Tuesday, July 31, 2012

No. 576: Successful development of a highly efficient artificial photosynthesis technology (July 31, 2012)

Panasonic developed a technology of artificial photosynthesis as efficient as a plant. It generates organic substances from sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide using a system similar to a solar battery. It employs a self-developed metal catalyst and gallium nitride used for semiconductors like light emitting diode (LED) for the system that reacts sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide. It has five times higher conversion efficiency of organic substances generated by photosynthesis than the existing technology. Panasonic successfully increased the conversion efficiency comparable to a plant for the first time in the world. The company wishes to put the technology into practical use for the synthesis of ethanol in 2015.

Panasonic plans to build a trial system of artificial photosynthesis that employs a catalyst similar to a solar panel in terms of shape and open up a way for practical application of a power generation system using ethanol as fuel generated by artificial photosynthesis in 2015. Artificial photosynthesis is a very effective technology for reducing carbon dioxide and solving resource-related problems, and Japan started a national research project. Dr. Ei-ich Negishi, a Nobel Prize winner in chemistry in 2010 who is currently teaching at Purdue University of the U.S., participates in the project organized by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.

Ei-ichi Negishi Noble Prize Forum 2012
held in Kyushu University

Monday, July 30, 2012

No. 575: Honda delivers its walking aid equipment to a national research center for demonstration experiment (July 30, 2012)

Honda delivered its walking aid equipment to National Center for Geriatrics and Gerontology. It wishes to confirm that the equipment is effective to improve the motion capability of the elderly by demonstration experiment for its commercialization. The equipment is named Honda Rhythm Walking Assistance. The wearer wraps the body of the equipment around his waist and fixes the top of the frame coming from the body above the knee. The equipment senses the move of the wearer and activates itself back and forth with a power of about 1 kg.

The research center received 40 units of the equipment from Honda and will conduct demonstration experiment for about one year. Elderly people will wear the equipment and walk outside and inside the building to confirm if it helps them increase the length of their stride. Honda has not decided the date of commercialization yet. In addition to decreasing the weight from the present 2.4 kg, the company will make it user-friendlier to elderly people before commercialization.

Honda's Rhythm Walking Assistance 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

No. 574: Japan’s ucode is now the world standard designated by ITU (July 28, 2012)

Ucode developed by YRP Ubiquitous Networking Laboratory presided by Ken Sakamura of Tokyo University was adopted by International Telecommunications Union as the world standard. With the ucode technology, it is possible to allocate universal serial numbers (ID numbers) to all objects and locations worldwide and identify them on the Internet. Ucode is composed of figures, and there are 2 powered by 128 ucodes, meaning that nearly an infinite numbers of ucodes are available.

IC tags and bar codes with a built-in ucode that are allocated to industrial and agricultural products can be identified by a terminal identifies, and the information can be retrieved via the Internet. It is strongly expected that ucode will be widespread for such purposes as logistics and sightseeing. It is free to use the ucode, but users have to pay the operating cost to uiD Center. The annual usage fee is 100,000 yen for 48 bits that is equivalent to 281 trillion pieces. At present, 10 million ucodes are used by companies and organizations. Taiwan and Finland decided to introduce ucode. 

Friday, July 27, 2012

No. 573: An ultra-small ultrasonic motor designed for the treatment of cerebrovascular disease (July 27, 2012)

Tomoaki Mashimo of Toyohashi University of Technology developed a one cubic millimeter ultra-small ultrasonic motor. The newly developed ultrasonic motor, whose sides are 1 mm each, is smaller than one fortieth of the smallest ultrasound motor in volume, and it allows for rotation movement and translatory movement. It is designed to be built on to a catheter for the examination and treatment of cerebrovascular disease. The professor will improve the performance and conduct clinical testing to put it into practical use in three years.

He successfully miniaturized the structure of the motor by creating lots of small holes in the metal part called stator that covers the driving part for easier transmission of power. The piezoelectric element is stuck to the periphery of the stator made of gold base alloy. The new motor is 1.5 mm wide including the piezoelectric element. Because the structure is simple, the production cost will not be high. When two kinds of alternating currents are applied to the piezoelectric element, they elongate and contract it. The telescopic motion is converted to the vibration of the motor, and the vibration generates power. The motion and strength of the motor can be controlled by modifying the way to apply voltage.  

