Monday, April 30, 2012

No. 500: Paving the way for a sodium-ion battery (May 1, 2012)

The storage battery as an auxiliary device for renewable energy generation invites wide attention. The lithium-ion battery that is predominantly popular in the market needs lithium, and Japan heavily depends on imports for the supply of lithium. Sodium exists abundantly in the sea, and it can set Japan free from importing lithium. Two researchers of Tokyo Scientific University developed a new electrode material that is an oxide and able to store electricity using sodium ion instead of lithium ion in alliance with GS Yuasa.

The oxide they developed has a lamella structure and contains nearly the same amount each of iron and manganese. And the lamellarly-structured oxide stores electricity between layers. The research team confirmed that it is the same as the electrode material of a lithium-ion battery in terms of the capacity to store electricity and the speed of charging and discharging. At this stage, they evaluated the oxide as an electrode material. They plan to build a battery that uses the new material as the positive electrode and a carbon material as the negative electrode, and wish to put the new battery into practical use in five years. Their paper was published in the British science magazine “Nature Materials” (Electronic version) in April 30.   

Sunday, April 29, 2012

No. 499: Applying biometics to product development (1/2) (April 30, 2012)

Applying biometics to product development is growing widespread. The body mechanism of insects and plants that allow them to survive in the severe environment gives clues to the designing and development of new products. Professor Hideki Ishida of Tohoku University is trying to apply the body mechanism of dragonfly to wind generation. Using the equipment to visualize wind flow, he analyzed the air current around a dragonfly and found that the rugged surface of its feathers catches wind effectively and changes it for smooth fly. He built a propeller very much like a feather of a dragonfly and confirmed that the new propeller started to turn around even with a wind velocity of merely 20 cm, while the existing windmill needs a wind velocity of at least 2 m. His study may make it possible to develop a windmill that can spin even with a breeze. At the current stage, the new windmill can illuminate 20 LED bulbs set one meter away from the propeller. He dreams building a small windmill installable in the garden to create a new lifestyle.

A jewel beetle radiates in seven colors depending on the angle from which it is seen because particles of a nanometer size are aligned in several layers on the surface of its feathers. Affected by reflection and refraction of light, the particles create colors specific to jewel beetle.  Nakano and Co., Labs in Niigata Prefecture applies this principle of color to its stainless steel products. The company successfully developed the micorfabrication technology to keep their products shining without using coating materials. Nakano’s products do not discolor, and they will become stainless steels after recycling. With the background of the progress of nanotechnology and computer simulation, studying the relations between the shape and function of a creature has been developing. It is well known that the nose of the train of the Shinkansen is designed like the beak of kingfisher. In this way, many industries are busily occupied with the research on the application of biometrics to developing new materials with improved functions. 

The nose of the Shinkansen train is designed like the beak of kingfisher.  

 Wind generation with a breeze. The idea comes from tree leaves.

Friday, April 27, 2012

No. 498: Developing a single-seater electric helicopter (April 28, 2012)

Electric vehicles are challenging the dominance of the gasoline-engine vehicles. It is by no means strange that electric helicopters will begin the battle with gasoline-engine helicopter. GEN Corp. in Nagano Prefecture developed a single-seater electric helicopter driven by motor and storage battery. The company succeeded in the test fly last December. This helicopter has the same structure of GEN H-4 driven by engine contained in the Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft. In addition, it was certified by the Guinness World Records as the world’s smallest single-seater helicopter.

Most parts are automobile standards with only a few aluminum parts to commoditize the electricity-driven helicopter. For example, the company replaced the fuel tank with a Chinese lithium-polymer battery. However, it can fly only for about five minutes because of the low quality Chinese lithium-polymer battery. The company is confident that its electricity-driven helicopter can fly longer by replacing the current battery with more reliable high-performance battery. A lighter and higher-output laminate type lithium-ion battery can be recommended because it can dissipate heat.

An electric helicopter is quieter than a helicopter driven by engine. In addition, motor revolution is more easily controllable than engine revolution. Stable revolution increases the stability of hovering. Wings are made of fiber reinforced plastic (FRP). The helicopter is hardly detectable by radar, if its body is made of FRP and the motor and battery are covered by electromagnetic absorber. GEN built an unmanned electric helicopter, and it successfully flied with a 150 kg cargo by wireless control.  

