Sunday, October 30, 2011

No. 340: The performance of a storage battery is improving rapidly (2/2) (October 31, 2011)

NEC developed a lithium-ion battery with an electrode that employs manganese instead of cobalt: manganese is about twentieth of cobalt in price. Besides the low cost electrode, the company modified the ingredient of the electrolyte and succeeded in achieving better performance. The new lithium-ion battery is hard to generate heat and able to discharge and charge for more than 20,000 times. It has a life of 13 years without problems if it is charged during nighttime when electricity rate is low and used during daytime: The existing lithium-ion battery has a life of 7-8 years. The company plans to lengthen the current life of 13 years to 20 years in five years, and subsequently put it on the market.

In the industrial world, efforts are being made to expand the application of a storage battery to smart grids and smart houses. Japan IBM is implementing the plan to build an eco town in collaboration with the city of Sendai, and Fujitsu submitted a plan to build a smart city to Fukushima Prefecture. Sony is addressing a project to build a large lithium-ion battery. However, a large storage battery with a capacity big enough to be built in the transmission network is still in the development stage. The development of a large storage capacity is vital for the stable supply of electricity generated by renewable energy. Every company concerned has entered a period of tough competition. 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

No. 339: The performance of a storage battery is improving rapidly (1/2) (October 29, 2011)

Toyota, Tokyo Institute of Technology, and High Energy Accelerator Research Organization built a trial storage battery of the next-generation using a new chemical compound. The trial product can apply as much electric current needed for acceleration as the lithium-ion battery on an EV does. It is totally a solid battery free from any flammable liquid. Because it does not need any materials to prevent combustion, it has a simplified structure and can be built at a lower cost than the existing storage battery. As the chemical compound can easily be processed to be sheet-like, it can store several times more electricity in the same volume than the existing storage battery. The research team predicts that it will allow an EV to travel up to 1,000 km without charge and that it can be made smaller to be used for housing purposes. It wishes to put this trial product into practical application between 2015 and 2020.

Mazda and Hiroshima University developed an electrode material that can increase the capacity of a storage battery by 1.8 times. The new material uses spherical carbon molecules several hundred nanometers in diameter each. It can halve the weight per volume, while increasing the travel distance without charge by more than two times. The roadmap published last year by New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization indicates that the cost per volume of the next-generation storage battery will become between one fifth and one tenth of the present level in 2020. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

No. 338: You can pinpoint the location where people get together for better tax assignment in 10 seconds (October 28, 2011)

Fujitsu Laboratories will start a new cloud service using GPS and huge positional information stored of mobile phones within the year. The laboratories developed a technology to analyze the flows of cars, people, and products 60 times faster than the existing technology. If this technology is applied to the assignment of taxies, it analyzes information it receives from several thousands taxies traveling in Tokyo and narrows down the places where many people are waiting for taxies. The existing technology can give rough ideas like many people are waiting for taxies before a railway station, but it cannot narrow it down to supply an exact location.

The existing technology on positional information processes information by dividing the map into pieces, while the new technology eliminates the regions with scarce information on the map and pinpoints the location for better efficiency and serviceability. It will also be applicable to the preliminary study of the location of a new store because it can tell the exact region that customers of a certain store frequent from their shopping records and positional information of mobile phones. In addition, it will serve efficient and effective delivery of rescue supply to the evacuation center in a time of disaster.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

No. 337: New equipment to make a 30 micrometer hole in stainless steel (October 27, 2011)

Equipment to make a hole 30 micrometers in diameter in stainless steel using a drill has been developed by Morikawa Co. in Chiba Prefecture. Established in 1980, the company is well known for precision work with delivery records of precision parts for accelerators and equipment for cancer treatment. Two methods exist for fine cutting of stainless steel: one uses a drill, and the other uses laser. The former allows for making a 30 micrometer hole, but burr is created because of inaccurate depth in cutting. The latter allows for an exact depth, but tiny cutting scraps melt by heat and adhere to the drill in making a hole less than 50 micrometers in diameter.

The company installed an ultrasonic generator around the drill that eliminates cutting scraps with the help of cutting oil. It confirmed that the equipment prevented cutting scraps from adhere to the drill almost completely. The achievement will expand the applications of the drill cutting method. In the fiber industry, fine threads a few micrometers in diameter are increasingly used to create original tactile impression and luster. Accordingly, weaving machines for this purpose need a part with a hole of an exact diameter to bundle threads. The company also plans to get orders for part processors of purification filters.    