A sample of ultrasonic motor. The newly-developed ultra-small ultrasonic motor developed by a professor of Toyohashi University of Technology is just one cubic millimeter. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

No. 572: Successful development of a technology to harden radioactive effluent (July 26, 2012)

Desperate efforts are being made to develop a technology for effective and efficient treatment of polluted water in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. A research team of Showa Denko and Hitoshi Mimura of Tohoku University developed a technology to bake and harden residues of highly concentrated radioactive effluent, making it possible to harden unstable sludge residues into a stable substance. Ferrocyanide adsorbs radioactive substances like cesium effectively. Although it has 10 times stronger adsorption power than zeolite, it deposits muddy substance called waste sludge. The purification equipment from Areva of France running in Fukushima uses ferrocyanide. In Fukushima, the waste tank installed underground has a capacity of 700 cubic meters, but it is already filled with 600 cubic meters of waste sludge at present.

The above research team mixed ferrocyanide residues with special zeolite at a ratio of 1 to 1-2 and baked them at 800-1,000 degrees centigrade, and subsequently pressed the resultant product under high pressure. This technology can seal radioactive substances completely in a solid as stable as dried cement. Should this technology be applied, it will be possible to establish a treatment cycle that scoops the surface soil in the highly contaminated area, mixes the surface soil with water and ferrocyanide to eliminate radioactive substances, and solidifies the residue. The new technology has rather high removal efficiency because it can separate cesium and strontium from the soil almost entirely. Showa Denko plans to sell it to Tokyo Electric Power Company with the help of Atomic Energy Society of Japan.

Toshiba presented the manufacturing process of the Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) that can eliminate 62 kinds of radioactive substances including strontium. It can process 500 tons of polluted water per day. Because about 200,000 tons of polluted water still exists on the premises of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, it will supposedly take about 400 days to treat all the polluted water. Toshiba’s ALPS will be installed late August, and the trial run will start in September. Using the special resins and activated charcoal, it can decrease the concentration of radioactive substances to lower than the legal level.  

The adsorption tower of Toshiba’s Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) that can eliminate 62 kinds of radioactive substances in water.  

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

No. 571: Superconductive power transmission is advancing fast toward practical application (July 25, 2012)

The existing power cable loses about 10% of electricity being transmitted. However, a superconducting power cable is free from impedance should it be cooled by liquid nitrogen at 196 degrees below zero. In the case of direct current transmission by superconducting cable, power loss is as small as 0.5% even if the transmission distance is 1,000 km. Research agencies involved in the development in superconducting power transmission are busily occupied with advancing the technology toward practical application.

NTT Facilities is planning to build a mega solar with a capacity of 60,000-100,000 kW on the coast devastated by last year’s earthquake and transmit generated electricity by superconducting power cables of 2 km long. The company will start to build the mega solar plant within the year with a subsidy from the government. Sakutaro Yamaguchi of Chubu University will conduct experiment of a 200 m superconducting power cable coming August or September. The power cable uses electric wire made of cuprate and is covered by the highly thermal steel tube. He plans to transmit electricity from the transforming station to data centers by superconducting power cable. If the experiment is successful, he reckons that transmission loss and heat generation are controlled to reduce the power consumption of the data center up to 40%. Railway Technical Research Institute will start the experiment to run electric trains using a new system that transmits electricity by superconducting power cable with a capacity of 1.5 kilovolts and 10 ampere to electric trains traveling in the Tokyo Metropolitan area.

National Institutefor Materials Science and Institute for Advanced Biosciences of Keio University clarified the mechanism that boiling up some kinds of iron components by alcohol beverage induces superconductivity. They presumed that organic acids contained in alcohol beverage eliminate extra iron. At this moment, they made it clear that malic acid, citric acid, and beta alanine induce superconductivity. They confirmed that each of the three compounds will become superconducting if iron tallurium compound is boiled up with water in which the three compounds are dissolved. Red wine, in particular, is supposed to be highly competent in inducing superconductivity because it contains the three compounds a lot. The iron tellurium compound cannot become superconducting as it is, though it has a similar structure with substances that can be superconducting. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

No. 570: A water purification system that does not use an aggregating agent (July 24, 2012)

Meiwa Industry in Kofu city of Yamanashi Prefecture developed a water purification system to filter water of rivers and lakes without an aggregating agent. The filtered water can be drinking water. The company laminated filtering materials including sands of different diameters in its own method. It wishes to have this system patented to market it through licensing agreement not to mention through sales distribution channels.