A demonstration flight of the GEN-H4 helicopter from GEN Corp.

No. 497: A new company to mass-produce spherical solar cells (April 27, 2012)

Prices of solar cells have been falling very fast because Chinese producers increased the production capacity drastically, but spherical solar cells are not affected by this trend. Innovative Network Corporations of Japan and Hitachi High-Technologies will establish a new company to develop and produce spherical solar cells next month in alliance with Kyosemi, a Kyoto-based venture company. Kyosemi’s spherical solar cell is 1.2 mm in diameter, and it can generate electricity with sunlight coming from every angle. Kyosemi started to ship its spherical solar cells in 2005, but sales stagnated due to a lack of mass production technology. In fact, the sales in 2011 were 32 million yen.

The new company, in which Innovative Network invested 500 million yen and Hitachi High-Tech invested 100 million yen, will be staffed with Kyosemi’s development team and Hitachi High-Tech’s engineers. It will be named Sphelar Power. It will build test facilities for mass production technology in the initial year. It wishes to cultivate new applications of sphere cells, such as incorporating sphere solar cells in window glass and interior goods.

 Window glass that generates electricity using sphere solar cells (Sphelar)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

No. 496: A technology to make a 4x4 electric vehicle even more fun-to-drive (April 26, 2012)

A research team led by Associate Professor Hiroshi Fujimoto of Tokyo University and Mitsubishi Motors jointly developed the electric vehicle control technology that enables a driver to drive his car without changing his driving sensation even he is traveling on the slippery road. It adjusts the driving power both of the front and rear wheels to maintain the total driving power. It will supposedly become a predominant technology in the future. It can be applied to a 4x4 electric vehicle loaded with an in-car motor and differential gears to make it even more fun-to-drive. 

On the slippery road, the technology gives the preview control that the front wheels tell the rear wheels how many seconds later they get to the slippery point and adjusts the total driving power depending on the anticipated slip. Based on the drive test, the research team found that the gravity applied to the body decreased from 5% of the standard electric vehicle to 2.5%. The rocking vibration the drive feels when he accelerates or decelerates his car can be decreased without a decrease of torque. The research team wishes to establish the control technology for more comfortable travel by solving problems with the control on acceleration and turning.

An instrument panel full of the state-of-the-art control technology 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

No. 495: Applying the bone conduction mechanism to a mobile phone (April 25, 2012)

The bone conduction mechanism is already applied to some telephone sets, but the existing technology asks the listener to put his ear over the receiver hard because it vibrates the whole telephone set. Rohm developed a technology to allow the listener to hear the voice on the mobile phone clearly using the bone conduction mechanism in alliance with Professor Hiroshi Hosoi of Nara Medical University.

It helps the listener hear the voice on the mobile phone clearer than a speaker system does even if disturbing noise surrounds him. When the listener has difficulty hearing the voice on the mobile phone, he can hear the voice clearly if he presses the edge of his mobile phone, in which an element that vibrates with voltage is incorporated, on his ear when surrounding noise prevents him from hearing the voice clearly. The company plans to market the technology to mobile phone and smartphone manufacturers both at home and abroad.    

Rohm's new technology to help the listener hear the voice on the mobile phone clearly using the bone conduction mechanism.  The company developed it in alliance with a professor of Nara Medical University.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

No. 494: Diesel engines for industrial purposes (April 24, 2012)

In an effort to build a sustainable world, diesel engine vehicles are widespread as a means to keep the earth clean in Europe and electric vehicles are regarded as the next-generation vehicles in Japan. Unlike in Japan that is surrounded by the sea, it is supposedly not easy to construct a network of charging stations in Europe where countries are connected by land. Dr. Rudolf Diesel of Germany invented the concept of diesel engine in 1892, and MAN of Germany put it into practical use and built a 4-ton truck powered by a diesel engine in 1923. But it is Japan’s Yanmar that applied diesel engine to industrial purposes. The company built a small diesel engine for industry and agriculture in 1933 for the first time in the world.

