Monday, February 28, 2011

No. 252: Synthesize carbon nanotube in a flask (February 28, 2011)

A professor of Kyoto University developed the technology to synthesize carbon nanotube in a flask. This technology makes it possible to build a break-proof carbon nanotube at a low temperature and control the size and behavior. The results were published in the February 28 issue of the electronics version of Nature Materials that is a British science magazine. He put platinum ion and two kinds of organic compounds in a flask and built a square frame 1.1 nanometer on a side, and subsequently added iodine to build a single-wall carbon nanotube square pole. Because materials other than platinum are inexpensive, the production cost is several thousand yen per gram that is about one hundredth of the cost needed for the existing carbon nanotube. If platinum can be replaced by nickel, the production cost will be further reduced to one tenth of the cost achieved in the experiment. In addition to the break-proof nature, the carbon nanotube built using the newly-developed technology makes it possible to absorb only specific gases. The professor plans to apply this technology to gas sensor, fuel cell, and electronics parts and components.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

No. 251: Small and light-weight fuel cell you can put on a palm (February 25, 2011)

A company in Kyoto that specializes in the development of fuel cells announced that it would put a newly-developed small and light-weight fuel cell on the market coming April. The company is Aquafairly originating from a laboratory of Kyoto University and the product is AF-M3000. The product uses a substance that generates hydrogen should it be mixed with water and supplies hydrogen for the cell. You do not need large and cumbersome equipment like hydrogen cylinder because you can carry the cell in the normal temperature when hydrogen is a solid substance. The fuel source is a substance based on calcium hydride, and electricity is generated by making hydrogen, which is generated by mixing the substance with water, react with oxygen inside the cell. Equipment to cool down the heat generated in the reaction is not necessary. Weighing 128 grams with an output of 2.5 watts, it can be put on your palm. It can be used for recharging mobile terminals, and you can operate an Apple’s i-Phone for 3 hours per 90-minute recharge. It is priced at 26,250 yen, and it is smaller and lighter than a cell that uses methanol as fuel.

No. 250: Successful international relay of super high-definition video (February 24, 2011)

NTT and NHK announced that they succeeded in the international relay of a super high-definition video that is 16 times as fine as a high-definition video. Embedded with their original data compression technology, the experiment transmitted a video for a distance of 80,000 km using the next-generation high-speed line of optical fiber. The transmission delay was 0.3 second that is a quarter of the time required by the satellite connection. The new technology is expected to allow for public viewing to enjoy videos of sports events transmitted from abroad in a large screen. In the experiment, a video filmed in NHK’s Science and Technology Research Laboratories in Tokyo was transmitted to BBC in London via the U.S., and subsequently it was transmitted back to NTT’s International Sharing Laboratory Group in Tokyo. The new data compression method successfully reduced the data capacity and strengthened the security function to protect data. Super high-definition can reproduce 33 million pixels, 16 times as many pixels as the number of pixels transmittable by high-definition. The next-generation high-speed line is being constructed for universities and laboratories in Japan.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

No. 249: World’s thinnest disposable lithium battery with a longer life (February 23, 2011)

World’s thinnest disposable lithium battery was developed by FDK Corp. that is one of the group companies of Fujitsu, Ltd. The new battery is as thin as 0.42 mm. Using thin film materials, FDK successfully built such a thin lithium battery and, at the same time, lengthened the product life to five years that is more than 1.5 times longer than those of competitive products on the market. It is about 25 mm wide and 25 mm deep that is approximately the same size of a thumb. The company plans to target the market of thin cards for security purposes. For example, the new lithium battery makes it possible to develop a security card with passwords that vary with financial services. Currently, small button-shaped batteries are dominant in the market, but it is hard to make the button-shaped battery thinner. FDK is scheduled to start mass production coming September and achieve sales of 500 million yen by March 2012.

Monday, February 21, 2011

No. 248: Small sensor to measure power consumption without external power supply (February 22, 2011)

A sensor made a debut that can measure power consumption of an electronics device easily without external power supply. Unlike the traditional sensor, the newly-developed sensor needs neither a battery nor an outlet. Developed by NEC, this sensor operates only with the force generated by the magnetic field in the area surrounding wires of an electronics device. Because it does not need a power source, it will be helpful to construct a system that monitors lots of electronics devices simultaneously and minimizes the total power consumption. The company gave a twist to the circuit design of power measurement. The sensor can operate with a very small power of about 1 milliwatt obtainable through the conversion of the force generated by the magnetic field. It also can tell the kinds of devices on the basis of wave pattern of current and detect the malfunction of the operation. Combined with software to manage electronics devices, it can manage power of idle devices to reduce the total energy consumption of an office and a household. NEC plans to apply this technology to the temperature sensor. The company will present the newly-developed sensor in the International Solid-State Circuits Conference being held in the U.S.

