Friday, August 29, 2014

No. 855: Increasing the capacity of an air battery (August 30, 2013)

A total of 11 organizations including Furukawa Battery, Nikon, and Nissan work together on the project to increase the capacity of an air battery. In the first stage, Furukawa Battery will put an emergency power source with a generation capacity of 300 W for mobile devices into practical use within the year. The project team aims to construct a system with a generation capacity of 3 kW for household use in five years and a system with a generation capacity of 1,000 kW that can be used for a small-size power plant in 10 years. Furukawa Battery is scheduled to mass produce disposable air battery for emergency within the year.

An air battery has 10 times higher energy density than a lithium-ion battery of the same weight because magnesium used for the negative electrode radiates lots of electrons. In addition, it is possible to simplify the structure of the positive electrode. The existing technology does not allow an air battery to be reused because the negative electrode oxidizes once it is exhausted. Nikon plans to develop a mechanism to deoxidize the negative electrode made of magnesium utilizing solar heat and waste heat of a manufacturing plant with a view to making an air battery reusable for power generation.

An electric motorcycle loaded with an air battery 
for emergency. It can run only with salt solution.

The world's first mega solar equipped with 
storage batteres that use used batteries

No. 854: Developing an LSI to display all around a vehicle in three dimensions (August 29, 2013)

Renesas Electronics developed a system LSI that displays all around a vehicle in three dimensions. The new system LSI synthesizes images shot by multiple cameras and recognizes people and obstacles around a vehicle. Because it gives a warning when it recognizes a man or an obstacle around a vehicle, it allows a vehicle driver to avoid an accident should it be utilized by the parking assistance system.

The new system LSI has 8 times higher processing capability of recognized images than the existing system, and it can synthesize 3D images and recognize various objects including a man in real time. It can support up to 6 cameras. The company starts to ship samples 5,000 yen apiece this September. The mass production is scheduled for October 2016, and it plans to produce 500,000 pieces per month in 2017. It wishes to upgrade the new system LSI to be applied to the automatic braking system in the future.

 Toyota's advanced parking assistance system

Thursday, August 28, 2014

No. 853: Mass production technology of energy-saving power semiconductors (August 28, 2013)

Japanese leading companies including Panasonic and Japanese leading universities including Osaka University will jointly develop a mass production technology of energy-saving power semiconductors with the support of the government. Utilizing the technology to generate gallium nitride crystals developed by Osaka University, the project aims to strengthen Japan’s competitive edge in the power semiconductor where Japan currently has 60% share.

The maximum diameter of a wafer is 4.5 inches at the present stage, and the project plans to increase the diameter to 6.0 inches in two years under the initiative of Hitachi Metals. A power semiconductor larger than 6.0 inches in diameter will realize efficient production and lower production cost. In addition, it will reduce energy loss incurred in the exchange from alternate current to direct current to less than 6% of the present level. The technology involved in the development of gallium nitride can be applied to LED. The government estimates that spreading power semiconductors will make it possible to reduce power consumption corresponding to that of 8 million households. It has allocated about 1,400 million yen for the project for 2015 and will continue to fund it in 2016.  

  The highly efficient SIC power semiconductor 
released by Toyota on May 20, 2014

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

No. 852: Producing hydrogen from liquefied petroleum gas (August 26, 2013)

Osaka Gas is scheduled to start marketing equipment that produces hydrogen from liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) using its self-developed catalyst within the year. It can produce 300 cubic meters of hydrogen per hour, amount of hydrogen for six fuel cell vehicles. It is priced at about 200 million yen. The company developed equipment to produce hydrogen from city gas last year. It plans to install these two kinds of equipment to 100 hydrogen stations across the country by 2025.  

Currently, hydrogen is supplied to hydrogen stations after it is liquefied in the refinery. The equipment to be launched by Osaka Gas eliminates the necessity of installing a tank and arranging a special vehicle to transport liquefied hydrogen. Thereby, hydrogen will be cheaper. Currently, about 25 million households use LPG as household fuel. Osaka Gas will build its first gas station where this equipment in the spring of 2015. Japanese automakers are energetically developing fuel cell vehicles and the Japanese government is supporting infrastructure improvement for the spread of fuel cell vehicles.  

The equipment to produce hydrogen
 Toyota's fuel cell vehicle for 2014

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

No. 851: Detecting narcotic drugs inside without opening an envelope (August 7, 2013)

The research team led by Kodo Kawase of Nagoya University developed a technology to detect narcotic and stimulant drugs in an envelope without opening it. The technology narrows down the components of what is contained in an envelope using terahertz waves. It is effective to detect these illegal drugs inside an international mail envelope made from heavy paper. Although terahertz waves go through paper, terahertz waves of a specific wavelength are absorbed when they hit narcotic and stimulant drugs. Because legal drugs and foods contain more impurities than narcotic drugs, they absorb terahertz waves of a wide range of wavelength. The research team members utilized this characteristic to detect narcotic and stimulant drugs.

They built a 50 cm square trial model and successfully distinguished 20 kinds of narcotic and stimulant drugs contained in envelope from legal drugs and foods contained in envelope. This technology can be used for antiterrorism measures because it is effective not only to detect illegal drugs but also to detect explosives. They plan to make the technology practicable in a few years with a view to using it in airports and international post offices. At the present stage, it costs about 30 million yen to build equipment based on this technology, but they wish to reduce the cost to one tenth.

Now it is possible to detect illegal drugs in 
an envelope without opening it.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

No. 850: Development of a lithium-ion battery usable for 70 years (August 5, 2014)

Sharp and Isao Tanaka of Kyoto University developed a lithium-ion battery usable for as long as 70 years. In the experiment, the new battery allows 25,000 times of discharge and charge. That is, it is usable for 70 years if it is discharged and charged on a daily basis. The existing lithium-ion battery is usable for 10 years at the longest. The researchers plan to make it practicable as the battery for wind and photovoltaic generation. The trial product is 8 cm square. They optimized the combination of materials of the positive electrode, such as ion and silicon, with the help of computer and the latest simulation technology.

They confirmed the usability by conducting 10,000 times of discharge and charge and analyzed that it is usable for six times longer than the existing lithium-ion battery. The research results were published in the electronic version of the British science magazine “Nature Communications.”    

Brilliant Japanese researchers make a breakthrough

No. 849: Japanese government supports the development of space photovoltaic generation (August 4, 2014)

The Japanese government will support the research on weight-saving of antenna used for electric transmission in space photovoltaic generation beginning in the next summer. In space photovoltaic generation, a huge solar panel will be installed on an artificial satellite on stationery orbit 36,000 km above the ground. Generated electricity is converted to microwave and transmitted to the ground, and the microwave is converted to power on the ground. In addition to the ability to generate power night and day regardless of weather, space photovoltaic generation does not need large –scale equipment on the ground. The technology will be put into practical use between 2040 and 2050.

In the current technological level, conversion efficiency from electricity to microwave and from microwave to power and transmission of power is very low. It costs more than 1 trillion yen to build facilities for the conversion. To overcome this stalemate, the government plans to reduce the weight of the antenna to less than one hundredth and thickness to about one tenth. At the same time, it wishes to increase the efficiency of the semiconductor used to covert power to electric wave from the present 70% to 80%. It will select companies and research institutes for the project from among the public in this month. It will subsidize about 25 million yen for the three-year project and draw a progress schedule in alliance with Japan Aerospace Exploration Space Agency within this year.  

 Research on space photovoltaic generation is 
advancing steadily.