Six automakers are the leading producers of diesel engines. However, Japan’s Kubota is the leading company in the industrial fields other than automobile production. Industrial diesel engines are strong and tolerant of continuous operation. Kubota’s diesel engine cleared the fourth gas emission standards enacted this year and obtained the certification from the State of California on July 1 last year, about one year ahead of the enactment. This is the world’s first certification of this kind given to an engine with a replacement of less than 4,000 cc. Kubota’s technology combined the multistage and high pressure fuel injection, electronic control, and the filer to strain particulate matters. It is characterized by the automatic regeneration function that increases combustion temperature to burn out particulate matters before they clog the filter.

Low-speed diesel engines designed by MAN account for 70% of the world market of diesel engines for oil tankers and container vessels. To compete with MAN, Japanese makers focused on other industrial fields, and increased fuel efficiency and improved the mechanism of emission gas purification. Hitachi Zosen installed the processing equipment that dissolves NOx into water and nitrogen using catalyst and urea water just before the supercharger. This technology enabled the company to clear the third regulation set by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) for the first time in the world. It attracts wide attention worldwide, and the Port of Vancouver reportedly proposed a discount on port dues of ships featured by Hitachi’s technology.

Likewise, low-speed diesel engines designed and built by Mitsui Engineering and Shipbuilding enjoy a high popularity because they are reliable and trouble-free, though they are higher in price than competitive products. In fact, ships powered by the diesel engine built by the company are traded high in the secondhand ship market. According to the IMO, CO2 emissions from marine transport accounts for about 3% of total CO2 emissions of the world. The third regulation stipulates that NOx emitted from ships to be built after 2016 should be decreased by 80% from the level in 2010.

European companies are dominant in the market of diesel engines for vehicles. Japanese companies avoid the direct competition with European companies and establish the presence in other industrial markets including shipbuilding. This is an excellent idea from the strategic point of view. 

Yanmar's tiller built in 1967 is still in active service

Monday, April 23, 2012

No. 493: Successful development of a nonflammable magnesium alloy (April 23, 2012)

Kumamoto University Magnesium Research Center developed a magnesium alloy nonflammable even at 1,100 degrees centigrade. It is lighter and 1.4 times stronger than duralumin used for aircraft. A research team led by Director Yoshihito Kawamura built a stick 22 mm in diameter of this new alloy by extrusion. No components except magnesium are made clear, but it contains neither rare metals nor rare earthes. Therefore, the new magnesium alloy is nearly the same as the standard magnesium alloy in price. Production equipment can be simplified because fireproof gas is not required in the production process. Accordingly, the production cost will be lower and greenhouse gas emissions can be curbed.

Traditionally, fire prevention measures are indispensable to process magnesium alloy because the standard flame resistant magnesium alloy ignites at about 800 degrees centigrade. Because the new nonflammable magnesium alloy is light and strong, it can be applied to aircraft materials. Kumamoto University has been exerting lots of energy in the development of magnesium alloys. Showing strong interest in the heat-resistant magnesium developed by Kumamoto University, Boeing of the U.S. visited this university in 2011. As in the business world, selection and concentration seems to be vital in the academic world.

The newly-developed magnesium alloy nonflammable even at 1,100 degrees centigrade and Professor Yoshihito Kawamaura, Director of Kumamoto University Magnesium Research Center in Kyushu

Saturday, April 21, 2012

No. 492: Residential use fuel cell manufacturers grow more active (April 21, 2012)

Business trend
The residential use fuel cell is the equipment to generate electricity and heat by dint of the chemical reaction between hydrogen collected from city gas and oxygen in the air, and it also can heat water. It has two times higher energy utilization efficiency than the electricity that is generated by a thermal power generation and used in household. It was launched by the industry under the uniform name of “Ene-Farm” in 2009 in Japan. It has two types: One is the type with higher ratio of generation, and the other is the type with higher ratio of heat designed for large household that needs lots of hot water.  