The system adopted the sandwich laminating method. Water is supplied in the bottom of the equipment and purified as it goes up from the bottom. The finest filtering materials smallest in diameter are put in the middle, and the filtering materials grows bigger in diameter as the layer stack goes upward and downward. The company successfully increased the durability of the system by preventing the filtering materials from falling to pieces when water pressure is applied. The finest filtering material is 20 micrometers in diameter. In the experiment, the company confirmed that the system filtered water of 139-degree turbidity to water of less than 0.1-degree turbidity that is totally acceptable as drinking water. A product description is available in a pdf file.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

No. 569: Honda’s robot ASIMO is advancing very fast (July 23, 2012)

Honda opened the new model of its robot ASIMO to the public in the Honda Robotics Exhibition being held in its head office in Tokyo. The new ASIMO demonstrated his features and behaviors before the audience, kicking a ball and pouring juice from a canteen. The new model was shown to the public for the first time since it was developed last November. It can run as fast as 9 km/h and understand sign language. In addition, he can take optimal behavior judging from the situation surrounding him.

The new ASIMO is more versatile than the previous model. 

Honda’s Uni-Cub is also demonstrated in the Honda Robotics Exhibition. The audience got very much interested in the functions and maneuver demonstrated by Honda staffs. 

Honda’s Uni-Cub, a fantastic electric unicycle with safety wheels

Saturday, July 21, 2012

No. 568: Developing biofuel from seaweeds for the reconstruction of the devastated Tohoku district (July 21, 2012)

University professors are actively engaged in the development of biofuel from seaweeds to build a new industry in the Tohoku district devastated by the March 11 disaster last year. Professor Minoru Sato of Tohoku University started to extract ethanol from seaweeds. He liquefied seaweeds using special equipment and fermented the liquefied seaweeds to produce ethanol with the help of microorganism. He plans to produce 30 g of ethanol from 1 kg of seaweeds. Because the produced ethanol has a concentration of merely 2%, he will develop a technology to separate water content to increase the concentration. Professor Naoto Urano of Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology will look for microorganisms effective for the production of ethanol in the soil of the devastated area and improve them using the knowledge of genetic engineering.

Professor Kazuo Miyashita of Hokkaido University is developing foods using fucoxanthin contained in seaweeds. Fucoxanthin is reportedly helpful to facilitate the burning of fat and effective to prevent metabolic syndrome. Extracted fucoxanthin will be powdered and the powdered fucoxanthin will be mixed in noodles and baked cakes in alliance with local food processing companies to develop new products. Tokyo University is working on building an aquafarming system highly resistant to a disaster. Kyoto University is trying to develop an agent to adsorb heavy metals using seashells. University of Tsukuba is culturing seaweeds capable of producing petroleum component. The Japanese government allocated 3.5 billion yen to develop new marine industries in the district.   

Professor Naoto Urano of Tokyo University of Marine Science
and Technology talks about producing ethanol from seaweeds

Friday, July 20, 2012

No. 567: A high performance electrolyte for lithium-ion battery from Daikin (July 20, 2012)

Daikin, Japan’s leading industrial air-conditioner maker, developed a high performance electrolyte that doubles the capacity of a lithium-ion battery, and will start to mass produce it in its plant in Alabama in the U.S. shortly. The company originally produces the raw materials for electrolyte, but it successfully increased the performance of an electrolyte by improving the composition of the raw materials. Using a fluorine series solution as the raw material, the new electrolyte allows for charging at a higher voltage than the standard electrolyte. Besides increasing the battery capacity, it can lengthen the life of a lithium-ion battery because it does not deteriorate easily. The company wishes to get sales of 15 billion yen from this new electrolyte in 2015.

