Friday, January 9, 2015

No. 868: Reducing the production cost of a storage battery to one tenth (January 8, 2015)

Sumitomo Electric developed a technology to reduce the production cost of a large-scale storage battery of the next generation considerably. The new technology eliminates the necessity to use rare metals and has the possibility to reduce the production cost of a storage battery to 20,000-30,000 yen per kilowatt hour, less than one tenth of the current level. The company plans to shift this product to mass production in 2020.

Redox flow battery
Lithium-ion battery
Sodium-sulfur battery
Cost of introduction
(per kilowatt hour)
20,000-30,000 yen (target)
About 200,000 yen
About 400,000 yen
Capacity enlargement
Life (the number of charge-discharge cycles)
No limit
About 3,500 times
About 4,500 times

The redox flow battery that Sumitomo Electric commercialized for the first time in the world is in the front runner position of the next generation storage battery. It has smaller risk of ignition than the lithium-ion battery because it stores electricity by circulating the electrolyte inside the tank and creating a chemical reaction with the help of an ion-exchange membrane besides being two times durable than the lithium-ion battery. 

Sumitomo Denko's redox flow storage batteries
A bird's-eye view of Sumitomo Denko's redox flow storage batteries
The existing technology to build a redox flow battery is very expensive because it uses a large amount of vanadium. Sumitomo Electric developed an alternative material using multiple materials of the metal system. Accordingly, the company has opened up the road to reduce the production cost of a storage battery considerably. It has already started building redox flow batteries in Osaka in 2013. It will ship a redox flow storage battery with a capacity of 60,000 kW to Hokkaido Electric Power in 2015 and will start the demonstration experiment of the power grid system for redox flow storage batteries with a leading power company in the U.S.

The Japanese government positions the storage battery industry as one of the growth industries and supports Japanese companies to help them get a considerable share in the world market estimated to grow to 20 trillion yen in 2020.  

 Introduction to the Sumitomo Denko Group

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

No. 867: Linear Chuo Shinkansen connects Tokyo and Osaka in about one hour in 2045 (January 6, 2015)

Central Japan Railway’s huge project to travel 286 km between Tokyo and Nagoya in 40 minutes in 2027 and 438 km between Tokyo and Osaka in one hour and seven minutes in 2045 started last December. The total cost of this project is 9 trillion yen. The Linear Chuo Shinkansen adopted the superconductive system for the first time in the world. The maximum speed reaches 500 km/h. Because tunnels accounts for 86% of the Linear Chuo Shinkansen line between Tokyo and Nagoya, various high-tech companies are advancing their tunnel-related technologies to complete the line on schedule.

 Enjoy the world of 500 km/h

Koken Boring Machine is a maker of boring machines used for geological research. The mountainous region through which the line travel has lots of high mountains, and it is hard to drill a hole for geological research vertically. Koken’s technology to drill horizontally is vital in this region. The company is developing a technology for conducting survey 1 km ahead, while the current technology allows survey only 200-300 m ahead. It aims to establish a technology to control the location of an iron pole 1 km ahead precisely.

The shield method is indispensable to the engineering work in the urban area because it is hardly possible to use dynamite. Obayashi developed a machine that can drill 25% faster than the conventional model in alliance with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Mechatronics Systems. The new machine drills 500 m per month, two times faster than the speed 20 years ago. Concurrently, Nippon Sharyo and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries are trying to decrease the level of quake during traveling of the vehicle they jointly developed to the quake of the latest Shinkansen vehicle N-700A. Tunnel construction will start in full swing in 2016. 

Shinkansen vehicle N-700A

Sunday, January 4, 2015

No. 866: Technology development for the age of fuel cell vehicles is in progress (5/5) (January 5, 2015)

Various high-tech companies support the spread of fuel cell vehicles. The following companies supply Toyota with state-of-the-art parts for a Mirai.