JX Nippon Oil and Energy decided to ally with ZBT GmbH of Germany to market its residential use fuel call in Germany as the second country in the foreign market. It has already been conducting the demonstration experiment in Korea since 2011, and plans to put its products on the Korean market in 2013. The model that it plans to put on the German market is its latest solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) that has 30% higher generation efficiency than the existing model. It can supply 70% of electricity requirements of a general household. It wishes to reduce the unit price from the current 2,700,000 yen to about 500,000 yen by reviewing major materials of the generation unit and automating the production with a view to making it competitive enough in the global market. It sees a lot of business opportunities in the countries where many households are not supplied with power cable worldwide. 

JX Nippon Oil and Energy, Tokyo Gas, and Osaka Gas produced fuel cells on a commercial basis in 2009 for the first time in the world. A total of 20,000 units were sold by the end of 2011 in Japan. At present, Japanese manufacturers enjoy great advantage both in technology and production cost, but it is vital for them to construct a system for local production in the global market to maintain the advantage on a long-term basis. Tokyo Gas and Panasonic sell residential fuel cells in the Tokyo metropolitan area, and Osaka Gas and Toshiba’s subsidiary is focusing on the Osaka area. Several companies including Osaka Gas, Kyocera, and Aisin Seiki are expected to launch models with higher generation efficiency shortly.  

Ene-Farm (residential use fuel cell) from JX Nippon Oil and Energy 

Friday, April 20, 2012

No. 491: A new system to operate 10 heavy construction machines simultaneously (April 20, 2012)

A remote control technology to operate heavy construction machines is strongly sought in the Fukushima Nuclear Power plant to reduce the exposed dose of workers. Kajima, one of Japan’s leading general contractors, developed an unmanned construction system that operates10 heavy construction machines simultaneously by remote control. The operator can navigate them in the control cabin 500 m away from machines. The current system can navigate a machine 100 m away at most. The first shipment of this system is being used to dismantle and demolish wreckage in Fukushima. The company plans to use it to take out used nuclear fuels in the future.

Optical fibers stretch around and a wireless LAN environment is established in the field site. The operator can receive control signals from machines and camera images of the field smoothly. As the construction machines have multiple cameras and microphones inside and outside, he can control machines confirming the images and warning sounds. Furthermore, this system can supply fuel to machines wirelessly.   

An example of unmanned construction work

Thursday, April 19, 2012

No. 490: Practical application of the next-generation large-scale storage and generation system (April 19, 2012)

Sumitomo Electric will put the next-generation large-scale storage and generation system into practical use. The system has higher generation efficiency than the existing silicon photovoltaic panel, and the installation cost is expected to remain the same. The new system adopts the photovoltaic power generation called concentractor photovoltaic system (CPV) that has two times higher generation efficiency than the silicon photovoltaic panel. The company combined it with redox flow battery whose electrode is hard to deteriorate. The system stores power generated by the photovoltaic generation in the storage battery and discharge it depending on the requirements of the production equipment inside the plant.

Sumitomo Electric decided to install the system in its Yokohama plant. It has the photovoltaic generation with the maximum output of 200 kW and the storage battery with the capacity of five hours of 1 MW. The company says that it is the world’s largest system of this kind. The system is expected to reduce power consumption about 10% in peak period. Total investment is 1 billion yen. Part of the system will start operation in July, and the total system will start operation within the year. The generation cost is expected to be the same between the existing system and the new system.   

Sumitomo Denko's micro smart grid demonstration system

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

No. 489: Japanese technology to collect and retain carbon dioxide deep into the ground nadir goes abroad (April 18, 2012)

Business trend
The construction of a nuclear power plant is receiving a headwind worldwide. This means a good business opportunity for some companies. IHI is one of them. Coal-fired thermal power invites attention worldwide, but it needs a system to reduce CO2 emissions efficiently and effectively. Judging from the current situation, the company decided to take part in the business to collect and retain CO2 from coal-fired thermal power generation starting in 2015. IHI’s system is to separate and collect 90% of CO2 contained in exhaust gases, and retain them deep into the ground nadir using pipelines. The company has built experimental facilities to develop such methods as the chemical absorption method.

