Sunday, January 30, 2011

No. 234: Displaying the route on the windshield of a vehicle (January 31, 2011)

The head-up display technology to display information on the windshield is already applied to luxury cars now. In the current technology, however, the driver has difficulty focusing on the speed indication displayed on the windshield if he pays attention to the scenery. Utilizing the sensory illusion of the brain, Toshiba developed the technology to put the name of place and an arrow to show the route exactly on the real scenery the driver sees through the windshield. Toshiba improved the optical device to reflect symbols and letters drawn using CG and made the light from the device gather only in one of the two eyes by controlling the diffusion of light. Because the information exactly overlaps the scenery ahead, the driver can see the information from the navigation system clearly. The company said that driving safety would be improved because the driver can understand information from the car navigation system clearly and easily while he is watching ahead. This new technology can be applied not only the car navigation system but also to the guide system that allows a viewer to see sightseeing information on the scenery he looks from the observation deck. It plans to put the new technology into practical application in 3-4 years.

Friday, January 28, 2011

No. 233: Environmentally-focused experimental blast furnace toward 2015 (January 28, 2011)

A total of six companies made up mainly of leading Japanese steelmakers will construct an experimental blast furnace toward 2015 with an investment of 15 billion yen. The experimental blast furnace is about 30-20 cubic meters with a daily crude steel production capacity of several tens of tons. It will be used for the development of the next-generation steelmaking process named COURSE50 scheduled for 2030 that is projected to reduce carbon dioxide emissions 30% from the current level. The six companies have been jointly working on it on consignment from New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO). They plan to replace part of coal for extracting oxygen in iron ore with hydrogen, put the technology to separate and collect carbon dioxide in the exhaust gases from the blast furnace into practical use, and examine the response of iron ore in the case that hydrogen gas is used. They are scheduled to start the substantiative experiments in Sweden using the experiment furnace owned by LKAB of Sweden in the first half of 2012. The only experiment furnace in Japan is owned by Sumitomo Metal Industries, but it turned to be too small to do large-scale experiment because its volume is about four cubic meters.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

No. 232: Hot water even if external temperature is 25 degrees below zero (January 27, 2011)

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries announced that it developed a heat pump type industrial-use water heater that allows for stable operation in the cold area. It can boil water up to 90 degrees centigrade even if the external air is 25 degrees centigrade below zero by increasing the number of pressures. The pressure raises temperature by compressing the air. Heat pump raises temperature by pressuring gas that intakes the heat of air. The thermal energy obtained from power necessary for pressure is of great help to energy saving. According to Mitsubishi Heavy, existing models decrease the pressure efficiency if the temperature is below 10 degrees centigrade below zero. Mitsubishi’s new model employs two pressures instead of one pressure carried by the existing models. The company developed the technology to maintain the pressure efficiency by interlocking the two pressures. The company will sell this new model to commercial facilities and hospitals in the cold area. The new model will be put on the market coming June for 5,800,000 yen a unit. The company plans to ship 500 units and get achieve sales of two billion yen in 2011. Mitsubishi will introduce small type for household and increase sales in the heat pump business to 10 billion yen toward 2013.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

No. 231: 200-inch 3D display viewable without special glasses (January 26, 2011)

A 200-inch three dimensional display that allows viewers to see 3D video without special glasses has been developed by National Institute of Information and Communications Technology and JVC Kenwood. This is the world’s largest 3D display of this kind. The two organizations plan to start substantiative experiments in two years with a view to applying it to digital signage and development support system for vehicles. The display is about 2.5 meters high and about 4.5 meters wide. The system uses 64 projectors that create 57 kinds of videos by changing their angles slightly. A viewer can enjoy 3D videos because the sensation of sight makes each of his eyes receives discrete videos. Although large screen has a problem with vertical stripes, the two organizations successfully resolved this problem by using special film and lens to make the brightness and color of the video quality uniform. At the present development stage, a viewer can see 3D video only when he is less than 5.5 meter away from the screen and in an area 1.3 meters from side to side. The two organizations plan to increase the number of projectors to 200 units in the near future to allow a viewer to enjoy 3D video even if he is in an area 4 meters from side to side.

No. 230: Fundamental technology for organic thin film photovoltaic cell (January 25, 2011)

A research team led by Kyushu University developed the fundamental technology to increase the performance of organic thin film photovoltaic cell. Panasonic Electric Works and Lintec participated in the project. All the three organization are members of BEANS Laboratory in Tokyo. They improved the structure of the surface of the thin film and increased the efficiency to convert light to electricity, paving the way to the performance comparable to that of silicon solar cell. Organic thin film photovoltaic cell is sheet-like and light. It is not as durable as silicon solar cell, but it can be produced at a much less production cost required by silicone solar cell. It generates electricity under a fluorescent lamp and can be folded to carry. The newly developed technology puts many bowl-shaped prongs about 40 nanometers in diameter each on the semiconductor organic material. Experiments showed that the bowl-shaped prongs improved the performance considerably. The research team predicts that the conversion efficiency can be increased to about 6%. Because organic thin film photovoltaic cell can be piled up, it can realize a conversion efficiency of higher than 10% for applications to house walls and mobile phone surfaces in the future. The research team plans to put the technology into practical use toward 2015.