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

No. 336: A superconducting receive filter to be built in a weather radar system (October 26, 2011)

Toshiba developed a superconducting receive filter to be built in a weather radar system for the observation of torrential downpours. The new filter increased the utilization efficiency by dividing the band frequency into less than one tenth as compared with copper filter. The weather radar system transmits radio waves of a certain frequency to the air and receives signals that reflect on the raindrops and return to the system. Thesystem can monitor an area of about 250 square meters in about one minute by examining the size and figure of raindrops.

The company employed a superconducting material of the yttrium family for the new receive filter. Besides narrowing the bandwidth of the frequency from 40 MHz to 3 MHz, the new system reduced the power loss to one fourth with the help of the resonance circuit set up that used the superconducting material. Although it is necessary to cool down the circuit to minus 200 degrees centigrade by the accessory freezer, the capacity of the new filter is 10 liters, 65% smaller than the capacity of the existing copper filter. Because of the increased frequency of torrential downpours, it is desired to increase the operation of the weather radar system.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

No. 335: Practical application of injection molding compounds made from paper (October 25, 2011)

Pulp Injection Consortium organized by ProfessorHidetoshi Yokoi of Institute of Industrial Science, the University of Tokyo, will address the practical application of paper-made auto parts and cases for precision apparatus. Participated by eight private companies, the research team has already built more than 10 kinds of products on trial, all of which are in the process of practical application. The pulp injection molding is the method to create a product by injecting and molding a material hardened by starch glue. Taiho Industrial has the basic patent of pulp injection molding.

The research team has built disposable ample cases for medical use and clamps for document files. Sekiso is working on a rust-preventive cover for the brake pad of a vehicle and parts of the defroster for windshield. The other promising fields include a packaging material of camera. The trial product of camera packaging can reduce carbon dioxide emission by about 50% of the emission by polystyrene foam and about 70% of the emission by cardboard. These products will possibly be put on the market in 2012. The consortium will continue the research to develop high value-added products.  

Sunday, October 23, 2011

No. 334: Use exhaust gas to increase the capacity of an air lithium air battery (October 24, 2011)

A research team of Toyota Central R&DLabs discovered that using a mix gas of oxygen and carbon dioxide in place of an oxygen gas for the reaction increased the capacity of an air lithium battery by more than three times. The energy density is 2,360 watt-hour per liter, and the new system can store 6-7 times more electricity than a lithium-ion battery and several score times more electricity than a manganese battery. A battery that utilizes carbon dioxide collected from the outside for the reaction can rarely be found.    

A lithium air battery generates electricity by the reaction between metallic lithium in the negative electrode and oxygen in the air. The research group supplied an oxygen gas mixed with carbon dioxide for the ratio between 30% and 70% to a lithium air battery and found that the capacity of the lithium air battery increased by more than three times, and also learned that the capacity decreased if the ratio of carbon dioxide increased to more than 70%. However, carbon lithium created by the reaction does not create a reaction to generate electricity once it is discharged. Therefore, the research team plans to use the new system for the primary battery that utilizes carbon dioxide in the exhaust gas instead of the secondary battery. It attributes the increased capacity to the slow appearance of carbon lithium. To put the new system into practical application, it is necessary to establish a technology to protect the metallic lithium that reacts with the air.  

Friday, October 21, 2011

No. 333: Measure human sensitivity using light to control a wheelchair (October 21, 2011)

You can measure a brain that changes responding to joy and anger using light and employ the measurement results to control a wheelchair. A research team led by Masahiro Nakagawa, a professor of Nagaoka University of Technology, succeeded in controlling a wheelchair using the measurement results of the change of a brain. The professor already developed the technology to operate a wheelchair with the aid of brain waves. Measurement using light is superior to measurement using brain waves because the former is not as much affected by noise as the latter.

The research team used a small and portable optical topography device that irradiates far-red light through scalp and measures the change of blood concentration of oxygenated hemoglobin and reduced hemoglobin. Using the Emotion, Fractal Analysis Method developed by this professor, the device analyzes and outputs the change of brain in real time, and transmits information to the drive-train of a wheelchair. The built-in program moves the wheelchair forward if the input information is joy and moves it backward if the input information is anger. The research team plans to apply this technology to the medical and welfare fields.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

No. 332: A solid solution cathode material for the next-generation lithium battery (October 20, 2011)

KRI (formerly, Kansai Research Institute) in Kyoto developed a solid solution cathode material that can realize a high capacity in the discharge and charge time of the practical level. The company wishes to put it into practical use as a material for the secondary lithium-ion battery of the next-generation by minimizing the crystal dimensions and optimizing the particle configuration. The solid solution has two times higher theoretical capacity than the existing cathode material, but it cannot secure a high capacity needed for the acceleration of a vehicle and start-up of a PC.