Separator of a fuel cell
3D fine mesh duct
Gasket for fuel cells
Hydrogen circulation pump
Hydrogen injector and valve
Hydrogen detector
High pressure hydrogen supply valve, decompression valve
High pressure hydrogen stainless steel
Liner of high pressure hydrogen tank

Hino Motors is conducting a demonstration experiment of a fuel cell bus with the view to selling it for fixed route buses. It plans to put the fuel cell bus on the market in 2016. Toyota Industries will supply two fuel cell forklifts to New Kansai International Airport this year. The company will start a test operation in a warehouse of medicines and pharmaceuticals that requires a clean working environment this year and market fuel cell forklifts energetically beginning in 2016. 

 Demonstration experiment of a fuel cell bus
conducted by Kyushu University

Governor of Tokyo excitedly announces that he will leave a hydrogen society in conjunction with the Tokyo Olympics scheduled for 2020, whereas the Tokyo Olympics in 1964 left many heritages including Shinkansen and freeways. He is accelerating the spread of fuel cell vehicles by drawing Tokyo’s original policies. Tokyo will construct 35 hydrogen stations and introduce 6,000 fuel cell vehicles by 2020.  

    Tokyo Governor visits the utimate hydrogen city

Grass-roots activities can also be observed. Students of Akita Prefectural Akita Technical High School built their own fuel cell vehicle in their extracurricular activities and they won the nationwide contest held in last May, beating teams made up of university students and those made up of working people. A total of 40 high school students started to build a fuel cell vehicle under the sponsorship of Nagoya City Science Museum. They are scheduled to present their research results both at home and abroad.  

Akita Prefectural Akita Technical High Shool
wins the contest of fuel cell vehicles

No. 865: Technology development for the age of fuel cell vehicles is in progress (4/5) (January 4, 2015)

Toyota’s fuel cell vehicle Mirai adopted a hydrogen leak detector developed by FIS, Inc. This company was acquired by Nissha Printing last June, but it has a substantial share in the world market of alcohol detectors and sensors for air purifier. The hydrogen leak detector is one of the vital devices to prevent an accident caused by hydrogen leakage. FIS developed this device by combining its sensor technology with microcomputer. Toyota’s Mirai is equipped with two units of this detector. If the detector detects hydrogen leakage, it discontinues hydrogen supply or prevents the engine from starting. The detector from FIS is three times more durable than the competitive models, and it needs only one third of time required by the existing model to detect hydrogen leakage. FIS is now one of the makers that can business directly with Toyota.

NGK Spark Plug developed a hydrogen leak sensor for fuel cell vehicles. NGK is the world’s largest maker of spark plugs. The sensor developed by NGK can detect such a low concentration as 0.2-2.0% of hydrogen. It judges the existence of hydrogen on the basis of calorie drawn by hydrogen gas. Although the conventional sensor detects hydrogen leakage with the help of catalyst and chemical reactions, NGK’s sensor is higher in precision than the conventional sensor and it does not deteriorate with age so much as the conventional sensor. NGK developed the new sensor by applying the micro electro mechanical systems (HEMS) technology. With the participation of NGK, the development of parts and components for fuel cell vehicles is growing more competitive. 

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Toyota's Mirai

Amazing acceleration by Toyota's Mirai
It takes only 9.6 seconds to reach 100km/h.

Friday, January 2, 2015

No. 864: Technology development for the age of fuel cell vehicles is in progress (3/5) (January 3, 2015)

Strenuous efforts are being to reduce the price of a fuel cell. Takeo Yamaguchi of Tokyo Institute of Technology reduced the amount of platinum in the catalyst to one third. He blended iron and others with platinum catalyst and changed the distance between platinum atoms, and subsequently increased the efficiency of the catalyst by three times. His catalyst is more durable than the existing catalyst. An experiment has verified that it is durable for 10 years. He plans to commercialize this new catalyst in five years. Naotoshi Nakashima of Kyushu University devised a method to fix small carbon particles on a carbon nanotube. His method prevents particles from clotting even if each particle is small, and thus it does not deteriorate the performance of a fuel cell. It is expected to reduce the amount of platinum used in a fuel cell by one tenth.