Monday, January 24, 2011

No. 229: Plastics made from bark of a tree from Japan (January 24, 2011)

Fujifilm developed bark-derived plastics. The company developed this new product from cellulose and successfully made it processable to create complicated shapes. Cellulose is the main ingredient of a plant, and thready particles bond tight each other. Therefore, plastic made of cellulose is very strong, but it has limited applications because it cannot be easily processed. The research team weakened the bond between particles of cellulose a little with the help of special medical agents. In addition, strength remains unchanged because it combined several medical agents. The research team experimentally applied the plastics to the film case and succeeded in creating parts of complicated shape. Strong against thermal deformation, the newly developed plastic does not become deformed up to 93 degrees centigrade. Fujifilm plans to apply it to various parts of such products as home electronic appliances and vehicles. Practical applications of plastics using polylactate made of corn are developing lately. However, polylactate is not problem-free because the more amount of polylactate is produced, the less amount of corn is consumed for food. Cellulose does not create such problem because it comes from barks of trees that are not edible.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

No. 228: World’s strongest magnesium alloy from Japan (January 20, 2011)

A research team led by a professor of the University of Electro-Communications developed the world’s strongest magnesium alloy without rare earthes. It weighs about two thirds of aluminum alloy. The manufacturing method of this magnesium alloy is to add a small amount of aluminum and zinc to magnesium, and stretch the resulting product to various directions at room temperature. A standard alloy is made up of round particles, each of which about 50 micrometers in diameter, but the research team successfully increased the strength considerably by extending the standard alloy to a needle less than one micrometer long by press work. It does not collapse even if it is pulled by such strength 650 Mpa that is equivalent to the pressure several thousands bigger than atmospheric pressure. This new magnesium alloy is 20% stronger than the existing strongest magnesium alloy and the high-intensity aluminum alloy called extra super duralumin. It can easily be made by a press machine installed in family-run business at a reasonable cost. The structure of this new magnesium alloy is like the structure of steel of Japanese sword. The research team plans to make the new magnesium alloy into practical use and apply it to parts of vehicles, airplanes, PCs, and mobile instruments.

Friday, January 14, 2011

No. 227: Technology to make an enzyme remain active even after 80 times of usage (January 15, 2011)

JGC, JGS C&C, and National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) jointly developed the technology to use an enzyme for more than 80 times. They fixed an enzyme in the self-developed material with lots of very small holes on the surface. The material is a sphere made up of particles of silica (silica dioxide) each of which is several tens of nanometers in diameter. Molecules of an enzyme get into the interspaces of the particles. The technology can be used for various kinds of enzymes because the size of the interspace can be adjusted by changing the diameter of the particle. The research team did a reaction experiment by fixing an enzyme that has the function to change the structure of amino acid on the self-developed material. The enzyme was as active as it was before the experiment even after it reacted with amino acid for 80 times. In addition, the enzyme got increased heat resistance. This technology can be used in the production of pharmaceuticals and chemical products, and it is helpful for cost reduction. Enzymes increase the efficiency of a chemical reaction, but they are disposable and not cost effective. Past technologies to fix an enzyme are liable to break particles and can be use only for limited kinds of enzymes.

Friday, January 7, 2011

No. 226: Electricity-conducting cloth with the possibility of photovoltaic generation (January 8, 2011)

A researcher in National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) and a researcher in Beans Laboratory jointly developed a new type of electricity-conducting cloth in alliance with Furukawa Electric and Toshiba Machine. They wove textile threads on which conductive materials were applied thinly. The cloth becomes a sensor to detect the contact of hand or body if weak electricity flows in it. If the cloth is used for a bed sheet, it will be helpful to know the conditions of the aged on the bed. If it is used for part of clothes, it can be an input keyboard or antenna for the mobile terminal. They applied conductive general-purpose material and nonconductive fluorine resin on the surface of a standard nylon thread of about 0.5 mm in diameter to create an electricity-conducting cloth that is 1 m long and 3 m wide using the self-developed microfabrication device. When electricity flows in it and a hand is put on it, the size of electricity between threads changes to show the part and amount of the applied strength. If it is woven in the microstructure like a circuit, it is possible to incorporate the function of photovoltaic generation in the cloth. The two researchers plan to put the new technology into practical use in a few years.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

No. 225: Japanese technology of solar air-conditioning goes to UAE (January 7, 2011)

Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) is scheduled to start the substantiative experiment of air-conditioning using solar heat in United Arab Emirates (UAE) this spring. Japan wishes to introduce its technology to UAE that is promoting the urban concept of zero carbon and zero wastes and examine how effective Japanese technology is and how long it takes to recover investment. The experiment will be performed jointly by Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) and a government-affiliated agency of Abu Dhabi Emirate. This is part of the cooperation Japan gives to the Masdar city concept that started in 2006 in Abu Dhabi. In the experiment, vapor generated by heat collected by the large-scale mirror built in the city will be used for air-conditioning with the help of the heat exchange using the temperature difference. The experiment will study cooling efficiency and profitability against investment cost in the experiment. It is a three-year experiment, and Japan will invest about 3 billion yen. Japan wishes to promote the export of infrastructure to UAE and strengthen the relations with UAE on which Japan greatly depends for oil import. METI has already decided to perform substantiative experiment for photovoltaic generation in Morocco and for solar heat generation in Tunisia.

