Wednesday, February 29, 2012

No. 450: A newly developed adhesive agent to increase the capacity of a lithium-ion battery by 40% (February 29, 2012)

Zeon, one of Japan’s leading makers of special synthetic rubbers and high-performance resins, developed a new adhesive agent that can increase the capacity of a lithium-ion battery by 30-40%. The company is the world’s largest maker of adhesive agents used for anodes of high capacity batteries with a share exceeding 70% in the world market. The company made the new adhesive agent by dispersing a special synthetic rubber material in water. The new product is mixed with power graphite to make anodes.

The technology to mix a silicon material with graphite is available now, but adding a silicon material to an anode is not problem-free because silicon is liable to bloat. The company adjusted the molecular design, controlled the bloat, and increased durability to slow down deterioration. The new adhesive agent proved that a silicon material can be added to an anode up to 30%. The company started to ship samples of the new adhesive that will be put on the market within the year.

Monday, February 27, 2012

No. 449: Accelerating technological innovation to reduce charging frequency of smartphone (February 28, 2012)

With the rapidly growing popularity of smartphones, demand for reducing charging frequency is growing among consumers. A research team led by Keio University professor Hirotada Kuroda developed a technology data processing technology that can reduce the power consumption of a smartphone by up to 10%. The new technology is for wireless connection between the CPU and the memory. Data are traded between them using the electric field and the magnetic field created when an electric signal is transmitted, making it possible to reduce voltage to operate the memory. The research team confirmed that the wireless data processing can decrease the power consumption by 90% as compared with the existing wired data processing. In addition to the ability to reduce power consumption, the new technology has more than three times faster data processing speed than the existing technology.

Fujitsu developed a small amplifier to be incorporated in a smartphone. Using the technology that allows for the management of optimal voltage depending on usage, the company successfully reduced the power consumption by 30%. An amplifier is vital to intensify the output of electric waves that contain voice and data and deliver them to the base station, and consumes about 10% of power consumed by a smartphone. MM Research Institute, a research firm on the IT market, reported that more than 50% of smartphone users were dissatisfied with the waiting time before his or her smartphone finishes charging. A smartphone trades 10-20 times more data than a mobile phone. The race to launch the technology to reduce charging frequency will supposedly heat up.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

No. 448: A new drive element for the electroluminescence display (February 27, 2012)

The market of the organic light emitting display is expected to grow dramatically in the near future because the organic EL TV will be thinner and higher in image quality than the LCD TV. The thin-film transistor (TFT) affects greatly the image quality and power consumption of an organic EL TV. Idemitsu Kosan built a trial product of a drive element to be used for the organic EL display using new materials. It has over 40 times more processing capacity than the drive element made of silicon currently widespread and over 4 times more processing capacity than the new element to be employed by Samsung Electronics.

The company built the trial product using a semiconductor material of indium gallium oxide (IGO). It adjusted the blending quantity of gallium and developed a high-quality and polycrystal thin film using its self-developed film forming technology. The new element has more than 40 times higher mobility than amorphous silicon. Samsung Electronics is reported to consider adopting indium gallium zinc oxide (IGZO) developed by a researcher of Tokyo Institute of Technology (TIT). Idemitsu’s new product has four times higher mobility than the TIT’s product, thus the element can be smaller.       

Saturday, February 25, 2012

No. 447: Charging a hybrid bus at a bus stop by a feed under ground (February 25, 2012)

Hino Motors will commercialize the hybrid bus that charges using a feed buried in the ground of a bus stop next year at the earliest. The bus can charge every time it stops at a bus stop, and it can be like an electric bus. The hybrid bus that the company plans to introduce has both an electric motor and a diesel engine. Unlike the conventional hybrid bus that charges using the power generated when the brake is applied, Hino’s hybrid bus charges by dint of electromagnetic induction that generates electric current by changing the magnetic energy between the power receiving unit installed under the bud floor and feed buried in a bus stop. The generated electricity is stored in the lithium-ion battery installed on the roof of the bus. In an emergency, the hybrid bus can supply power to outside.  

Hino has been working on substantiative experiments with National Traffic Safety and Environment Laboratory since 2002. Because the two organizations confirmed that the charging performance is now enough for commercialization, Hino is preparing to market the hybrid bus as a route bus of a local government. It is negotiating with local governments including Tokyo on how to construct the infrastructure. The price of the hybrid bus is not yet decided. Hino introduced a hybrid bus in 1991 for the first time in the world and sold about 900 hybrid buses and 8,500 hybrid commercial vehicles to date.