 A new electrode for fuel cell developed by Kyushu University

Nobuhiro Yoshikawa of the University of Tokyo has opened up a road to reduce the production cost of a hydrogen tank by 10% in alliance with Nissan Motor. Using a high precision simulation technology, he will eliminate waste of carbon fiber reinforced plastics used to cover the tank. He is exploring the conditions to decrease the number of carbon fiber reinforced plastics while maintain the strength by dividing a tank into 85 million parts. A research team made up of researchers from automakers and home electronics makers changes the figure of carbon particles on the electrode surface to a columnar figure so that oxygen is delivered to the catalyst efficiently. It is working on the structure to eliminate the water generated by the reaction, and thereby increase the generating efficiency of each electrode. It plans to reduce the number of electrodes to reduce the cost of a fuel cell by more than 10%.

Teijin developed an inexpensive catalyst for fuel cell vehicles. The new catalyst employs iron and nitrogen instead of platinum. It presently cannot exhibit performance higher than 70% of the current level, but the company wishes the new catalyst to exhibit the same performance exhibited by a catalyst made purely of platinum, while reducing the price of a catalyst to less than one tenth of the current level. It used iron compounds and polyacrylonitrile (PAN) that contains nitrogen as materials. It created particles with a diameter of several hundred of nanometer by dissolving the iron compounds and PAN in a solvent and treating them with heat in a gas that contains ammonia. It built a fuel cell using these particles as a catalyst and generated about 0.4 V at about 1 ampere.

Nissan's fuel cell vehicle technology

Thursday, January 1, 2015

No. 863: Technology development for the age of fuel cell vehicles is in progress (2/5) (January 2, 2015)

The Japanese government will deregulate the construction of a hydrogen station to support energy companies involved in the spread of hydrogen stations. It plans to increase the number of hydrogen stations to 100 within 2015. A hydrogen station can store hydrogen for the amount required by up to 7 fuel cell vehicles at present, but it is planning to eliminate this barrier by increasing the compression rate of hydrogen. It will also simplify the security standard of compressor and decrease the distance between the filling machine and the pubic road from the present at least 8 km to at least 4 km. Replying to the deregulation, companies concerned are announcing their plans to prepare for the age of fuel cell vehicles.

Plans to reduce the cost of a mobile hydrogen station to the level of 100 million yen and sell 300 mobile hydrogen stations toward 2025
Plans to produce hydrogen in 10 bases toward 2020 and construct 200 hydrogen stations
Plans to construct a total of 20 hydrogen gas stations toward 2015
Plans to open convenience stores with a hydrogen station inside the premises

Taiyo Nippon Sanso's Hydro Shuttle
Taiyo Nippon Sanso has developed a mobile hydrogen station to reduce the construction cost of a hydrogen station to the level of 100 million yen. The mobile hydrogen station is named Hydro Shuttle, and the company plans to supply the Hydro Shuttle to 300 gas station operators toward 2025. It will shortly establish a company to operate the Hydro Shuttle in alliance with Toyota Tsusho and Sumitomo Mitsui Finance and Leasing. Seven Eleven Japan will open convenience stores with a hydrogen station inside the premises in alliance with Iwatani Corp. They will open a convenience store of this kind in Tokyo and Aichi Prefecture and open a total of 20 convenience stores of this kind by 2017.

JX Nippon Oil and Energy opened its first hydrogen station last December where 1 kg of hydrogen is sold for 1,000 yen. A Toyota’s Mirai can travel up to 700 km with 5 kg of hydrogen. The price of 1,000 yen per 1 kg is below cost, but the company reckons that the business will become profitable if a hydrogen station receives a total of 2,000 customers daily. 

 Taiyo Nippon Sanso's Hydro Shuttle