Friday, February 18, 2011

No. 247: Mobile phone with the simultaneous interpretation service (February 18, 2011)

NTT DoCoMo announced that it would launch the simultaneous interpretation service for the users of its smart phones within the year. The message a user talks over the phone will be put into a foreign language simultaneously by the phone. The service is intended to help users enjoy communication with foreigners even with poor foreign language skill. It utilizes the Xi that is NTT DoCoMo’s high-speed data transmission service launched late last year. The servers with the translation function are put inside the mobile phone networks, and they will convert the voice of a user into a foreign language and transmit the converted voice to the smart phone of the intended party. The translated message is transmitted in 2-3 seconds, though the time depends on the communication environment. Because the technology under development can translate only clear voices without noise, the company will introduce the simultaneous interpretation service for free on a trial basis in the beginning. It plans to improve the accuracy of analysis and commercialize the technology in 2-3 years.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

No. 246: Kirin employs the world’s lightest aluminum cans for its beer (February 17, 2011)

Kirin Brewery developed the world’s lightest aluminum beer can in alliance with three leading can manufacturing companies: Toyo Seikan, Daiwa Can, and Universal Can. They decreased the diameter of the bottom lid of the existing aluminum can by 2% and successfully secured the same pressure resistance. The newly-developed 350 ml can is 1 gram lighter than the existing aluminum can weighing about 15 grams. Kirin will replace its existing aluminum cans with the newly-developed aluminum cans by degrees toward the end of this year. Kirin uses about 5 billion beer cans annually. This means that the company can reduce aluminum consumption by about 4,000 tons annually, equivalent to the amount consumed by 300 million 350 ml cans. Reduced aluminum consumption allows Kirin to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 8%. The company is strenuously addressing various approaches including modal shift to achieve its own goal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 60% in 2020 as compared with the level of 1990. With the growing demand for cars in developing countries, the aluminum price stands at 2,500 dollars per ton now, about twice in February 2009, in the London Metal Exchange. Accordingly, the price of synthetic resins that are raw materials of containers and packaging films has been rising continuously in Asia since last summer.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

No. 245: A new system for efficient treatment and reutilization of plant effluent (February 16, 2011)

Nitto Denko and Kuraray jointly developed a new system for efficient treatment and reutilization of plant effluent. The system is made up of Kuraray’s biotreatment technology that uses bacteria and Nitto Denko’s water treatment film. The new system needs less than half the space required by the existing system and reduces energy consumption by 30%. Because plant effluent has a higher pollution degree than living drainage, it is usually treated with water treatment film after pretreatment. The new system, however, can collect only required bacteria in the surface of particles and cleanse them efficiently with the help of Kuraray’s original technology that uses particles of synthetic resins. Nitto Denko’s water treatment films that prevent taints from sticking are used in the system. Thanks to the high degree of efficiency, the new system does not needs a big water-purifier tank, and it can reduce electric energy. The substantiative test will start in Singapore between June 2011 and February 2012 as a project sponsored by New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization. In the test, 50 tons of plant effluent will be treated for reutilization per day. The system is capable enough to treat up to several tens of thousand of tons plant effluent per day as it grows bigger in size.

Monday, February 14, 2011

No. 244: Dispatch a communication robot to the space station (February 15, 2011)

A plan to station a domestic humanoid robot in the space station will be drawn jointly by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, Tokyo University, and Dentsu. Besides the ability to understand human language, the robot will have the function to communicate and exchange messages with the earth. The robot is a “communication robot” that receives instructions from the earth while astronauts are sleeping and delivers the instructions after they get up. It will analyze the stress of the astronauts from their facial colors and expressions that it gets while it communicates with them, and send data to the earth to get improvement ideas. It will communicate with the earth on behalf of the astronauts and dispatch information from space using Twitter. The robot will do experiments to take pictures of the earth automatically using the built-in camera and send the images to the earth. It can move at its own discretion, and at the same time, it can be controlled from the earth. The three organizations believe that the above functions can be applied to the development of home robots designed for households of the aged in remote areas. The domestic communication robot is scheduled to be launched in 2013.

