Saturday, June 30, 2012

No. 550: A Japanese supercomputer goes to Taiwan (June 30, 2012)

Business trend:
Fujitsu got a formal order for its supercomputer from the Meteorological Agency of Taiwan. The supercomputer going to Taiwan is the “PRIMEHPC FX10” developed by Fujitsu that is the commercial version of Japan’s supercomputer “Kei (K).” Although IBM’s supercomputer became the world’s best beating the K on June 18, but Fujitsu is receiving inquiries from national agencies and universities of newly industrialized countries, and some of them include the construction of an information system. 

While U.S. supercomputers enjoy the dominant position in the world supercomputer market thanks to stable demand from military concerns worldwide, Japanese supercomputers show strength in such fields as meteorology and disaster prevention. Fujitsu’s president showed his company’s determination to pursue the world’s No. 1 position in the general shareholders’ meeting. Fujitsu plans to increase the sales of supercomputers from the present 20 billion yen to 100 billion yen by 2015, aiming at 10% share in the world supercomputer market.

Fujitsu's supercomputer PRIMEHPC that goes to Taiwan

Friday, June 29, 2012

No. 549: Yes, we made it (June 29, 2012)

Business trend:
A research team organized by Yasuhiro Kato of the University of Tokyo found mud that contains a large amount of rare earthes in the sea bottom near Minamitorishma Island of the Ogasawara Islands that is inside the Japanese exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Last year, Japan found a seafloor deposit containing rare earthes in the high seas, but this is the first time that it found mud containing rare earthes inside the Japanese exclusive economic zone. This area is supposed to provide rare earthes equivalent to satisfy Japan’s annual domestic consumption for more than 200 years. The point that the research team collected the mud is in the sea bottom 5,600 m below the surface of the sea and about 300 km offshore of Minamitorishma Island.

This seafloor deposit extends to more than 1,000 square meters and supposedly contain about 6,800,000 tons of rare earthes. In particular, such heavy rare earthes required to increase the performance of the magnet of motor as dysprosium were found available in abundance. The research team started conducting the substantiative experiment to collect mud from the sea bottom in alliance with private companies. Technological issues need to be solved to collect rare earthes effectively and efficiently, but it is clear that Japan will depend less on imports for rare earthes.

 Minamitorishima Island is about 1,800 km
away from Tokyo and Japan's easternmost point

Thursday, June 28, 2012

No. 548: Successful development of a technology for high-speed decentralized processing of a large amount of data (June 28, 2012)

National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT) developed a technology to process a large amount of data by connecting multiple computers with the dedicated line. The new technology allows the user to conduct continuous high-speed processing of a large amount of data by segmenting them into small sizes as if he is using one computer. It will be utilized for the analysis of big data obtained from the observation of space and geoenvironmental research that even a supercomputer cannot process well.

The new system is called “Science Cloud.” It connects computers in NICT, Osaka University, and Nagoya University, and the user can use the system via the Internet without a sense of discomfort. The system can memorize up to 2 petabytes that is equivalent to 500,000 DVDs, and has about 400 computation processing circuits. It specializes in decentralized high-speed processing. A research team let the system read observational data collected by satellites. The data were as big as 15 terabytes that is equivalent to 3,500 DVDs. With these data, the system successfully created a stereoscopic vision that reproduces about the two-hour move of solar wind in one day. Because there are numerous pieces of equipment to observe such meteorological data as rainfall and atmospheric change, the research team expects that the new system will analyze climate with data collected from them.  

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

No. 547: A container gas engine generator named Meganinja from Mitsubishi Heavy (June 27, 2012)

Mitsubishi Heavy developed a container gas engine generator named “Meganinja,” which means big ninja (Japanese secret agent), that can start power generation in 24 hours after it arrives in the destination. In addition to housing devices in an easily movable container, the company employed connectors for wiring and connection of fuel tubing to simplify the fieldwork considerably. It is designed for a dispersed power system in newly industrialized countries suffering from power shortage not to mention for an emergency power source.

