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.