The newly developed product is a manganese composite oxide (solid solution of Li2MnO32 and LiMo2) 25 nanometers in diameter. The existing solid solution cathode materials are about 200 nanometers in diameter, but the new material is 25 nanometers in diameter. It is capillary and long needle-shaped several hundreds nanometers long. The new material creates a capacity of 250-300 milliamperes per gram, about two times more capacity of the existing secondary lithium-ion battery, in five hours. In addition, the company claims that the new materials can retain about 80% of the capacity in the 30 minute discharge and charge. The synthetic process of a solid solution material needs mixing and thermal treatment of such materials as manganese compound, cobalt salt, nickel salt, and lithium salt. The research team successfully controlled the figure by applying the molten salt method that adds lithium salt in large excess and the thermal process at a low temperature, in addition to changing the figure of the manganese compound. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

No. 331: Eliminate rust using plasma under normal atmospheric pressure (October 19, 2011)

A research team led by a professor of Tokyo Institute of Technology developed a method to eliminate rust on the metal surface instantaneously using an apparatus that generates plasma under normal atmospheric pressure. It produced a mixed gas of argon and hydrogen and transformed it to a plasma state, and sprayed it on a copper plate covered with copper oxide that is the substance of rust at 200 degrees centigrade. The copper oxide and hydrogen changed to water and copper through a chemical reaction and eliminated the copper oxide film on the surface of the copper plate. The research team reduced the thickness of the rust from 10 nanometers to 2 nanometers. No large equipment like a vacuum unit is required because the newly developed method allows for the process under normal atmospheric pressure.

Currently, the chemical treatment method that uses acid and the mechanical method that needs polishing are widespread to eliminate rust. However, these two methods create a problem with the treatment of waste solution. In addition, the plasma treatment under low pressure requires continuous spraying of plasma on the target rust for several minutes.  

No. 330: Sticky carbon fiber applicable to the development of various new materials (October 18, 2011)

Teijin and Eiichi Yasuda, a professor ofemeritus of Tokyo Institute of Technology, developed new carbon fiber applicable to the development of various new materials. The new carbon fiber has an oval end surface and a structure that piles up tenuous sheets where carbon atoms are aligned. Because the fiber surface is liable to bring about chemical reactions, it can be used to create an electrode material that causes a reaction to create electricity. In addition, a composite material can be created should it bind together with other substances. The new carbon fiber has an oval end surface with a long axis that is 100-300 nanometers long and a short axis that is 50-100 nanometers long.

It is a kind of carbon nanofiber. It can possibly be used for a drug delivery system and hydrogen storage. The research team presumes that it has a wider range of applications than carbon nanotube that has no hands of chemical combination on the fiber surface. It plans to put the new carbon material into practical use in five years 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

No. 329: A Low cost cathode for a lithium-ion secondary battery free from cobalt and nickel (October 17, 2011)

Tanaka Chemical successfully reduced the production cost of a cathode for a lithium-ion secondary battery about 30% in alliance with National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST). They did not use cobalt and nickel. In addition to the cost reduction, they established a new production method that allows for the reduction firing of raw materials at such a low temperature of 400 degrees centigrade. The newly developed cathode achieved the initial charge-discharge efficiency of 80% as existing cathodes on the market maintain. Tanaka Chemical is preparing for the sample shipment toward in 2013.

They used ion substitution lithium manganese oxide (FM system) and titanium substitution lithium manganese oxide (FMT system) for the new cathode. They burned the raw materials by the wet-chemical production method, and processed them using the reduction firing method that makes organic substances coexist with powder after burning at as low as 400 degrees centigrade, not in the usual temperature zone of 600-700 degrees centigrade. The material cost per the density of discharge energy (per gram) is 9.35 yen for the FM system and 10.01 yen for the FMT system, both of which are much lower than 13.76 yen of the existing materials. The fierce competition to reduce production cost of a lithium-ion secondary battery is in progress.  