The “Meganinja” is a 40-feet container of the ISO standard that houses such devices required for power generation as gas engine, generator, fuel gas compressor, and control panel. It can support cogeneration should it collaborate with a 20-feet container for exhaust heat recovering that houses such equipment as hot water heat exchanger and exhaust gas steam boiler. Each of the containers can be transported to a destination by trailer. The Meganinja has an output of 1,500 kW, and connecting multiple Meganinja units can easily increase the output. It currently takes a month to set up a stationary power generation unit. The concept of the Meganinja is “Be quick to move, be quick to install, and be quick to generate electricity.”  

 Meganinja (big ninja or Japanese secret agent) gas engine generator 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

No. 546: A gasoline engine with 20% higher fuel efficiency (June 26, 2012)

Hatamura Engine Research Office, one of the subsidiaries of Honda Motor, developed a gasoline engine that is 20% higher in fuel efficiency jointly with Yasuo Moriyoshi of Chiba University. The new engine incorporates the advantages provided by a diesel engine. A gasoline engine burns gasoline using spark plugs, while a diesel engine ignites fuel when it is compressed. The system is called Homogeneous Charge Compression Ignition (HCCI) that merges the two types of engines. Although lots of efforts have been made to improve the HCCI, it is rather hard to put it into practical use because (1) It has a low burning temperature and low output and (2) It is unworkable when engine revolution is low.

The research members allowed the HCCI to import part of exhaust to the explosion chamber to increase the temperature inside for a bigger output. In addition, they created temperature difference inside the explosion chamber by flowing mixture gas in whorl. They successfully increased the output of the new HCCI by about 30% over the existing HCCI and made it workable even in time of low output. The new HCCI comes with spark plugs, but they are used only in sudden acceleration and for going uphill. They are improving the new system for smoother change between the ignition in compression and the ignition by the spark plug. They plan to put the new HCCI into practical use in 5-10 years and wish the production cost increase to be between 50,000 and 100,000 a unit. 

General Motors Makes HCCI a Reality

Monday, June 25, 2012

No. 545: An amplifier made of gallium nitride semiconductor for mobile phone base stations (June 25, 2012)

Mitsubishi Electric developed an amplifier made of gallium nitride semiconductor for mobile phone base stations of the 2.14 GHz band. The new amplifier has a structure that gallium nitride is formed on the silicon substrate, and the production cost is about one thirtieth of that of the convention chip. It has an output of 170 W with currently world’s highest power conversion efficiency of 70%. If it is put into practical use, a unit complete with this amplifier and a power circuit will be 30% smaller than the existing unit. The company wishes to upgrade the new amplifier to make it effective for the 2.5 GHz band in 2013.

The new semiconductor sandwiches a buffer of a micrometer size between the silicon substrate and the gallium nitride layer. Because silicon and gallium nitride have different crystal structures, distortion is generated from the gallium nitride layer. The company decreased the distortion that affects the performance of a transistor and improved the performance by devising the higher harmonic wave processing circuit. Two kinds of amplifiers exist. One is made of silicon alone, and the other is made of either a silicon substrate or a silicon carbide substrate with gallium nitride on it. An amplifier made entirely of silicone has an output of 150 W with power conversion efficiency of 58%, while an amplifier made of silicon substrate or a silicon carbide substrate with gallium nitride on it has an output of 200 W with power conversion efficiency of 68%. Because the latter is much higher in performance than the former, a technology to produce the latter at a lower cost has been desired. 

Mitsubishi Electric’s newly-developed amplifier made of gallium nitride semiconductor 

Saturday, June 23, 2012

No. 544: A technology to halve the production cost of solar panel (June 23, 2012)

Ritsumeikan University developed a new technology to halve the production cost of solar panel in collaboration with Tool Bank that is a venture company stemming from the university and Crystal Optics that specializes in ultraprecision polishing. The new technology made it possible to build 2.5 times more panels than the existing technology. The three organizations plan to put the technology into practical use in two years.

What they developed is a semiconductor processing technology that uses a chemical solution and cutting technique combined with extra-fine wire. A solar panel is built by cutting a lump of silicon into many layers, and a sliced thin silicon film is processed. The silicon film sliced by the new technology is about 60 micrometers thick, less than half of the thickness realized by the existing technology. The processing speed will remain unchanged.   