Friday, February 24, 2012

No. 446: Scheduled mass production of gallium nitride crystals (February 24, 2012)

With the stagnant sales of general-purpose chemical products, chemical companies are eager to introduce high value-added products to increase their profitability. Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings plans to mass produce high-definition compound substrates used for power semiconductors and the light-emitting part of an LED starting this October. Because Mitsubishi’s product has higher conversion efficiency from electricity to light, it can reduce power consumption by 50-70% as compared with the existing LED besides offering a longer operating life. Mitsubishi is now building a plant with an investment of 500 million yen.

The company developed the technology to produce gallium nitride crystal, which is the raw material of a substrate, effectively and succeeded in reducing the deficit of small holes inside the crystal considerably, enabling LED makers to improve the yield ratio. The light-emitting part of the existing LED lighting is mostly a sapphire substrate. The gallium nitride substrate is superior to the sapphire substrate because the former has lower electrical power loss and withstands higher output than the latter, but a highly advanced technology is needed to produce gallium nitride substrates at a reasonable cost. With the newly developed technology, Mitsubishi is confident that the gallium nitride substrate can compete with sapphire substrate successfully. It plans to ship 500 gallium nitride substrates, which is equivalent to 100,000 LED bulbs, per month starting this October. The company plans to increase the monthly production capacity to 6,000 pieces in 2013 and to 30,000 pieces in 2015 to take the initiative in the market. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

No. 445: A semiconductor memory of the next-generation that is faster and more power-efficient (February 23, 2012)

Resistance Random Access Memory (ReRAM) characterized by low power consumption and faster processing speed attracts wide attention as the next-generation semiconductor memory, and leading electric companies are busily occupied with the development. The ReRAM keeps data even if power is cut off. Panasonic developed a ReRAM that has 20 times faster processing speed than the existing NAND-type flash memory. The company plans to put it into practical use in a few years.

Panasonic applied a new diode that applies the current bi-directionally in place of a transistor to the electronic circuit. By forming the circuit that prevents the leakage of electric current, it successfully made the area of memory element smaller and increased writing speed. Because the existing semiconductor production process can be used, the production cost of the new semiconductor memory is expected to remain unchanged. The company plans to mass-produce the new product within the year for the first time in the world. Communications traffic is increasing dramatically with the explosive spread of smartphones, and demand for a memory with faster processing speed and lower power consumption has been growing stronger.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

No. 444: A robot that searches what you need on your behalf (February 22, 2012)

When you have to search something in an office, a robot can find it on your behalf. Hitachi unveiled the upgraded version of its guide robot EMIEW 2 introduced in 2007. The new version is 80 cm high, and weighs 14 kg. With the help of two wheels, it can travel at 6 km/h.  

You need to install multiple indoor cameras in your office. When you ask the robot aloud “Where is my watch?” the robot will get the image of your watch in the database containing 100 million images on the Internet using the special software in less than one second. It checks the image on the Internet with the image it gets from the in-house cameras, and pinpoints the place where the watch is located. It replies to you with the exact location of the watch, and it takes you to the location if you so desire. The company developed the technology to calculate the optimal posture of the robot instantaneously to prevent it from falling when it goes around a curve. Thanks to this technology, the robot can travel in a balanced manner without reducing speed. The company plans to put the new robot into practical use and market it to business offices and hospitals in less than five years.  

Monday, February 20, 2012

No. 443: A new semiconductor for the next-generation wireless transmission (February 21, 2012)

Sony and Tokyo Institute of Technology jointly developed a new semiconductor for thenext-generation wireless transmission applicable to smartphones. It is for the short-distance high-speed wireless technology that uses the high frequency range of 60 GHz called millimeter waveband, and can transmit data contained in a DVD in less than 10 seconds. Because the existing product consumes much energy, the research group reduced power consumption by simplifying the circuit design of the semiconductor and increasing the data transfer efficiency. The new product consumes less than 1 kW and transmits data at 6.3 GB per second.