IHI plans to market their system and technology to western electric power companies, but the critical issue is the cost to collect and retain CO2. Currently, it costs 5,000-10,000 yen to collect and retain CO2 per ton. It is necessary to reduce the cost less than 2,000 yen per ton to allow coal-fired thermal power to compete successfully with generation by renewable energy. According to International Energy Agency, the amount that the collection and retention system can reduce will account for 19% all amounts that can be reduced by 2050. The coal-fired thermal power generation will have a combined capacity of 1,400 million kW worldwide in 2030, two times as big as the capacity in 2008. Effective measures for dealing with CO2 emissions are in great demand.  
The system to separate and retain CO2 underground

On the technology to retain CO2 underground

No. 488: LED lighting with built-in lithium-ion battery for energy saving (April 17, 2012)

Japan’s leading retailer of electric appliances, Yamada Denki, has launched LED lighting that incorporates a lithium-ion battery for offices and outlets. The new lighting system uses the conventional power source and the built-in battery alternately and can save energy consumption by 40% as compared with the existing LED lighting. In addition, it can be an emergency light during a power failure. Developed by CyberCoin, the new light system is named Everluce and sold exclusively by Yamada Denki.

Everluce starts to charge the built-in lithium-ion battery and finishes charging in three hours. Once the lithium-ion battery is fully charged, only the lithium-ion battery lights Everluce for two hours. This mechanism reduces power consumption. Yamada first put an Everluce that has the same brightness as 40 W. It has the power consumption per hour of 15 W on average, about 40% lower than the existing LED lighting. It will turn into an emergency light that illuminates for 12 hours in power outage. Everluce is priced at 19,800 yen each, twice as much as the existing LED on the market, and rented for a monthly fee of 300 yen. Yamada Denki plans to sell 1 million Everluces in 2015.    

The opening day of an outlet of Yamada Denki in Tokyo.
 You can hear several kinds of foreign languages from customers in the line.

Monday, April 16, 2012

No. 487: Accelerating research efforts to develop the post lithium-ion automotive battery (April 16, 2012)

A university-industry-government project to develop the post lithium-ion automotive battery accelerates the research efforts. Kyoto University and such leading companies as Toyota and Panasonic collaborate to develop an automotive battery that lengthens the travel distance of an electric vehicle by 3-5 times. The project started in 2009 under the initiative of New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) to increase the capacity of a lithium-ion battery and develop the next-generation battery that transcends a lithium-ion battery with an investment of 21 billion yen.

The project has set up the base exclusive for the development inside the large-scale synchrotron radiation facilities in Hyogo Prefecture “SPring-8” (Super Photon ring-8) and increased the budget for this year 0.5 billion yen to 3.5 billion yen. And it will increase the number of full-time staff members from the current 50 to 150. The project team plans to realize a high-performance lithium-ion battery that allows for a travel distance of 300 km per charge by 2015. Concurrently, it will develop the metal-air battery that is the leading candidate for the next-generation battery to achieve a travel distance of 500 km per charge in 2030. Research members are eager to achieve research results that take 3-4 years for other countries to imitate. According to the NEDO, the world automotive battery market will increase from the current level of seven tens of billion yen to 2,700 billion yen in 2030.  

SPring-8 (Super Photon ring-8) in Hyogo Prefecture

Synchrotron Radiation Facilities

Saturday, April 14, 2012

No. 486: High-tech characterizes the Shin Tomei Express Highway (April 14, 2012)

Business trend
Part of Shin Tomei Express Highway (New Tokyo-Nagoya Express Highway) was open to the public today to mitigate the heavy traffic of the Tomei Express Highway. The monitoring center is full of equipment loaded with the state-of-the-art safety technology. Staff members watch 136 monitor screens and monitor every part of the new express highway (162 km) for 24 hours. The screens are 3 m high and 27 m wide combined. 

A monitor camera is stalled about every one kilometer, and pictures taken by monitor cameras are displayed on the 136 monitor screens to show the ongoing traffic to the staff members of the center. Some of the cameras have the function to detect the traffic congestion and accident on the road automatically. In the tunnel, lighting comes from the above diagonally to help the driver see his front clearly. The entirely new Shin Tomei Express Highway will be open in 2020. 

Part of the newly constructed Shin Tomei Express Highway was open today to mitigate the heavy traffic of Tomei Express Highway that connects Tokyo and Nagoya. State-of-the-art technology is incorporated in the traffic monitoring system. 