Friday, June 22, 2012

No. 543: A highly energy efficient vending machine that reduces power consumption in the daytime by 95% (June 22, 2012)

Coca-Cola Japan, Japan’s largest drink producer, developed a new highly energy efficient vending machine. The new vending machine can keep the inside at below five degrees centigrade for more than half a day with only a small amount of electricity once it is cooled in the night, because its structure retains cold air inside. The electricity required in the daytime is only 5% of the electricity required by the conventional vending machine. That is, the new machine requires electricity just for operation, and no electricity is required to cool drinks inside. The conventional machine needs 300 W in the daytime, but the new machine needs only 17 W. However, the total power consumption of the day remains unchanged because the new machine needs electricity for cooling in the night.

The conventional vending machine controls its power consumption by cooling only drinks in the lower row. Coca-Cola Japan reviewed the existing structure and modified it to enable the new machine to cool every inch of the inside in the night. In addition, it used vacuum insulating materials to block off outside air and infilled the joints of the machine with rubber. Japan has about 2,500,000 million vending machines, 980,000 (or about 40%) of which are owned by Coca-Cola Japan. The demonstration test will be conducted in July in the suburbs of Tokyo, and the new energy saving machine will replace the existing machine starting late this year.    

One of the latest models of Coca-Cola Japan's vending machine. It has solar panels on its top, and generated electricity is stored and used for lighting during the hours of darkness. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

No. 542: The technology to measure radioactivity contained in food is advancing (June 21, 2012)

Mincing fish beforehand is necessary to measure how much radioactivity it contains with the existing measuring instrument. In addition, it takes 30 minutes before the measurement results are given, not to mention that only a small amount of sample can be examined. Furukawa is developing equipment to measure radioactivity contained in all catches in foam cartons in 7-8 seconds at the fishery harbor without damaging catches. The company plans to put the equipment on the market in the spring of 2013.

Furukawa developed a crystal called gadolinium, aluminum, gallium, and garnet (GAGG) that increases the accuracy of radioactivity measurement dramatically. The company ismarketing a portable instrument to measure radioactivity in the air by utilizing this crystal. And the new equipment is based on the technology built in this portable measuring instrument. The new equipment measures the amount of radioactivity of catches in form cartons moving on the belt conveyor in 7-8 seconds. Satoshi of Tokyo University helped Fukukawa with the development. The price is scheduled to be around 10 million yen.

Other companies are also actively developing similar instruments responding to the standards of radioactivity in food that grew more stringent since April of this year. Mitsubishi Heavy developed equipment that can examine four 30 kg rice bags in one setting jointly with Seiko EG&G, and it is marketing it for 20 million yen. Shimadzu developed equipment that can examine one 30 kg rice bag in five seconds utilizing the camera technique used in medical checkup of cancer that it has accumulated for years. The equipment is sold for 20 million yen.

In the new standards put into effect in April this year, common food like vegetable is not allowed to contain radioactivity for more than 100 Bq per kg, baby food and milk for more than 50 Bq per kg, and drinking water for more than 10 Bq per kg.  

Portable instrument to measure radioactivity in the air from Furukawa

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

No. 541: Paper capable of shielding radioactivity (June 20, 2012)

Toppan Printing developed a technology to mix tungsten with paper in high density for the first time in the world in cooperation with Kyoto University’s Masahiro Hiraoka. It successfully made paper that can shield radioactivity. Tungsten has the nature to shield radioactivity. The new paper has the same degree of cutoff performance as lead. Unlike lead, it is easy to process and unharmful to human health. The company has already established a mass production system and started to ship samples. It plans to apply the new paper to radiotherapy treatment and working uniforms for decontamination activities.

The company successfully mixed powder tungsten with paper uniformly in papermaking. It increased the ratio of tungsten from 10-20% to 80%. The standard paper size is about 500 mm square and about 0.3 mm thick. A sheet of the new paper can shield 50% of X-ray used in the medical field, and three sheets combined can shield as much X-ray as 0.25 mm thick lead can shield. With the help of Professor Hiraoka, the company confirmed the performance of the new paper. It is priced at 7,000-8,000 yen per 500 mm square. 