The next-generation wireless technology that uses millimeter waveband will eliminate a cable between devices because huge amount of data can be transferred at high speed. In addition, the power required to trade the same amount of data will be reduced to one eighth of the power required by the existing product. In the future, it will be possible to project high-definition movie data stored in a smartphone on a large screen wirelessly. The new technology is expected to be translated into practical applications in several years.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

No. 442: What does Aqua’s success mean? (February 20, 2012)

Business trend
Toyota introduced its hybrid car Aqua on December 26 last year, and Aqua collected orders for about 120,000 units as of January 31, 2012, in just one month after the introduction. Aqua is Toyota’s second fastest selling vehicle following Prius that collected orders for about 180,000 units in one month in 2009. Because Toyota projected monthly sales at 12,000 units, every customer needs to wait for at least five months before he gets his Aqua. What is more interesting is that males account for nearly 70%, and males older than 50 account for more than 40% of all males who placed an order, showing how conservative consumers have become because of the dwindling domestic business climate.

Panasonic that announced miserable results is reported to make even strenuous efforts to build a highly profitable business structure by 2015. The Japanese electronics business is traditionally characterized by vertical integration and self-sufficiency, but the clumsy response of the government and the fast-changing global business environment made it impossible for electronics companies to manage the business without drastic reform. In fact, it will surely take Japan much time to work out effective measures for the six negative factors: highly appreciated Japanese yen, heavy corporate tax, government’s slow response to free trade, regulations on labor, constraints imposed by environment concern, and power shortage. Toyota and Panasonic are the two champions that represent the Japanese industry. The two companies show how important it is to construct a highly profitable business structure in whatever industry a companies is doing business.  

No. 441: World’s leading automakers try to standardize the hydrogen supply system (February 19, 2012)

Business trend
A total of 11 world’s leading automakers including Toyota and GM basically agreed to standardize the specifications of the connector between a storage tank and a vehicle of the hydrogen supply system. They are scheduled to formulate the standards to be certified by the International Standardization Organization (ISO) within the year. They move closely together to spread fuel cell vehicles. They expect fuel cell vehicles to spread substantially after 2015. Hydrogen that is the power source needs hyperbaric storage, and establishing a network of hydrogen stations like gas stations is vital to spread fuel cell vehicles. Without standardized connectors, it will be hard to establish a mass production system.

With the basic agreement on standardization, leading automakers are expected to strengthen their efforts to develop fuel cell vehicles extensively. Daimler-Benz will reportedly increase 20 hydrogen stations in alliance with the leading industrial gas company in Germany. With the joint development with Nissan-Renault, the company is scheduled to put a fuel cell vehicle in Japan toward 2015. In Japan, a total of 13 companies including Toyota and JX Nippon Oil & Energy will jointly work on establishing a network of hydrogen stations beginning in 2013. This move is in line with the mitigation of safety regulations involved in hydrogen tanks, they plan to increase the number of gas stations more than 6 times to 100 stations mainly along super express highways in the metropolitan areas.

The fuel cell vehicle is expected to be the ultimate eco car because it travels while generating electricity, whereas an electric vehicle travels with the stored electricity. In addition, it emits only water. Because hydrogen has 10 times higher energy density than the in-car lithium-ion battery, it has longer travel distance than an electric vehicle and supplying hydrogen does not need much time as charging an electric vehicle. These competitive advantages of the fuel cell vehicle over the electric car are supposedly the driving force to prompt world’s leading automakers to set up standards in a hurried manner, unlike in the case of the electric vehicle.

Friday, February 17, 2012

No. 440: World’s smallest and lightest gas turbine generator with an output of 400 W (February 18, 2012)

IHI developed the world’s smallest and lightest gas turbine generator with an output of 400 watts. It is 12 cm long and 8 cm in diameter. It weighs 1.2 kg and allows for continuous running of 3 hours. It is as small as to be put on a palm. It is made up of cooling fan, noise eliminator, fuel tank, and battery to activate the engine. Heating oil, light oil, and propane can be used as fuel. The company plans to set the price at 2,000,000 yen a unit when the mass production system of 500 units per year is established. It plans to put it on the market by 2015.

The newly developed gas turbine generator can be operated with just a single touch of a button. It takes only 30 seconds to generate 200 kW and comes to a complete stop in 2 minutes 30 seconds. When combined with all available parts including noise eliminator and cooling fan, it is 42 cm long, 58 cm wide, and 20 cm high, and weighs 13 kg that is as light as a standard suitcase. The company wishes it to be used for the power source of a self-propelled robot at the time of disaster and emergency, and places that do not allow a vehicle to enter.