The mass production plant in the U.S. will be ready to operate in August with an annual production capacity of 2,000 tons. Daikin plans to build a plant for mass production both in China and Japan to increase the total annual production capacity to 10,000 tons. The new electrolyte will be put on the U.S. in January 2013. Daikin reckons the market of electrolyte for lithium-ion battery will grow from current 30,000 tons to 50,000-100,000 tons in 2015, and plans to get 10% share in the world market in 2015. The company is the world second largest maker of fluorine-related chemical products following DuPont of the U.S.     

Thursday, July 19, 2012

No. 566: Advanced robots for the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant (July 19, 2012)

Chiba Institute of Technology showed its newly-developed robot for the nuclear power plant to the public. Named Rosemary, the new robot is maintenance-free for three years, and it adopted the plug-in system for battery charging to shorten the time that workers are exposed to radiation. It currently takes them 10-15 minutes to prepare for charging alone. The Rosemary is the advanced model of Quince introduced last June. It will go to the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant in mid-August to conduct survey inside the building, film the fuel pool, and transport materials.

This time Chiba Institute of Technology released two models of Rosemary 2 and Rosemary 3. The former carries a camera that can be raised up to 3.1 m to survey the fuel pool, while the latter is designed to perform a task carrying measuring instruments, materials, and arms for light work. They both can operate for five hours continuously. In addition, even if they become motionless due to an accidental cable cut, another robot will get activated by the signal they send through wireless communications and immediately come to them for rescue.

Rosemary by Chiba Institute of Technology

 Quince by Chiba Institute of Technology

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

No. 565: Japanese technology for malaria control grows widespread in Africa (July 18, 2012)

More than one million people are reported to be killed by malaria every year in Africa, and 90% of them are inhabitants in the Sub-Saharan Africa that is the area to the south of the Sahara Desert. A mosquito net named Olyset Net developed by Sumitomo Chemical is growing widespread in the Sub-Saharan Africa, and the company established the “Africa Technical Center” inside its Tanzanian plant. Staffed with about 30 local staffs, the center plans to develop and commercialize an agricultural net that maintains the moisture of farmlands by blocking the air by applying the Olyset Net by 2014.

The Olyset Net is a net sewn with threads made of resin into which repellent is kneaded. Because the repellent steeps to the surface gradually, the insecticide efficacy of the Olyset Net lasts for more than five years even if it is washed repeatedly. The company started local production of the Olyset Net in Tanzania in alliance with a local company in 2003 and established a joint company with it in 2007. The plant has now an annual production capacity of 29 million Olyset Nets. The joint company has been promoting the Olyset Net in alliance with the WHO and UNICEF, and the Olyset Net is being used in 36 African countries at present. Olyset Net was selected as the “world coolest technology” by Time magazine in 2004. It has 35% share in the mosquito net market in Africa at present.

Children in relaxation inside the Olyset Net,
the mosquito net developed by Sumitomo Chemical

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

No. 564: Using the GPS for the prediction of an earthquake (July 17, 2012)

Geospatial Information Authority of Japan (GSI) and Tohoku University jointly developed a system to estimate the scale of an earthquake and the height of a tsunami using the global positioning system (GPS) much faster than the existing system. Based on the data on crustal movements coming from about 1,200 land GPS observation points across the country, the new system determines the variation caused by an earthquake and sends estimates to Japan Meteorological Agency in a few minutes. It will be put into operation within the year. The existing system needs data that cover as much as three hours and five hours to produce observational results.

Using the analytical approach developed by Tohoku University, the new system observes the amount and direction of crustal movements to a precision of 10 cm using data coming in every second, and figures out the variation of the fault and bedrock caused by an earthquake. Japan Meteorological Agency receives data dispatch by GSI and calculates the scale of an earthquake and tsunami using computer. GSI is improving the new system for even higher precision to start sending data to Japan Meteorological Agency within the year. Currently, the agency calculates the scale of an earthquake and the height of a tsunami using data from a seismograph. It tends to underestimate the scale of an earthquake of magnitude higher than 8.0, but the new system hardly underestimate an earthquake. In addition, because the new system can calculate the variation of the seabed, it is suitable for the measurement of a large ocean-trench earthquake. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

No. 563: Japanese electric motorcycles are ready to go abroad (July 16, 2012)

Business trend:
Terra Motors, Japan’s leading maker of electric motorcycles, will develop foreign markets. As the first step, the company plans to export its products to Korea and Mexico. It already received orders for 100 units of its SEED series. Later, it will go to Europe and African. The models it plans to put on foreign markets are the basic model SEED 48 priced at 99,800 yen and its higher-grade model SEED 60 prices at 149,800 yen. These two models are characterized by excellent fuel economy. They need a fuel cost that is about from one sixth to one tenth of a gasoline motorcycle.