Toppan Printing's newly-developed paper cable of shielding radioactivity

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

No. 540: Energy saving systems that balance comfort and brownout for corporate customers (June 19, 2012)

Leading electric companies are developing new energy saving systems. Toshiba and Hitachi plan to develop a control system that reduces power consumption as much as possible while maintaining temperature and humidity at a comfortable level inside the room. Toshiba’s system calculates the temperature and humidity just before human feel them uncomfortable, and controls the operation of an air-conditioner to that level. The company will collect such data as outside air temperature, power consumption, inside temperature, and inside humidity. Based on the collected data, it analyzes how human’s satisfaction changes according to the change of inside temperature and humidity and develop a technology to control the operation of an air-conditioner to make human feel comfortable. It plans to finish developing this technology that can reduce power consumption by 5-10% in two years.

Hitachi will add the function for effective operation of an air-conditioner to its VIVALE that is an energy management system for buildings. The company will collect data of power consumption and the preset temperatures of the air-conditioners of customers’ buildings via the Internet. Using the accumulated data and information, Hitachi’s system will run the air-conditioners within the targeted power consumption automatically. The upgraded system will be offered within the year. The system Mitsubishi Electric is addressing first controls the operation of lighting and air-conditioners, and allocates electricity to the air-conditioners on a priority basis. And it examines inside the building to know whether a man is around, and it allocates electricity only to the lighting illuminating around him. Mitsubishi Electric’s system will be offered this summer, and it will be given additional functions on after another.

In the area covered by Tokyo Electric Power Company, volume users reduced power consumption by 27% in the peak time as compared with the day of the same temperature of the previous year, well above 15% targeted by the government last summer. However, it is often said that work efficiency decreases 2% every time the room temperature rises one degree centigrade. Because deteriorated work efficiency increases intangible losses of a company, the above three system will be in great demand in the industrial market for years to come.

 Hitachi's building energy management system VIVALE

Monday, June 18, 2012

No. 539: Cracking a 278-digit code in 148 days (June 18, 2012)

Researchers from Fujitsu Laboratories, National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NITC), and Kyushu University successfully cracked the next-generation code that supposedly needed several hundreds thousand years to crack in just 148 days. The code is 278 digits, surpassing the current highest 204 digits. The code they cracked is the pairing cryptography developed in 2001 assumed to be the next-generation technology of the public key encryption for Internet shopping.

The research team developed a method to find parts for easy cracking and cracked the pairing cryptography using 21 computers. If it had used the supercomputer Kei that is being upgraded by Riken and Fujitsu, it could have cracked the code in 13.6 minutes. A code is assumed to be safe enough from a practical viewpoint if a supercomputer with the highest performance at any given time needs more than one year to crack. According to the research team, the pairing cryptography will remains safe for the next 20 years if it is 1,011 digits.   

Saturday, June 16, 2012

No. 538: An interior material useful for energy efficient life (June 16, 2012)

Dainippon Printing developed a new interior material that makes the room brighter. A white panel on which special treatment is given is put on the wall. The asperity of the panel surface reflects natural sunlight and illumination light and diffuses them in a whole room. Put in a 10-square-meter room, it can reduce power consumption up to 13% to keep the room as bright as the conventional white wall does. The company plans to market the new product to offices and shops that are exploring various ways to conserve energy.

Special treatment in white is given to the panel made of such metals as aluminum and stainless steel. Uniform and refined concavity and convexity are created on the panel surface, and the asperity reflects light that shines the panel in various directions. Even in the light illuminated by LEDs, the new product can lighten the whole room evenly because it can reflect and diffuse it irregularly. As companies, shops, and railway stations will decrease the number of lightings this summer, the company plans to sell this new product through lighting fixture makers and design companies. Although it is 20% higher in price than the existing interior material, the company reckons that saved electricity will make it possible to recover the investment in three years.  