No. 439: A gas heat pump capable of self-sustained operation in case of power outage (February 17, 2012)

Panasonic and three leading gas companies will launch a gas heat pump that allows for self-sustained operation in case of power outage on April 1. The new product named “GHP Excel Plus” will be priced at 9,240,000 yen without installation costs. The battery to be incorporated in the gas heat pump with the generation function will activate the engine even during a blackout. The GHP Excel Plus is designed for hospitals, senior care homes, and schools. Annual sales are expected to be 500 units.

It is impossible to activate a GHP in a blackout because electricity is needed to activate a GHP. However, since the East Japan Great Earthquake on March 11, demand for a GHP that supplies electricity to air-conditioners and lighting fixtures in hospitals and nursing-care facilities has been growing. Companies concerned started to develop a GHP that satisfies the demand late last March. When the switch for self-sustained operation is put on, the battery immediately activates the engine. Once the self-sustained operation begins, the heat pump creates 20 horsepower to run air-conditioners and generates electricity of 700 watts for lighting fixtures. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

No. 438: A technology to build a liquid crystal panel without rare metal (February 16, 2012)

Facing the foreseeable short supply of rare metals, efforts to build products without them are spreading across industries. A research group led by Tetsuya Yamamoto, a professor of Kochi University of Technology, developed a technology to build a liquid crystal panel without iridium. The research members developed a new electrode that employs zinc oxide in place of iridium and successfully made the screen thinner and brighter than an iridium-containing panel. Currently, the LCD TV screen uses indium tin oxide (ITO) that is an oxidative product of iridium and tin.   

The new technology added the water-shedding function to a zinc oxide film using two kinds of additives elements. The research members operated the trial product in a situation, where temperature is 60 degrees centigrade and humidity is 95%, for 500 hours continuously and confirmed that the new product had the practical level to be used for an electrode of a liquid crystal panel. It has higher light transmission than an ITO-containing electrode besides being energy-saving. LCD TV makers are making strenuous efforts to substitute glass substrate with plastic substrate to make their TVs thinner and lighter. The newly developed zinc oxide electrode is resistant to a small amount of water contained in the film substrate.      

No. 437: An electrical outlet for power management by user and by electric appliance (February 15, 2012)

Sony developed an electrical outlet that manages power consumption for each user and for each electric appliance. The company applied its Felica technology, a noncontact IC technology used in the ticket gate of railway stations, to the new electrical outlet. The IC chip incorporated in a power plug trades data with an electric outlet to manage power consumption. The system can confirm what appliance consumes how much power and control the power consumption of each appliance.

The company developed two types for this authentification electrical outlet. One allows for wireless information trading between the plug and the outlet, and the other trades information via electric power line. A server manages the information traded between appliance and electric outlet intensively via a network. This system will make it possible to supply power to medical devices and refrigerators on a priority basis when power is in short supply. In addition, a car owner can pay for charging fee even if he has his car charged by his friend or acquaintance because the system can tell the power consumption of each user. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

No. 436: A trial product of plant-derived nylon fiber (February 14, 2012)

Ajinomoto and Toray jointly developed a trial product of plant-derived nylon fiber. This is a product developed by Ajinomoto’s fermentation technology and Toray’s technology of chemical synthesis and fiber processing. They used sugarcanes instead of oil for the trial product that has excellent performance of absorbing and letting out perspiration. They are working on the mass production technology to put it into commercial use for underwear in 2013. They are examining the possibility to set up a production and marketing company through joint capital investment.

The new nylon fiber is created by fermenting the plant material added by microorganisms and extracting lysine of amino acid from it. The extracted lysine is processed using enzyme, and the resultant chemical substance is processed into a fibrous form. The trial product has the same degree of strength and stretch as the existing oil-derived products, and two times higher ability to absorb and discharge moisture than the existing products. It does not become stuffy when it is used for underwear. It gives the wearer fresh and cool feeling. The two companies are also developing plant-derived resins to be applicable to auto parts.