No. 243: A new superconductive material possibly for a new arithmetic element (February 14, 2011)

Two professors of Tokyo Institute of Technology developed a new superconductive material whose electric resistance becomes zero should it be cooled down at a low temperature. The new material has two layers that pile up alternately: A layer where electricity flows without resistance and a layer where electricity flows slowly with resistance. It seems to be helpful for the development of a new type arithmetic element of an ultrahigh-speed computer. This is the result of the joint research by Tokyo Institute of Technology and National Institute for Materials Science. The new material is a bedded compound made of bismuth, nickel, and cerium. The superconductive phenomenon happens at 269 degrees centigrade below zero. Improving the kinds and organization of elements may enable the superconductive phenomenon to happen at a higher temperature. It may be possible to develop a new type arithmetic element that stores data in the layer with electric resistance and transmits data in the layer without electric resistance. The result was presented in the February 2, 2011 issue of the journal of American Physical Society.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

No. 242: Technology to produce sugar for resins and textile materials from woodchips (February 12, 2011)

Toray developed the technology for effective production of sugar for materials of resins and textile materials from woodchips and rice straws. The company reduced the amount of impurities in the solution, which is created in the process of crushing woodchips into pieces, to less than one tenth. Sugar can be produced should a plant be dissolved with the help of enzyme, and it creates alcohol should it be fermented with the help of microorganisms like enzyme. Research activities to produce sugar are growing widespread because sugar can be used for materials of resins. Because woodchips have lots of hard plant fiber, they have to turn into a sugar solution without impurities for application. Toray eliminated impurities by filtrating the solution through three kinds of films originally used for effluent treatment and succeeded in eliminating substances that disturb the fermentation in the post-process efficiently. In addition, it increased the sugar concentration to 20% that is about four times as high as the present level. High concentration and small amount of impurities made it possible to utilize various microorganisms designed for fermentation and opened up the way to produce raw materials for resins, films, and fiber. The company also successfully collected half the amount of the enzyme used for dissolution.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

No. 241: A new liquid crystal display with the maximum resolution (February 11, 2011)

A new 4.5-inch liquid crystal display for smart phones has been developed by Hitachi Displays in Tokyo. It has greater brightness and about 10% higher resolution than the conventional models on the market. It has a pixel count of 720x1,280 dots and satisfies the high-definition standards. The company improved the resolution to the maximum level discernible by eyes with the help of the microfabrication technology of the pixel electrode for displaying videos. Adopting the technology called IPS (In Plain Switching), the new display can easily adapt to such peripheral functions as three dimension and touch panel. Hitachi Displays improved the materials that collect the light transmissive through liquid crystal and realized such high degree of brightness as 500 candela in addition to increasing the color reproducibility that is the index of brightness by 70%. The company is scheduled to start mass production and shipment to mobile phone manufacturers worldwide coming October. Demand for high-definition liquid crystal displays capable of displaying high-quality videos is growing worldwide. The company boasts the highest performance of its new liquid crystal display among all products of the same kind at present.

No. 240: Do you want to listen to a CM song coming from the poster? (February 10, 2011)

A new poster made a debut in three railway stations in Tokyo. Is it digital signage? No, it is sound signage. This poster was developed by Yamaha in alliance with Asahi Drinks. Using an ultrathin speaker about 1.5 mm thick, the company developed the technology to let people hear a CM song and started the substantiative experiments. The ultrathin speaker named TLF speaker that has a vibrating membrane between two electrodes releases sound audible only to people before the poster, and the speaker is covered by cloth to create a poster. People can hear and listen to the CM song while they are before the poster. Yamaha built seven posters in Shinjuku Station that is one of the busiest stations in Tokyo, the largest one of which measures 190 cm high and 720 cm wide. Pedestrians in Shinjuku Stations stopped before the poster to enjoy Asahi Drinks’ CM song. Yamaha plans to put the technology into practical use within the year and market the poster as a new advertising medium called the sound signage nationwide. It also plans to market the new product for exhibitions and sales promotion at the shopfront.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

No. 239: Technology to process the fiber surface to prevent it from being stained by oil (February 9, 2011)

A technology to put a special film on the fiber surface that repels oil has been developed by SNT, a venture from Keio University. The venture created a concavo-convex structure on the fiber surface to repel oil and coated the structure with fluorine compound. A work uniform can avoid damage by chemical droplets if it is processed using the newly-developed technology. The research team confitted fibers into the solution made of mixture of fluorine compound and spherical fine particles 50 nanometers in diameter each, and dried the resulting product. In the drying process, the fine particles created a fine concavo-convex structure that looks like the surface of East Indian lotus leaf. After creating the structure that easily accumulates air to prevent liquid from attaching on it, the new technology applies fluorine compound on the surface to block oil. The technology does not deteriorate air permeability, and the original performance can be maintained even if the work uniform is washed some 10 times. The sample of the solution is 100,000 yen per liter, and one liter is enough to process several hundreds of work uniforms. The venture plans to ship the solution nationwide in alliance with chemical companies.