Shin Tomei Express Highway 

Friday, April 13, 2012

No. 485: Improving the quality of energy: the concept of exergy efficiency (April 13, 2012)

The idea to improve the quality of waste heat for repeated usage as energy is in progress. The part of energy usable for work is called exergy, and the ratio of exergy is called exergy ratio. Such fossil energies as oil, coal, and natural gas have a high exergy ratio, but they will be low quality energy once they are burnt to generate heat. It is impossible to increase the gross volume of energy because energy has the conservation law, but it is possible to improve the quality of energy.

Nippon Steel Engineering is working on the substantiative study of the self-heat generation that Tokyo University professor Atsushi Tsutsumi proposed about five years ago, by applying pressure to the steam in the process of decreasing the temperature. The high-temperature steam with high exergy does not need application of heat from outside. The self-heat generation method has a wide range of applications. As compared with the traditional energy-saving technology, it can reduce energy and fuel by more than 70% in naphtha desulfurization, carbon dioxide separation, and drying coals with a large amount of moisture.

Kyusyu University professor Tatsumi Ishihara proposed the technology to collect waste energy and regenerate exergy with the help of the solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) method. The SOFC method does not need pure hydrogen as fuel, and it can generate electricity using methane of city gas as fuel. That is, it can change methane into such fuel gas with a high exergy ratio as hydrogen and carbon monoxide. The professor is developing the technology to collect waste heat and generate hydrogen simultaneously by running the system of a fuel cell in the opposite direction.

Exergy regeneration will bring lots of spin-off benefits to the industry. For example, it will be possible to reduce fuel consumption considerably by building additional equipment without modifying greatly the existing chemical plant and generation equipment. The energy-saving technology is advancing. 

The concept of exergy efficiency

Thursday, April 12, 2012

No. 484: Joint development of the flight control technology for an unmanned plane (April 12, 2012)

With the rapid development of the information technology, the competition for more advanced unmanned plane is growing intense. The two venture companies, Xenocross and PDAerospace, conclude a contract of joint development of the flight control technology for unmanned planes. The will try to demonstrate the remote control technology developed by Xenocross using the unmanned plane built by PD Aerospace.

Xenocross is developing the first person view (FPV) technology that allows for real-time projection of the image taken by the camera on an unmanned plane and the technology to display such data as plane position, speed, and altitude on the monitor screen on the ground. PD Aerospace is addressing flight demonstrations of unmanned planes with a view to developing manned spacecraft in the future. Unmanned planes need to satisfy high degree of requirements, such as pesticide spraying, aerial photography, collection of detailed information on the damaged area, and searching for casualties. The two companies will jointly develop the maneuver technology responding to the increasingly diverse operational needs of unmanned planes.  

Successful landing of an unmanned plane by Self-Defense Forces

Rapidly developing unmanned weaponry

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

No. 483: Pilot production of thin and bendable solar batteries begins early next year (April 11, 2012)

Business trend
Mitsubishi Chemical will construct a plant for the pilot production of thin and bendable solar batteries with an investment of 1-2 billion yen. The solar battery to produce is the next-generation solar battery called organic thin film. The company will start to produce the samples because it opened up the prospect for commercial application technically. The plant is scheduled for completion within the year, and production will start early 2013.

The organic thin film solar battery has low generation efficiency than currently popular silicone solar battery, but it can be produced by applying chemical products to glass and film. In addition, it can be easily mass produced to reduce the price of a generation system considerably. Because it is easily processable, it can be integrated into housing wall, window glass, and mobile phone. The company positions the thin and bendable solar battery as one of its promising products and exerts lots of energy on the development. It plans to increase the annual production of this product to more than 10 billion yen in 2015. 

TDK's thin and flexible solar battery 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

No. 482: Are you looking for a robot to have your hair shampooed? (April 10, 2012)

A barbershop in Hyogo Prefecture decided to try a robot developed by Panasonic to shampoo the hair of its customers. The owner will try the robot for about two months beginning on April 11. Based on the feedback from the customers, Panasonic will improve the robot and plan to put it into practical use within the year. The company wishes to ship the robot to hospitals and nursing-care facilities for patients and disabled people. 