Monday, February 13, 2012

No. 435: NTT’s new optical cable that is flat and less than 2-mm thick (February 13, 2012)

NTT developed a less than 2-mm thick flat optical cable. The new optical cable is strengthened by reinforced plastic and iron wire, and it exhibits the same strength as the existing optical cables. The reinforced plastic and iron wire lining along the fiber are covered with the covering material. The company applied the technology to increase the confinement effect to optical fiber and successfully developed an optical cable that does not impair transmission characteristics even if it is folded.

According to NTT, windows and doors have generally a 2-mm gap. Because the new product is flat and less than 2 mm in thickness, it can be laid down into old detached houses and apartment houses that have difficulty in installing round optical cables. The existing round optical cable less than 2 mm in thickness cannot exhibit the same transmission characteristics if it is folded, and it cannot be used for old buildings. NTT has already provided the technology to cable companies, and the production has already started.  

Saturday, February 11, 2012

No. 434: Nonwoven fabric that adsorbs metals in liquid faster and more efficiently (February 11, 2012)

Kurary and FukuiUniversity jointly developed nonwoven fabric that can adsorb metals including rare metals from liquid. Specially processed nonwoven fabric can adsorb metals in liquid between 10 seconds and several minutes. The new product is expected to collect rare metals efficiently from seawater and plant effluent. TeruoHori, a professor of Fukui University, and Kurary developed the new product using Kuraray’s Flexstar that is widely used for bandages and housing materials.

The research group applied the electro beam graft polymerization to Flexstar and successfully enabled it to adsorb specific metal ions in liquid. The new product can adsorb 200 g for every 1,000 g, about 10 times more metals than the existing product. In addition, unlike the existing product that needs several hours to adsorb metals in liquid, it takes only several minutes. Kuraray plans to put the product in practical use with companies at an early date.

Friday, February 10, 2012

No. 433: Ongoing negotiations on business integration to survive in the semiconductor business (February 10, 2012)

Business trend
The Japanese semiconductor industry is in the middle of restructuring that involves not only the troubled Elpida Memory jointly developed by NEC and Hitachi in 1999 but also leading companies. Renesas Electronics, Fujitsu, and Panasonic are negotiating with a view to integrating their semiconductor operations. With the investment from Innovative Network Corporation of Japan (INCJ), a private-public investment fund, the three companies will establish a company specializing in the design of semiconductor. If the restructuring plan materializes, only two companies, the new company and Toshiba, will produce system LSIs in Japan. The four concerns are scheduled to reach an agreement by the end of March.

The new company will develop the system LSI for vehicles and smartphones by combining the image processing and communication technologies to be provided by the three companies. It specializes in designing, and a new company to be established by the INCJ and Global Foundries in California of the U.S. will specialize in production. The new company for the production will reportedly purchase a production plant from each of Elpida, Renesas, and Fujitsu. Because the requirements of automakers and electronics makers are diverse, semiconductor producers have to produce a wide variety of products in small quantity. Therefore, restructuring is inevitable because continuous investment of 100 billion yen is vital per plant is required to survive. The world semiconductor market grew 18.7% on a year-on-year basis to about 5,950 billion yen in 2010.   

Thursday, February 9, 2012

No. 432: A ship that navigates totally by dint of wave force alone (February 9, 2012)

A research group led by Tokai University Professor Yutaka Terao developed a small ship of wave propulsion that can navigate only by wave force. The hydrofoil wing below the front part of the ship creates propulsion using waves and allows the ship to navigate regardless of the wave direction. Because it navigates only by wave force, it can negative indefinitely as long as it gets waves. Made of rigid urethane, the model is equipped with the global positioning system and microcomputer for arithmetic processing using information on the navigation point, allowing for the autonomous navigation.

It is 1.2 m long and 0.9 m wide with displacement of 5.6 kg. The test navigation was conducted for about 30 m on the coast of Shizuoka Prefecture. It has reportedly the ability to run at 720 m per hour. This is the world’s first unmanned ship that can navigate only by dint of wave force, according to the professor. Because it does not need an engine, it can be used for the measurement of tsunami, observation of waters and undersea volcanoes, and long term voyage for observation. The ship can travel as long as the wind velocity is less than 5 meters per second at the present stage. The ship was not able to navigate in another experiment because it was adrift in the midst of a gale with a velocity of 11 meters per second. The research team is making strenuous efforts to make the ship navigate under any circumstances.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

No. 431: A technology to built an emission purification catalyst without rhodium (February 8, 2012)

With the expansion of car production in developing countries, precious metals used for catalyst are supposed to be in short supply in the future. It a serious issue for every automaker to reduce the production cost of environment-responsive cars. Daihatsu Motor developed a catalyst technology that does not need rhodium jointly with Osaka University. An emission purification catalyst needs platinum and palladium in addition to rhodium. A material that can replace rhodium has never been found. The road to realize a catalyst totally free from precious metals has been opened, the research group told.