Saturday, October 15, 2011

No. 328: Government-led program to develop three kinds of robots workable in a disaster (October 15, 2011)

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports,Science and Technology decided to start developing three kinds of robots workable in times of disasters like earthquake and tsunami in 2012. The underlying theme is to develop workable robots in a disaster site. They are a robot to save afflicted people under the wreckage, a wearable robot helpful to save afflicted people, and a robot to search afflicted people under water. The ministry will take the initiative in the project, and local governments and Fire and Disaster Management Agency will take part in the project from the R&D stage. The ministry will invest 1.1 billion yen in this five-year project, and it already appropriated nearly 300 million yen in the budget request for 2012. Beginning in April 2012, researchers from research agencies, companies, and universities are scheduled to participate in the project.

The research team will develop a technology to know the complicated situation inside the wreckage using 3D images and a sensor technology to search afflicted people in the sea and sludge, while taking their user-friendliness into consideration. Traditionally, universities take initiative in developing robots in Japan, and their robots lacks workability in a disaster site because they tend to place too much emphasis on the technology itself. As a matter of fact, most robots that played an important role in the Fukushima disaster were foreign-made robots.      

Friday, October 14, 2011

No. 327: You do not need a cord to charge your electric vehicle (October 14, 2011)

Nissan Motor announced on 13th that it had developed a noncontact charging system for electric vehicles. You park your EV on the charging equipment installed inside a parking area, and you can charge your EV automatically without connecting it to the charging equipment nearby using cable. The coil inside the electric transmission unit of the charging equipment on the ground creates magnetic force if electric current is applied to it. The created magnetic force makes the coil inside the power receiving unit inside an EV generate electric current. It is possible to charge an EV in eight hours using the household power supply. The new charging system can be installed in a small space.

The company plans to put this system into practical use in a few years. It also unveiled a fuel cell unit for fuel cell vehicles. The new fuel cell has the same output as the unit it developed in 2005, but it is half in size of the old model. It also successfully reduced the production cost to one sixth by reducing the number of parts to one quarter and the amount of platinum. Mitsubishi Motors also started developing a noncontact charging system. Toyota Motor already allied with WiTricity of the U.S. in April of this year. WiTricity is a venture company established with the exclusive license of resonating wireless power dispatching that MIT theorized.  

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

No. 326: A protective suit capable of blocking nuclear radiation nearly 30% (October 13, 2011)

A protective suit that blocks nuclear radiation nearly 30% has been developed jointly by Toho Kinzoku that is a metal manufacturer and Gunze that is an apparel company. Toho Kinzoku applied their technology of the tungsten lines for bulb filaments, while Gunze applied their technology of underwear production. They used the texture wove by tungsten that has the blocking effect and elaborated the processing method to increase the freedom of the wearer. The suit is made up of a jumpsuit to cover the whole body and a vest. It weighs 16 kg totally, and is reusable. They will start to market the set to electric power companies and local governments for about five million yen within the year.

The jumpsuit is made of 12 layers of a special texture wove by a tungsten line of 35 micrometers, and the vest is made of four tungsten sheets of 0.1 mm thick to hold down the exposure of internal organs to radiation. These two measures together with the elaborated processing method made it possible to block radiation 10% at the minimum and 26% at the maximum. The protective suits currently widespread on the market are used mainly to avoid the adherence of radioactive powers on the suit. The newly developed suit that can block the transmission of radiation can rarely be found in the world. Theoretically, the blocking rate increases as the number of texture increases, but the block suit grows too heavy to give enough freedom to the wearer.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

No. 325: Plan to build a research vessel to explore rare earthes in the seabed (October 11, 2011)

In 2012, the Japanese government will start to build a research vessel to explore seabed resources like rare earthes in Japan’s home waters with an investment of 22 billion yen. Scheduled for completion in 2016, the research vessel will be equipped with high-precision sensors to operate multiple probes simultaneously and conduct research on the amount of deposit and distribution of resources effectively. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology appropriated 6.8 billion yen in the budget request for 2012. Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science andTechnology (JAMSTEC) will take charge of the operation.

The research vessel will examine the seabed structure using sound waves, and subsequently an autonomous probe will travel in the sea 100-200 m above the seabed and irradiate electromagnetic waves to the seabed to examine the existence of resources. Data will be transmitted to the research vessel in real time. If the data indicate the existence of rare earthes, another probe controllable from the vessel will go down to the seabed to collect samples and take photos. Although JAMSTEC has seven research vessels now, it can operate only one probe in one trip. Because the new research vessel can operate multiple probes simultaneously, it can collect extensive data effectively. Apart from the shipbuilding plan, a research team led by TokyoUniversity announced this summer that it had discovered a huge mineral deposit in the seabed of the Pacific Ocean. Seabed resources attract wide attention as the prices of rare earthes increases and the difficulty to procure them grows.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

No. 324: A fluorescent detection method to confirm the freshness of a food by sight (October 10, 2011)

A research team led by two professors of Tokyo Institute of Technology, Takanobu Sanji and Masato Tanaka, developed a technology to confirm easily the freshness of a food by sight in a few minutes. The technology is to add a special fluorescent molecule to a biogenic amine in stale fish and meats to shine it in blue. An organic solution mixed with a piece of fish is added by a fluorescent molecule shines in blue under ultraviolet radiation. The staler the sample is, the darker the blue is. 