The shampoo robot measures the figure of the head of a person automatically, and shampoos and massages his hair, while spraying hot water on his hair. It takes about 15 minutes to finish shampooing. Panasonic developed the first version of this robot in 2010. The company subsequently made lots of improvements on it. This robot may have good business prospect because labor charge will go up, while the price of a robot will go down as the production grows. 

 Panasonic's shampoo robot

Monday, April 9, 2012

No. 481: Successful development of equipment for in-house power generation using garbage (April 9, 2012)

Garbage produced inside an office building is mostly treated by an outside waste disposal contractor for about 20,000 yen per ton. Shimizu, one of Japan’s leading general contractors, developed equipment for in-house power generation for office buildings that uses garbage for generation. The newly developed equipment disposes of nearly all garbage including waste paper produced internally in an office building and makes it possible to reuse them as a source of energy. It has been hard to use garbage for in-house generation because it contains water, but the company successfully solved this problem.

Garbage is first dried and mixed with dry trash like paper waste, and subsequently is smothered in an oxygen-free condition to produce biogas. The biogas is ignited and burnt to generate by the gas engine for air-conditioning and lighting inside the building. The company will evaluate and test the generation performance of the equipment and wishes to put it into practical use after the spring of 2013. The price is not yet decided. This is reportedly the first in-house power generation equipment that uses garbage. 

 Shimizu's state-of-the-art technology to reduce carbon oxide emissions

Saturday, April 7, 2012

No. 480: A Japanese plant factory goes to Russia (April 6, 2012)

Business trend
Senkon Logistics based in the Tohoku district shipped a plant factory to the Far Eastern region of Russia. Using the marketing channel of its business partner, VL Logistics, the company plans to sell plant factories to local supermarkets. Targeting the cold district where fresh vegetables are hard to get, it wishes to stimulate demand for fresh vegetables and expand the market to the entirely Siberia. A supermarket chain in Vladivostok has decided to purchase a plant factory on trial. The supermarket chain plans to produce vegetables with a daily production capacity of 100 pieces, but it will purchase additional factories to increase the production capacity and sell vegetables produced in the plant factories through all its outlets staring this autumn.

Espec, a Tokyo-based company specializing in environment-related equipment, will build the plant factory. It is a 20 feet-40 feet container-like factory that grows lettuce, basil, sweet herbs for a 20-30 day cycle under the strict management of light, temperature, water, and fertilizer. As it is rather hard to grow vegetables in such a cold area as the Far Eastern region of Russia, Japanese vegetables grown in a plant factory are expected to be sold 2-3 times higher than locally-produced vegetables. In particular, Japanese vegetables are supposed to be in great demand in winter. Senkon plans to expand the market to Irkutsk and cover the entire Siberian market in the future.

 Pant factory 

Friday, April 6, 2012

No. 479: The car navigation system grows more sophisticated (April 5, 2012)

The Advanced Road Transportation System (ARTS) that is the next-generation Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) will be available in 2012. ARTS will deliver such information as inter-vehicle distance and empty lanes in addition to traffic jams. The government plans to install the antennas for this system in a total of 1,600 spots on super express highways across the country. This decision makes it possible to provide information on traffic jams in other prefectures even if you are driving inside Tokyo. In the future, ARTS will let the driver know which lane allows him to driver faster. The demonstration test will start soon.

The car navigation system supporting ARTS can be loaded on Toyota’s Lexus, and Nissan also responds to the request from applicants. Consumer electronics manufacturers like Panasonic are busily developing the car navigation system for ARTS. The new and more sophisticated car navigation system will allow for settlement on the screen. Users will be able to pay for parking, gasoline, and purchases on the service area by the navigation system in place of credit card. They will also be able to get the shortest driving route to the specific parking lot of the destination that they designate on the screen.     

     ITS spot service

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

No. 478: Successful development of a capacitor with a volume of one-third of the existing capacitor (April 4, 2012)

According to a research company, the world capacitor market that combines the lithium-ion type and electric double layer type is expected to increase 3.5 times over the level in 2010 to about 300 billion yen in 2016. Meidensha developed a capacitor whose volume is one third of the volume of the conventional capacitor in alliance with Sumitomo Electric using Sumitomo Electric’s lightweight metallic material that is excellent in conductivity. Because a capacitor can run electric components of a car besides lengthening the life of a lithium-ion battery, it will helpful to reduce the capacity of a battery and increase fuel consumption.

