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.