The conventional metal panel (left) and the newly-developed metal panel (right) 

The newly-developed metal panel adopted by the Shinkansen train

Friday, June 15, 2012

No. 537: A rare metal-free cathode of lithium-ion battery (June 15, 2012)

The present cathode of lithium-ion battery contains such rare metals as cobalt and nickel. It is urgent need to develop a technology to eliminate the content of rare earthes in view of the unstable supply and exorbitant prices of rare earthes. A research team led by Professor Itaru Honma of Tohoku University developed a rare metal-free cathode of lithium-ion battery, and the new cathode has two times bigger capacity than the existing cathode. Although the trial lithium-ion battery that employed the new cathode is as small as a button at the present stage, it attracts wide attention as the second battery of electric vehicles.

The research team used an organic material that is one-fifth in price of the present material. They created a material that contains silica particles of 6 nanometers each and used it as the solid electrolyte to prevent organic particles from dissolving. They build a lithium-ion battery of a button size using this cathode and examined the performance. They confirmed that the energy density, which means storage capacity, is 200 watts per kg, about two times higher than that of the present lithium-ion battery and that it can maintain the original performance even after more than 100 times of discharge and charge. They plan to explore an organic material that has a higher capacity of storing electrons to increase the battery capacity. The research results were published in the June 13 issue of Scientific Reports, a British science magazine. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

No. 536: Reducing the thickness of an organic EL display to one seventh (June 14, 2012)

Futaba successfully developed an organic electroluminescence (EL) display that is one seventh as thin as the existing organic EL displays, and will make a mass production system ready by the end of this year both in Japan and China. The thickness of the newly developed organic EL display is merely 0.29 mm, while Futaba’s existing similar product is about 2.0 mm thick. At the same time, the new product is about one tenth in weight as the existing product. A 2.7-inch display weighs only 1.3 g. The new product will easily be applied to sub-displays of smartphones and wristwatches that work together with smartphone.

It was necessary to make an organic EL display hollow architecture to prevent moisture from sticking to organic EL elements. However, Futaba developed new core materials and eliminated the hollow portion, and successfully made the organic EL display thinner and lighter drastically. The new product will be 40-50% higher in price than Futaba’s existing product. However, the company will adopt the passive matrix for the new product instead of the active matrix for the production system. The former is suitable to produce smaller than 4.0-inch displays, while the latter is suitable to build TV panels. Accordingly, the cost per the same area will be lower. Futaba acquired TDK’s subsidiary involved in the organic EL business in April, and it is accelerating research and development to restore profitability. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

No. 535: Reducing the power consumption of the integrated circuit of semiconductor to one tenth (June 13, 2012)

Hokkaido University and Japan Science and Technology Agency jointly developed a new transistor that reduces the power consumption of the integrated circuit of semiconductor to less than one tenth. They applied the phenomenon called the tunnel effect that enabled Dr. Leona Esaki to become a Nobel Prize winner. The researchers built up molecules on the silicone substrate and constructed a structure where needles, each of 80 nanometers in diameter, stand together in large numbers. They built a transistor using each needle as electrode and found the tunnel effect in the joint of the substrate and needles.

The tunnel effect made it possible to reduce the voltage required to drive the new transistor to one third of the voltage required by the existing transistor. The researchers also reduced the leakage of current during standby time. As a result, they are confident that they can reduce the power consumption of the whole circuit to less than one tenth. In addition, it is possible to reduce the circuit area to one fourth of the circuit area of the existing transistor. The tunnel effect has been attracting attention as a clue to reducing power consumption, but it was rather hard to build a transistor that applies the tunnel effect. Related information in pdf file (in Japanese)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

No. 534: In-house generation using nitrous oxide (June 12, 2012)

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Showa Denko jointly developed generating equipment that utilizes nitrous oxide used as an anesthetic agent. Nitrous oxide generates heat at as high as 1,600 degrees centigrade should it be resolved by a special catalyst, and the generated heat is used to run a turbine. Because hospitals have always anesthetic gas cylinders ready, the two organization plans to put the new technology into practical use and build an in-house power generation system for emergency in three years. Nitrous oxide is safe and easy to handle because it is liquid at normal temperature and because it emits only nitrogen and oxygen should it be resolved.