The conventional electric double layer capacitor uses aluminum foil or activated charcoal for the electrode material, but the newly developed capacitor uses Aluminum Celmet developed by Sumitomo Electric. Because this material has small holes on the surface and inside, it is 30% lighter than nickel and two times higher in electric conductivity than the existing capacitor. The new capacitor is 15 cm deep and 13 cm wide. Despite the small size, it has five times more storage capacity and creates 10 times more instantaneous power than the existing capacitor. Meidensha plans to commercialize the new capacitor before 2015 to get 30% share in the environmentally friendly vehicle market by 2020 with sales of 50 billion yen. 

Introduction of lithium-ion capacitor

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

No. 477: A product of miniaturization technology (April 3, 2012)

With the new device from Sony Mobile Communications, you can operate your smart phone even if it is in your bag. The company will introduce the “Smart Watch” that allows you to check mails and play music by remote control to the Japanese domestic market on April 10. The new device has a 1.3-inch organic electroluminescence screen with a resolution of 128x128 pixels and employs Bluetooth designed for short distance wireless communications. It works together with Sony’s smartphone Xperia.

Using the touch panel of the smart watch, you can check information received by your smartphone, confirm weather forecasting, and dispatch information on SNS like Facebook. Because it supports Google’s applications, you can customize your smartphone by adding software programs downloaded from Google Play. Because it is detachable, you can take it apart from the wristband and use the body as a clip to be attached to bag or clothes. It is 36 mm wide, 36 mm deep, and 8 mm high. It weighs about 42 g including the wristband. It will be sold through Sony’s Internet website for 9,480 yen.

 Sony's Smart Watch

Monday, April 2, 2012

No. 476: Japan’s first system to produce biomass fuel from dehydrated sludge goes into operation soon (April 2, 2012)

Japan’s first system to produce biomass fuel from dehydrate sludge with the help of the low-temperature carbonization technology has been completed. Three companies of J-Power, Tsukishima Kikai, and Metawater jointly constructed system in Hiroshima city. The constituent includes sludge dryer, carbonizing furnace, and granulator. The system will start operation soon in April. A total cost including the construction cost and the 20-year operating cost is about 9,300 million yen.

The system has a capacity to treat 4,500 tons of sludge annually, 46% of total sludges generated in Hiroshima city in a year. With the completion of the system, the city will reduce carbon dioxide emissions 8,700 tons annually. In addition, decreased fossil fuel consumption will reduce carbon dioxide emissions 6,400 tons annually, making the total reduction of carbon dioxide emissions 15,100 tons annually. The system decreases the carbonization temperature to 250-300 degrees centigrade that is from half to one-third of the temperature of the conventional carbonization technology. The low carbonization temperature enables carbide to realize high calorific value, increasing the value of the generated biomass fuel. Granulation in the pre-carbonization stage makes the spontaneous combustibility low. The fuel to be produced will be sold and mixed with coal fuel. 

 A biomass production plant

Sunday, April 1, 2012

No. 475: The next-generation digital signage for sales promotion responding to such attributes as gender and age (April 1, 2012)

The digital signage market is growing very fast with technological progress. Toppan Printing, one of Japan’s leading printing companies, developed a digital signage that distributes information responding to the attributes of each consumer. With the face recognition function, it can be used for sales promotion suitable to such attributes as gender and age of each consumer. Using the FOMA line that is the third-generation mobile phone service, the operating center monitors the apparatus and does maintenance for it. It can update latest information any time with the help of the cloud computing infrastructure.

The 46-inch LCD monitor to be employed can display an image of 1,700 Candela and 1,366x768 pixels. Everyone can use it intuitively because a touch panel is loaded, and get coupons by accessing to the special website of the signage using mobile phone. The new digital signage responds to four languages and has the function to distribute information on shopping and event schedule. The company will ship the new signage equipped with an LCD monitor that can display an image of 1,920x1,080 pixels to a leading department store in Tokyo in late April. 

A digital signage in Tokyo Station