The company built a trial product using the molecular architecture figured out theoretically by Osaka University Professor Hideaki Kasai. The new catalyst uses an oxidative product of copper in place of rhodium. In the experiment, it confirmed that the new catalyst exhibited the same degree of emission purification ability as the existing rhodium-containing catalyst. It filed an application for patent. The research group will improve the durability of the new product to put it into practical use. The cost of precious metals is supposed to be several tens of thousand yen per car. The competition to reduce the cost associated with rare and precious metals is growing harder worldwide.  

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

No. 430: Giving a new function to a vending machine (February 7, 2012)

You can easily locate lots of vending machines in bustling areas in Japan. Facing the saturating market, companies that sell their products through vending machines are giving more functions to their vending machines to differentiate them from others. Ito En, Japan’s leading tea drink maker, will introduce a vending machine that consumes 30% less energy than the existing model. Its present model heats drinks using the heat generated when it cools them. The new model is given the function to bring in heat from outside for higher heat efficiency with an inverter for automatic control of cooling function. It consumes 30% less energy than the present model. Asahi Soft Drinks has introduced a new model equipped with Wi-Fi, which is a public wireless function, that allows consumers to use high-speed Internet communication using their smartphones. They can see the campaign of new products from the company when they access to the Internet.

Kirin Beverage increases its social contribution efforts using its vending machines. The company contributes part of sales from new models to the “Pink RibbonCampaign” that enlighten early discovery of breast cancer. The Coca-Cola group will personalize each of its vending machines to let consumers develop emotional attachments to each vending machine. When a consumer registers a specific vending machine with his mobile phone or smartphone, he can see the avatar of the specific vending machine. If a consumer buys a product from his registered vending machine, we he can get a mail from his vending machine and get a gift. There are 2,500,000 vending machines across the country, and about 30% of total drink sales in volume comes from vending machines in Japan. Sales through vending machine are welcome because products can be sold at a fixed price without discount, but the competition to get a better place for stable sales is growing harder these days.

Monday, February 6, 2012

No. 429: Japanese general trading companies grow more active in Africa (February 6, 2012)

Business trend
Marubeni will get a comprehensive order to build two plants for the production of sugar and bioethanol using sugarcanes from Angola in southwest of Africa for about 50 billion yen. The sugar plant will have a sugar production capacity of 400,000 tons per year, and it will be the largest sugar plant in Angola, allowing Angola to produce its sugar demand domestically. The two plants are scheduled for full production in 2016.

The new bioethanol production plant will be the second plant of this kind in Angola. It will have a production capacity of 40 million kiloliters per year. The sugarcane field is 66,000 ha, and Marubeni will also work on the design of an irrigation system for the field. The company will introduce power equipment for in-house power generation using the strained lees of sugarcanes. The Angolan government expects the two plants to create about 15,000 employments. Marubeni got an order to reform the three fiber plants in Ruanda, the state capital, for 25 billion yen in 2010. Other general trading companies, such as Sumitomo Corp.and Sojitz Corp., are increasing presence hastily in Africa, because business opportunities are growing in such business fields as food production and environment protection with the increase of population.

Friday, February 3, 2012

No. 428: A filter that filters organic solvent at 1,000 times faster than existing films (February 4, 2012)

None of the existing water treatment films can be applied to the treatment of organic solvent because their polymers are vulnerable to acid, alkali, and heat. Ceramics and carbon film resistant to organic solvent are available, but neither of them can treat organic solvent at high speed. National Institute for MaterialsScience developed a filter that can filter organic solvent like oil and solventmedium. The filter has numerous holes, each of which is about 1 nanometer in diameter, and can treat organic solvent at about 1,000 times faster than the off-the-shelf filters for organic solvent. The newly developed filter is a 35-nanometer-thick diamond-like carbon film using porous alumina film as substrate, and it has numerous 1-nanometer diameter holes through which organic solvent runs.