No. 224: Experiment of an electric fishing vessel starts coming July (January 6, 2011)

A group of 10 organizations, both public and private, including Fisheries Agency and Tokyo Electric Power will start the experiment to sail an electronic fishing vessel powered by a quick charger designed for electric vehicle in Nagasaki Prefecture coming July. The experimental fishing vessel will employ a charger of the CHAdeMO system. The equipment for quick charging developed by Ulvac will be installed in a port of an island in Nagasaki Prefecture. Electricity to be used for charging will be mostly from normal electricity, and electricity generated by the photovoltaic equipment in the port will also be used for charging. The experimental fishing vessel was developed by six companies including Tokyo Electric Power and Yamaha Motor under the initiative of Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology. It is about seven meters long and loaded with lithium-ion battery, and can sail for more than 30 km per 30-minute charge. It is designed to catch shells in home waters. Its fuel cost will be less than half of a fishing vessel of the same size that needs heavy oil. The experiment to sail a fishing boat is also under way in Hokkaido and Shikoku. Hokkaido uses a lead battery, while Shikoku employs lithium-ion battery. Both systems, however, need several hours for charging, and an efficient charging system is strongly desired.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

No. 223: Technology to increase the purity of hydrogen used in petroleum refinery (January 5, 2011)

Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry will launch a government-private sector joint research project to create high-purity hydrogen from hydrogen used in petroleum refinery for the battery of fuel-cell vehicles. To prepare for the substantial spread of fuel-cell vehicles in 2015, the ministry plans to stabilize the supply of high-purity hydrogen. At the same time, oil companies can find another source of revenue as oil demand has been dwindling. The project is three year long starting 2011, and it will cover from technology development to the substantiative experiment. The investment amount is about 500 million yen, half of which will be subsidized. The ministry will invite public participation for this project. Oil distributors produce hydrogen to resolve sulfur content in the process of petroleum refinery. As the purity of hydrogen produced in the oil refinery is about 90%, it is necessary to increase the purity of hydrogen to 99.99% almost without impurities for the battery to be use of fuel-cell vehicles. The ministry and oil companies plan to develop the technology to produce high-purity hydrogen using a separation membrane and build dedicated equipment. The competition for business with fuel-cell vehicles is growing harder.

Monday, January 3, 2011

No. 222: New technologies to incorporate more carbon fibers in auto body (January 4, 2011)

New technologies have been developed in succession to increase the amount of carbon fibers to be used in auto body. Mitsubishi Rayon developed the technology to process carbon fiber to such figures as hollow tube and ball in collaboration with Toyobo and Tokyo University. One centimeter wide ribbon-shared carbon fiber is hardened by resin. It is possible to create a hollow tube by cutting, rranging, and rolling the ribbon-shaped carbon fiber and heating the resulting product in a few minutes. As the hollow tube can be applied to vehicles, the three organizations plan to put the technology into practical use by 2012. The research team made up of Toray, Tokyo University, Tohoku University, and Tagakiseiko developed carbon fiber that can be cast to a complicated and hubbly figure. The newly-developed technology entwines small carbon fibers uniformly in diverse directions to create bonded textile and hardens the resulting product in the form of plate. It is strong against strength coming from any directions. The new material makes it possible to create a complicate figure with a deep concavity and convexity and with bends with steep angles. Because the created parts can be united after processing, they can be applied to engine-related parts of vehicles. The technology is scheduled to be translated into practical application in 2013.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

No. 221: New technology to collect rare metals from mobile phones (January 2, 2011)

Waseda University, Mitsui Mining & Smelting, and Dowa Eco-System developed the technology to collect rare metals from mobile phones. The new technology rolls electronic substrates as if it washes them in a washing machine and sorts out about 50 kinds of parts, and collects rare metals assuming every part as a mineral ore. It opened up the way to reuse over 90% of the rare metals contained in a mobile phone. Currently, about seven million mobile phones are recycled annually in Japan, but only gold and copper are reused now. The electronic substrate of a mobile phone contains about 20 kinds of rare metals, but the current method of fragmentating electronic substrates is not enough to collect rare metals effectively. The new technology to concentrate rare metals by part has rather high collection efficiency. In fact, it successfully collected more than 90% of tantalum from a few kinds of mobile phone parts. It will be possible to collect various rare metals by increasing the number of parts for collection. The development team plans to put the technology into practical used in five years. Supporting organizations include Tohoku University, National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, and Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation.