.

A substantiative experiment will start in 2012 at major medical facilities. A professor of Fujita Health University says, “Toyota’s safety technology is excellent and very close to practical use. Toyota’s director in charge of the development is confident about the spread of these robots in view of the dwindling birthrate and an aging population. Toyota plans to put these robots into practical application at an early period of 2013. The company is also energetically developing robots for manufacturing and product development.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

No. 341: Production of palm oil-derived fuel in Malaysia (November 2, 2011)

Nippon Steel Engineering will build a plant specially designed for the production of palm oil-derived fuel in Malaysia with an investment of 400-500 million yen. Scheduled to start operation in the spring of 2013, the plant will have an annual production capacity of 3,000 tons. Southeast Asian countries dispose of the residues of palm oil as industrial wastes, but the company will produce environment-conscious fuel using palm oil residues and export it to Japan for the fuel of garbage disposal plants in Japan. The palm oil-derived fuel is called bio-coke. The company will collect empty palm fruit clusters from the palm oil plants in Malaysia, and process them in the plant after drying and heating them.  

Bio-coke can be used as the fuel of gasification melting furnaces for the incineration disposal of municipal solid wastes. A gasification melting furnace usually uses coal cokes as fuel. If bio-coke can replace coal coke, it is possible to eliminate the carbon dioxide emissions from coal cokes. Nippon Steel Engineering shipped a gasification melting furnace to nearly 40 garbage disposal plants in Japan. The price of bio-coke is not yet decided, but it will be between 50,000 and 7,000 yen per ton. The company is the first to address the commercial mass production of bio-coke derived from palm oil. The construction of the special plant is scheduled to start in the spring of 2012.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

No. 340: The performance of a storage battery is improving rapidly (2/2) (October 31, 2011)

NEC developed a lithium-ion battery with an electrode that employs manganese instead of cobalt: manganese is about twentieth of cobalt in price. Besides the low cost electrode, the company modified the ingredient of the electrolyte and succeeded in achieving better performance. The new lithium-ion battery is hard to generate heat and able to discharge and charge for more than 20,000 times. It has a life of 13 years without problems if it is charged during nighttime when electricity rate is low and used during daytime: The existing lithium-ion battery has a life of 7-8 years. The company plans to lengthen the current life of 13 years to 20 years in five years, and subsequently put it on the market.

In the industrial world, efforts are being made to expand the application of a storage battery to smart grids and smart houses. Japan IBM is implementing the plan to build an eco town in collaboration with the city of Sendai, and Fujitsu submitted a plan to build a smart city to Fukushima Prefecture. Sony is addressing a project to build a large lithium-ion battery. However, a large storage battery with a capacity big enough to be built in the transmission network is still in the development stage. The development of a large storage capacity is vital for the stable supply of electricity generated by renewable energy. Every company concerned has entered a period of tough competition. 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

No. 339: The performance of a storage battery is improving rapidly (1/2) (October 29, 2011)

Toyota, Tokyo Institute of Technology, and High Energy Accelerator Research Organization built a trial storage battery of the next-generation using a new chemical compound. The trial product can apply as much electric current needed for acceleration as the lithium-ion battery on an EV does. It is totally a solid battery free from any flammable liquid. Because it does not need any materials to prevent combustion, it has a simplified structure and can be built at a lower cost than the existing storage battery. As the chemical compound can easily be processed to be sheet-like, it can store several times more electricity in the same volume than the existing storage battery. The research team predicts that it will allow an EV to travel up to 1,000 km without charge and that it can be made smaller to be used for housing purposes. It wishes to put this trial product into practical application between 2015 and 2020.

Mazda and Hiroshima University developed an electrode material that can increase the capacity of a storage battery by 1.8 times. The new material uses spherical carbon molecules several hundred nanometers in diameter each. It can halve the weight per volume, while increasing the travel distance without charge by more than two times. The roadmap published last year by New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization indicates that the cost per volume of the next-generation storage battery will become between one fifth and one tenth of the present level in 2020. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

No. 338: You can pinpoint the location where people get together for better tax assignment in 10 seconds (October 28, 2011)

Fujitsu Laboratories will start a new cloud service using GPS and huge positional information stored of mobile phones within the year. The laboratories developed a technology to analyze the flows of cars, people, and products 60 times faster than the existing technology. If this technology is applied to the assignment of taxies, it analyzes information it receives from several thousands taxies traveling in Tokyo and narrows down the places where many people are waiting for taxies. The existing technology can give rough ideas like many people are waiting for taxies before a railway station, but it cannot narrow it down to supply an exact location.

The existing technology on positional information processes information by dividing the map into pieces, while the new technology eliminates the regions with scarce information on the map and pinpoints the location for better efficiency and serviceability. It will also be applicable to the preliminary study of the location of a new store because it can tell the exact region that customers of a certain store frequent from their shopping records and positional information of mobile phones. In addition, it will serve efficient and effective delivery of rescue supply to the evacuation center in a time of disaster.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

No. 337: New equipment to make a 30 micrometer hole in stainless steel (October 27, 2011)

Equipment to make a hole 30 micrometers in diameter in stainless steel using a drill has been developed by Morikawa Co. in Chiba Prefecture. Established in 1980, the company is well known for precision work with delivery records of precision parts for accelerators and equipment for cancer treatment. Two methods exist for fine cutting of stainless steel: one uses a drill, and the other uses laser. The former allows for making a 30 micrometer hole, but burr is created because of inaccurate depth in cutting. The latter allows for an exact depth, but tiny cutting scraps melt by heat and adhere to the drill in making a hole less than 50 micrometers in diameter.

The company installed an ultrasonic generator around the drill that eliminates cutting scraps with the help of cutting oil. It confirmed that the equipment prevented cutting scraps from adhere to the drill almost completely. The achievement will expand the applications of the drill cutting method. In the fiber industry, fine threads a few micrometers in diameter are increasingly used to create original tactile impression and luster. Accordingly, weaving machines for this purpose need a part with a hole of an exact diameter to bundle threads. The company also plans to get orders for part processors of purification filters.    

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

No. 336: A superconducting receive filter to be built in a weather radar system (October 26, 2011)

Toshiba developed a superconducting receive filter to be built in a weather radar system for the observation of torrential downpours. The new filter increased the utilization efficiency by dividing the band frequency into less than one tenth as compared with copper filter. The weather radar system transmits radio waves of a certain frequency to the air and receives signals that reflect on the raindrops and return to the system. Thesystem can monitor an area of about 250 square meters in about one minute by examining the size and figure of raindrops.

The company employed a superconducting material of the yttrium family for the new receive filter. Besides narrowing the bandwidth of the frequency from 40 MHz to 3 MHz, the new system reduced the power loss to one fourth with the help of the resonance circuit set up that used the superconducting material. Although it is necessary to cool down the circuit to minus 200 degrees centigrade by the accessory freezer, the capacity of the new filter is 10 liters, 65% smaller than the capacity of the existing copper filter. Because of the increased frequency of torrential downpours, it is desired to increase the operation of the weather radar system.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

No. 335: Practical application of injection molding compounds made from paper (October 25, 2011)

Pulp Injection Consortium organized by ProfessorHidetoshi Yokoi of Institute of Industrial Science, the University of Tokyo, will address the practical application of paper-made auto parts and cases for precision apparatus. Participated by eight private companies, the research team has already built more than 10 kinds of products on trial, all of which are in the process of practical application. The pulp injection molding is the method to create a product by injecting and molding a material hardened by starch glue. Taiho Industrial has the basic patent of pulp injection molding.

The research team has built disposable ample cases for medical use and clamps for document files. Sekiso is working on a rust-preventive cover for the brake pad of a vehicle and parts of the defroster for windshield. The other promising fields include a packaging material of camera. The trial product of camera packaging can reduce carbon dioxide emission by about 50% of the emission by polystyrene foam and about 70% of the emission by cardboard. These products will possibly be put on the market in 2012. The consortium will continue the research to develop high value-added products.  

Sunday, October 23, 2011

No. 334: Use exhaust gas to increase the capacity of an air lithium air battery (October 24, 2011)

A research team of Toyota Central R&DLabs discovered that using a mix gas of oxygen and carbon dioxide in place of an oxygen gas for the reaction increased the capacity of an air lithium battery by more than three times. The energy density is 2,360 watt-hour per liter, and the new system can store 6-7 times more electricity than a lithium-ion battery and several score times more electricity than a manganese battery. A battery that utilizes carbon dioxide collected from the outside for the reaction can rarely be found.    

A lithium air battery generates electricity by the reaction between metallic lithium in the negative electrode and oxygen in the air. The research group supplied an oxygen gas mixed with carbon dioxide for the ratio between 30% and 70% to a lithium air battery and found that the capacity of the lithium air battery increased by more than three times, and also learned that the capacity decreased if the ratio of carbon dioxide increased to more than 70%. However, carbon lithium created by the reaction does not create a reaction to generate electricity once it is discharged. Therefore, the research team plans to use the new system for the primary battery that utilizes carbon dioxide in the exhaust gas instead of the secondary battery. It attributes the increased capacity to the slow appearance of carbon lithium. To put the new system into practical application, it is necessary to establish a technology to protect the metallic lithium that reacts with the air.