The film has about one seventh of diamond in strength. It exhibited a permeability rate of 239 liters per hour and per bar for each square meter to filter depressurized hexane. It succeeded in eliminating more than 94% of impurities, though how much impurities can be eliminated depends on the molecular size. It has pressure resistance of up to 20 atmospheric pressures. The new film can be applied to the production of ultralow-sulfur diesel fuel (ULSD) and treatment of effluent created in the process to extract oil from oil sand. The research members plan to put the new film into practical use by replacing the porous alumina substrate with a carbon fiber sheet. The research results will be put on the January 27 issue of the American science magazine Science.   

Thursday, February 2, 2012

No. 427: A battery that integrates lithium ion capacitor and lithium air battery (February 3, 2012)

A research group of National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) developed a battery that integrates lithium ion capacitor andlithium air battery that is expected to be the next-generation large capacity secondary battery. The research group developed a lithium air battery that used hybrid electrolyte made up of hydrogen and organic electrolyte two years ago. The latest battery is an integrated battery with a maximum output of 120 milliwatts per square centimeter, six times higher capacity exhibited by the lithium air battery developed two years ago. The research members told that it would be necessary to improve the solid electrolyte to be sandwiched between hydrogen and organic electrolyte before the newly developed integrated battery is turned into actual utilization. They plan to improve the new products for the application of EVs.  

It works as a lithium air battery in normal times, and the lithium ion capacitor mode starts automatically when more output is required. The lithium air battery enjoys great expectations as the next-generation secondary battery, but it has not been put into practical use because of the problems with output density and charge-discharge characteristics. The lithium ion capacitor is already in practical use, but it has a small capacity to store energy despite the high output density. Mitsubishi Electric successfully developed a battery that integrates lithium ion battery and lithium ion capacitor.

No. 426: Using carbon dioxide laser to produce nanocarbon fibers (February 2, 2012)

Electrospinning is the most widespread method to produce nanofibers at present, but it has problems with safety because raw fibers have to be dissolved by solvent and with the condition that the raw materials should be polymer soluble in solvent. A University of Yamanashi professor Akihiro Suzuki successfully developed a technology to produce nanofibers, each of which is 100 nanometers in diameter on average, using carbon dioxide laser and utilizing air current. The newly developed technology does not need solvent to dissolve raw materials, nor does it allow nanofibers to fly apart thanks to the closed production system. The new technology uses fibers with 100-200 micrometers in diameter as raw materials, and they are dissolved by carbon dioxide laser with a maximum output of 40 watts.

The dissolved raw materials pass through the air current where ultrasonic air flows, and are stretched by dint of air. Because strength does not concentrate in one point, it is possible to make the fiber thinner and hard-to-cut. The width of the fiber can be made from 100 nanometers to several micrometers by changing the degree of decompression and output of carbon dioxide laser. Finished fibers fall on the wire mesh chain conveyor, and are collected as nonwoven fabrics. Theoretically, it is possible to extend the fiber without any limit. In the experiment, the research team produced a nanofiber sheet of 1-2 meters long. The nanofiber produced by this method can be applied to the separator of lithium-ion battery and used for raw materials of medical purposes.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

No. 425: An eco-friendly and energy-saving car carrier for domestic transport (February 1, 2012)

Business trend
Every company on the earth is making strenuous efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and protect the environment. Nissan Motor is no exception. The company introduced a new energy-saving car carrier for domestic transportation. Equipped with an electronically controlled diesel engine and photovoltaic panels, the new car carrier emits 20% fewer carbon dioxide emissions than the existing ships of the same size. It is about 170 m long and 26 m wide, and the total tonnage is 11,400 tons. It can carry up to 1,380 vehicles. It plies between Kyusyu and the Tokyo Metropolitan area. With the introduction of the new car carrier, Nissan increased the frequency from two services per week to six services per week to strengthen the transportation capacity. 

The newcar carrier is the first inland vessel that has photovoltaic panels on its top. Because the panels have a generation capacity of 50 kW, they can supply all electricity required by the accommodation space for all crew members. LEDs are used for most lighting fixtures on the ship. The new electronically-controlled diesel engine is fuel efficient. It can save up to 1,400 tons of fuel a year as compared with the same ships of the same kind.