JAXA has been developing alternative rocket fuels that can replace highly toxicant hydrazine rocket fuel and generating equipment in space in alliance with Showa Denko for the past 10 years. The two organizations built nitrous oxide generation equipment as small as a suitcase as part of their efforts to build equipment for ground test of a rocket. It has a capacity to generate enough electricity for lighting in laboratories and air-conditioners. They believe that the system of a refrigerator size can be an in-house generation system for hospitals. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

No. 533: Developing technologies for stable supply of polypropylene (June 11, 2012)

Unlike polyethylene, polypropylene can be mass produced only from crude oil at the present stage. For fear of possible short supply of crude oil, many research teams are developing technologies for stable supply of polypropylene. Masakazu Iwamoto of Tokyo Institute of Technology developed a technology to produce propylene that is a material of polyethylene resin from bioethanol using a special catalyst. He confirmed that about 60% of ethanol changed propylene. According to the estimates of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, it is possible to reduce 3 million tons of CO2 should one million ton of polypropylene be produced entirely by the new technology. It is planned that Idemitsu Kosan builds mass production equipment and Sumitomo Chemical produces polypropylene for Toyota.

Mitsui Chemical and Hiroshi Shimizu of Osaka University successfully made isopropanol from genetically-modified Bacillus coli. Isopropanol is a kind of alcohol and used as a raw material of polypropylene. The genetically-modified Bacillus coli changes to Isopropanol in two days if it is put into a sugar solution extracted from plant fibers. It is possible to produce propylene by extracting the moisture of isopropanol. For the purpose of calculation, about 250 g of propylene can be made from 1 kg of sugar. His technology has more than 10 times higher productivity than the existing technology, and it can be put into practical use should the response speed grow two times faster. 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

No. 532: Using a by-product of paper manufacturing for a tire material (June 9, 2012)

Paper manufacturing inevitably produces lignin that is a black liquid substance as a by-product. Wood chips contain lignin for 20-30%, and paper companies utilize it as fuel for their boilers. With the sluggish sales of paper products, paper companies are exploring new applications for lignin. Kanematsu that is a general trading company and Daio Paper that is a paper company will put the technology to produce carbon fines by sintering and drying lignin to practical use toward 2014. The carbon fine made in this way is highly adhesive, and it can increase the strength of the tire should it be mixed in tire. It can replace carbon black made of oil or coal that is widely used at present.

Currently, carbon black is contained in a tire for 25% in a weight ratio, and its domestic demand is about 900,000 tons a year. The two companies plan to get sales of 20 billion yen annually by replacing carbon black by carbon fines. Daio Paper built an experiment plant with a monthly production capacity of 5-10 kg of carbon fines and started to ship samples to tire manufacturers and paint makers. Kanematsu will increase customers, while Daio Paper will develop the technology for mass production. As reported in No. 526, Bridgestone is developing biomass-derived tires in alliance with Ajinomoto to follow Michelin of France and Goodyear of the U.S. Kanematsu and Daio Paper are trying to make tires more environmentally friendly in a different approach. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

No. 531: Successful development of a technology for low cost production of pressure sensors (June 8, 2012)

Ajinomoto and the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Industry (AIST) jointly developed a technology for low cost production of film pressure sensors. They developed an organic material that generates electricity if pressurized and combined it with the substrate of a plastic on which an electric circuit is printed to produce a film pressure sensor. Because multiple sensors can be aligned vertically and horizontally, it will be easy to build a product with a large area. According to AIST, it will be possible to build a sensor that stretches wall-to-wall, offering such applications as a bed that prevents bedsore and a vehicle seat that provides a high level of comfort.  

Because the new film pressure sensor is printable, the production cost can be reduced to less than several hundredths. It currently costs more than 100,000 yen to produce a 10 cm square pressure sensor, but the newly developed technology can produce a pressure sensor of the same size at a cost from several hundredths to several thousandths of the present cost thanks to the simple production process and lower material cost. If the new film sensor is put on the room or a floor wall-to-wall, it will be possible to monitor the life of an elderly person living alone. 