Monday, February 7, 2011

No. 238: Technology for low production cost of silicon solar cells (February 8, 2011)

A technology for low production cost of silicon solar cells has been developed by Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in Ishikawa Prefecture of the Hokuriku district in alliance with Toshiba and JSR. The new technology makes it possible to produce a silicon solar cell only by applying the product, which is created by dissolving silicon compound with the help of organic solvents, on the surface of the material as if applying ink on it. It reportedly can reduce the production cost of a silicon solar cell to about one third. The research team plans to put the newly-developed technology into practical use for housing and vehicles. The team produced three kinds of inks by dissolving polymeric silicon hydrogen compound. A solar cell can be produced by applying the three kinds of inks on a glass substrate and subsequently heating the resulting product to 400 degrees in centigrade. At the present stage, however, the newly-developed technology needs improvement because the efficiency to convert solar light to electricity is low. The existing technology to produce solar cells has a problem with high production cost. Production of solar cells currently needs large-scale vacuum equipment.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

No. 237: A new light weight material for cars and railway rolling stocks (February 3, 2011)

A new light weight material for cars and railways rolling stocks has been developed by Kobe Steel. Called foamed aluminum material, it is a thin plate processable to various shapes as hard as steel plate for cars, and it is cheaper than carbon-fiber composite. Two 1.5 mm thick aluminum plates sandwich resin foam between them. If it is heated up to 200 degrees centigrade, it hardens because many bubbles are created inside the resin to become a 3 cm thick plate. It is lighter than iron and aluminum, and it will be made lighter than carbon-fiber composite in the near future. It has the same rigidity as the standard steel plate and aluminum plate currently used for cars. The point is that it needs to be fabricated using rivets because it does not allow for weld. It will be used for the floor and interior materials of cars and window panes and ceiling of railways rolling stocks. With is new material, auto body can be lighter for better fuel consumption. It will be priced at 1,500 yen per square meter. Although it is more expensive than iron priced at 1,000 yen and aluminum priced at higher than 2,000 yen, but the company is confident that its new product is very competitive in price. Production will start coming April.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

No. 236: Charge your EV while it is in a multilevel parking garage (February 2, 2011)

You can charge your electric vehicles (EV) or plug-in-hybrid vehicle (PHV) in a multilevel parking garage while you are doing shopping. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries installed charging equipment to the existing multilevel parking garage at the request of a famous shopping street in Yokohama. It has a space for four EVs, and the equipment charges EV in two hours. A two-hour charge allows an EV to run for 20-40 km. The driver can charge his EV by connecting the cable beside the parking space to his EV. The shopping street, which operates this multilevel parking garage, bears the charging cost. It costs one million yen per space for an EV to construct a new multilevel parking garage of this type. As consumers get access to charging equipment easily in daily life, the spread of the next-generation ecologically-friend vehicles is supposed to gain momentum. Mitsubishi Heavy plans to market this multilevel parking garage nationwide.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

No. 235: Method to analyze metal’s microstructure at the atomic level (February 1, 2011)

Kobe Steel developed the method to analyze metal’s microstructure at the atomic level. The microstructure is the decisive factor of metal’s performance. The company modified the state-of-the-art “Three Dimensional Atom Probe” designed to examine the stereoscopic distribution of an atom. It energized a metal after making it needle-shaped and took out layers where atoms line up one by one, and examined the distribution pattern of the arrangement of atoms. The new method makes it possible to measure two million atoms every minute. In the experiment, Kobe Steel examined copper alloy and found that copper alloy for terminals around a vehicle engine has a high degree of heat resistance. The new method clarified that the distribution of nickel atoms and phosphorus atoms matters and that heat resistance improves as the number of clusters of both atoms increases. Currently, a very small amount of nickel, titanium, or vanadium is added to steel and copper to increase the strength and flexibility. Kobe Steel plans to clarify the distribution of elements to develop steel and copper of the same performance with a smaller amount of additives, and subsequently aluminum alloy with a higher degree of bending workability for vehicles.