The research members used a special fluorescent molecule called tetraphenylethylene (TPE). They modified the TPE and gave it a carboxyl group that combines with the amino group of a biogenic amine. TPEs resolved in an organic solvent do not emit fluorescence because they are in an unbound state. However, if biogenic amines with an amino group and the modified TPEs with a carboxyl group are mixed in an organic solution, the biogenic amines come to combine with the modified TPEs and emit fluorescence. The research team examined the freshness of canned tuna using this technology and successfully detected histamine with a concentration of 20 ppm. The upper limit of histamine in canned tuna subject to regulation set by the FDA’s standards is 50 ppm. 

Friday, October 7, 2011

No. 323: Infrastructure technology to charge an EV battery in a few minutes (October 7, 2011)

Nissan Motor and Kansai University professor Masashi Ishikawa jointly developed a technology to charge an EV battery in a few minutes. The research team elaborated the material of the capacitor to reduce the charging time to a few minutes. The new technology is designed for an EV with a travel distance of several kilometers per charge. The research team used an oxide composite made of tungsten and vanadium in place of carbon for the electrode of a capacitor. Needles of several tens of micrometers in diameter and several millimeters long cover the surface of an electrode. This structure made it possible to increase the capacity and reduce electric resistance.

In the basic experiment to confirm the performance, the research team charged a battery in less than 10 minutes, while maintaining the same level of capacity and voltage of a lithium-ion battery. Repetitive use hardly deteriorated the battery. Because it is theoretically possible to finish charging in three minutes, the research team will try harder to elaborate the material and structure. An EV lithium-ion battery has a large capacity, but it usually takes eight hours to charge it. The research team has opened up a road to a new battery that has both the characteristics of a battery to store high volume electricity and those of a capacitor that allows for quick charge.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

No. 322: A portable TV meeting set that can be carried in a bag (October 5, 2011)

Kokuyo, Japan’s leading marketer of office equipment and stationery products, developed a portable TV meeting set. You can carry the set, made up of a camera, display, microphone, and communication equipment, etc., in a bag. Because the set supports WiMAX, it can be used both inside and outside of a building. The company will start to take orders beginning on October 12. It is 59 cm long, 39 cm wide, and 24 cm deep. It weighs about 17 kg, and it is priced about 2,500,000 yen.

Equipped with the function to compress video data, it can transmit full high-vision videos using the general optical line. The accessory battery makes it possible to run the set for three hours even in the condition where no electric outlet is available. It can be connected to an AV including large display. It can also be used as a relay when a trouble arises in a production line or construction site. The company plans to get an order from 20 companies in the initial year.

Monday, October 3, 2011

No. 321: A new material for the purification catalyst for exhaust gas from a diesel engine (October 3, 2011)

The existing catalyst has a low purification rate in engine starting when exhaust gas temperature is, and the purification rate becomes stable when exhaust gas temperature grows high between 300-400 degrees centigrade. Mitsubishi Plastics developed a material for the catalyst that increases the ability to purify nitrogen compound in a low temperature between 150-200 degrees centigrade to 1.5 and 2.0 times higher than the existing catalyst. The purification rate is higher than 95% in a temperature higher than 200 degrees centigrade.

The new material is a kind of zeolite with tiny gaps, and it changes NOx into nitrogen as it works as a catalyst when it unites with a metal catalyst. The material is a kind of AQSOA, which is a Mitsubishi’s self-developed zeolitic absorption agent. The new material is being used as a water vapor absorption agent, and the company optimized it as the catalyst to be used for the urea SCR system, one of the exhaust gas purification technologies. The company found that it provides a higher NOx purification rate in low temperature than the supported-iron based catalyst. It is currently working on the combination between AQSOA and iron. The auto industry is energetically trying to find practical solutions for the control of NOx at low temperature to prepare for scheduled more stringent regulations on exhaust gas.