 A printable flexible film pressure sensor 
jointly developed by Ajinomoto and AIST 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

No. 530: A functional film for longer life of lithium-ion battery (June 7, 2012)

Kyodo Printing will develop a functional film that lengthens the life of a lithium-ion battery by up to 20%. A resin that absorbs the gas is inserted between the films to provide them with the function to adsorb the gas. The company will let the new film adsorb volatile gas generated while a lithium-ion battery is used to prevent the battery from expanding. The functional film will be used as the armoring material pasted on the package of battery.

A lithium-ion battery generates gas in the course of deterioration, and the package of a battery expands. In the worst case, it bursts. That is why a mobile phone has space inside in anticipation of the battery’s expansion. This space makes it hard for mobile phone makers to make their products thinner. Kyodo Printing so far developed functional materials including “MoistCatch” that adsorbs moisture and “OxyCatch” that adsorbs oxygen. The technology used to develop these two original products is used to develop the new film. The sample will be shipped in less than one year.
OxyCatch developed by Kyodo Printing

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

No. 529: Technology to locate sea-floor hydrothermal ore deposits is advancing (June 6, 2012)

In 2008, the Japanese government designated the sea-floor hydrothermal ore deposit as one of the important seabed resources together with oil, natural gas, and methane hydrate. Since then, a large amount of research expenses were spent on the development of technology to locate sea-floor hydrothermal ore deposit, and the technology is advancing.

Akira Asada of Tokyo University developed a sensor that analyzes the shape of the seabed using sound waves. The transmitters installed on the probe discharged from the ship transmit sound waves toward the seabed, and 48 underwater microphones receive returned sound waves. The round-trip time and intensity of the sound waves are figured out for each transmitter, and the data are used to draw 3D seabed maps in real time. It is possible to draw a seabed map with the radius of 300 m if sound waves are transmitted more than 100 m above the seabed. The 3D map has a difference of only about 5 cm. Akira Saito of Waseda University focused on that electrical properties vary with the kind of rock and mineral, and developed a technology to study the distribution of such metals as gold, copper in a sea-floor hydrothermal ore deposit.

Japan is said to have the world largest amount of sea-floor hydrothermal ore deposits. At present, it has15 sea-floor hydrothermal ore deposits.  

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

No. 528: Intensifying competition to reduce mass production cost of organic electroluminescence (June 5, 2012)

Organic electroluminescence (EL) is the next-generation lighting that allows for a wide range of applications, such as illumination pasted on the ceiling and illumination of advertising display of a shop, and it does not get hot. However, the high production cost is the biggest drawback.

Mitsubishi Chemical will mass produce organic EL in alliance with Pioneer toward the end of 2013. The two companies have been working together to develop a mass production technology since 2010, and successfully developed a new technology to produce an organic EL panel by applying organic substances to the glass. They will construct a pilot plant with an investment of 1.5 billion yen by the summer to test the new technology for one year. They can currently produce a 13 cm square organic EL sheet that is 9 mm thick at about 50,000 yen on trial, and they plan to reduce the production cost to less than 5,000 yen in one year.

Kaneka will introduce vacuum coating equipment that deposits luminescence materials on the glass substrate efficiently and review thoroughly such components as glass substrate and luminescence material to reduce the production cost of a 10 cm square organic EL panel to less than 5,000 yen. Konica Minolta developed an organic EL panel with better luminous efficiency than the existing EL panel in 2011. The company is developing a mass production technology to be put into practical use after 2014.

A 60W electric light bulb is merely 100 yen, and an LED bulb with the same brightness is 2,500 yen. An organic EL bulb with the same brightness costs 300,000-750,000 yen. Accordingly, developing new applications besides reducing production cost is indispensable. According to a survey company, the domestic market of EL lighting is supposed to be 1.1 billion yen in 2012, but it is estimated to be 108.5 billion yen in 2020. Although Korean companies are one step ahead of Japanese companies in commercializing organic EL panels for TVs and smartphones, Japanese companies are pressing hard on them.

Organic EL lighting

Organic EL ligting

Monday, June 4, 2012

No. 527: Using low quality coals for inexpensive fuel that can replace heavy oil (June 4, 2012)

Plant capacity of thermal power generation is expected to grow 60% over the level in 2008 to about 5 billion kW in 2030 worldwide, and demand for fuel for thermal power generation is growing bigger rapidly. JGC, one of Japan’s leading engineering companies, developed a low-cost fuel for thermal power generation and plans to produce it beginning in 2015. It will build production facilities in Indonesia with an investment of 30 billion yen and market the new fuel in Japan and Asia at a 30-50% lower price than heavy oil.

Low quality coals cannot be used as fuel because they are hard to burn due to high moisture content. JGC’s technology crushes low quality coals and extracts moisture by processing the crushed low quality coals at elevated temperature and pressure, and subsequently processes it as liquid fuel with additives. If burnt, the new fuel produces the same heat value as heavy oil. Because Indonesia has lots of reserve of low quality coals, JGC wishes to construct a big plant with an annual production of one million tons that is enough to operate a plant with a 300,000 kW generation capacity for one year. The company plans to export the new fuel to Japan besides marketing it in Asian countries including Indonesia. In Japan, the consumption of heavy oil increased 88% over the level in 2010 to about 11 million tons in 2011.

Other Japanese companies are very active in utilizing low quality coals. Kobe Steel developed the mechanism to heat low quality coals and extract moisture. It is planning to build facilities to produce fuel for power plants by 2015 in Sumatra. IHI started to develop a technology to gasify low quality coals using the boiler of a thermal power plant for highly efficient generation. Mitsubishi Heavy is developing a technology to burn low quality coals efficiently. According to the estimate of the Japanese government, photovoltaic generation costs most to generate electricity. It costs 33.4-38.3 yen per kW, followed by oil that cost 20.8-22.4 yen, wind generation that costs 99-17.3 yen, and LNG that costs 10.7 yen. Coal-fired thermal power costs 9.5 yen and nuclear costs 8.9 yen.  

Saturday, June 2, 2012

No. 526: Bridgestone and Ajinomoto ally to develop biomass-derived tires (June 2, 2012)

Bridgestone, Japan’s leading tire maker, and Ajinomoto, Japan’s leading company of fermentation technology, allied to develop biomass-derived tires. Ajinomoto successfully produced isoprene from corn sugar. The two companies will develop tire rubber mixed with isoprene rubber to increase its strength and wear resistance. At present, isoprene rubber accounts for several percentage of the total rubber used in a tire. Michelin of France and Goodyear of the U.S. have already started to develop biomass-derived rubber, and Bridgestone follow them in alliance with Ajinomoto. 

Ajinomoto developed a microorganism capable of producing isoprene. It extracts isoprene after fermenting the microorganism that ate plant-derived sugar, and Bridgestone processes isoprene into rubber with the aid of its original catalyst technology. Ajinomoto will build a pilot plant next year and improve the fermentation technology to establish the technology to mass-produce isoprene by 2020, and Bridgestone will manufacture a tire that employs biomass-derived rubber toward 2015 on trial. Because biomass-derived tire can replace natural rubber, Bridgestone reckons that mass-produced rubber will have enough cost competitiveness in the future. Bridgestone plans to launch tires made of materials free from such fossil resources as oil in 2020.  

Friday, June 1, 2012

No. 525: Nissan’s charging equipment with the function to supply electricity to household (June 1, 2012)

It is no longer a dream to use an electric vehicle battery as a storage battery of a household. Nissan will put its “LEAF-to-Home” charging equipment on the market in mid-June. The new product was developed and built by Nichicon. It allows an EV to be a storage battery of household. It is subject to government subsidy, and a customer needs to pay 330,000 yen including installation cost.

It supports both AC and DC. With an output of 6 kW that is two times bigger than the conventional output, it halved the charging time from eight hours to four hours as an EV charger. It has the function to monitor power consumption of the household and charge it at lower than contract current. Because it is possible to set hours for charging and feeding of the day using a timer, it is rather easy to store cheap electricity at night and use the stored electricity not only for household but also for back-up power supply for emergency. A Nissan’s executive said that his charging equipment could compete successfully with the existing household storage battery pricewise. Nissan plans to sell 10,000 units in the initial year. It will start to install the “LEAF-to-Home” in about 2,200 Nissan dealers across the country.

Nissan's "LEAF-to-Home”