Although Terra Motors has focused on the domestic market, it decided to cultivate foreign markets in view of the growing demand for fuel-efficient electric motorcycles worldwide. With the background of increasing fuel cost in Europe, it has received inquiries from Europe including Greece. The company is planning to launch a new electric motorcycle to be positioned as the strategic model for the world market within the year. It wishes to increase its worldwide sales of electric motorcycles for the year ending March 2013 by 3.3 times to more than 10,000 units.    

An electric motorcycle from Terra Motors

Saturday, July 14, 2012

No. 562: Increasing the presence of Japanese energy-related technology in developing countries (July 14, 2012)

Business trend:
Japanese engineering companies are actively expanding energy-related business to developing countries. JEF Engineering, for example, will promote sales of such garbage-disposal facilities as incinerators and gasification melting furnace, water purification facilities, and facilities related to thermal power generation. As the market of garbage-disposal facilities is expected to grow with a population increase in developing countries, the company wishes to increase overseas sales three times over the level in 2012 to 70 billion yen in 2015. In developing countries, it will draw design anew to increase local content for cost reduction instead of modifying the design for the Japanese market.

Nippon Steel Engineering established a marketing base in Ho Chi Minh of Vietnam to expand overseas sales. The company plans to increase the ratio of overseas sales to its total sales from 25% in 2011 to 40% in 2016. Japanese engineering companies that originated from a steelmaker exhibit strength in incinerators and gasification melting furnaces. Especially, the gasification melting furnace can enjoy growing demand even in advanced countries, because the policy to reduce landfilled solid waste will grow widespread against the background of environmental restrictions that grow more stringent. Unlike the conventional furnace, the gasification melting furnace produces ashes reusable for a roadbed material not to mention exhaust heat for power generation, and it reduces landfilled solid waste because it can process flammables and metals together.   

A gasification melting furnace by JEF Engineering 

Friday, July 13, 2012

No. 561: A very small rare earth-less motor that is 30% lighter than the existing product (July 13, 2012)

Mabuchi Motor, Japan’s leading maker of very small motors, developed a rare earth-less motor for automobile door mirrors that is about 30% lighter than the existing motor of the same kind, while maintaining the same power output. The company put it on the market because the product features will be well accepted by auto part makers. The motor is to move the mirror of an automobile door mirror from side to side and up and down. It weighs about 16 g with a power output of 0.1-1.0 watt. It is about 30% lighter and 30% smaller in volume than the existing product.

It is generally necessary to use rare earthes like neodymium to make a motor lighter while maintaining the same power output, but the company eliminated the necessity of rare earthes by improving the design of the magnetic circuit. Besides, the company successfully reduced the sound coming from the new motor to 75% of the sound coming from existing product to comply with the request for a quieter motor from electric vehicle makers.   

Very small rare earth-less motors from Mabuchi Motor. The company made them 30% lighter and 30% smaller in volume in addition to reducing the sound, while maintaining the same power output

Thursday, July 12, 2012

No. 560: Increasing the generation capacity of the offshore wind power system (July 12, 2012)

Hitachi will try to increase the generation capacity of its offshore wind power system. Because the competition of offshore wind power generation intensifies worldwide, the company wishes to differentiate its products by focusing higher generation capacity. The model it develops is the so-called “down wind” model that installs windmills against the wind direction. Because windmills of the “down wind” model catch wind blowing upward from beneath directly, the “down wind” model has an 8% higher output than the conventional model.  

Hitachi wishes to increase the generation capacity by 2.5 times from the present level and build an offshore wind power system with an output of 5,000 kW. It plans to conduct demonstration experiment in 2014. It has already obtained orders for about 70 units of its system with an output of 2,000 kW. A wind generation system consists of 10,000 to 20,000 parts. Accordingly, developing a wind generation system involves lots of kinds of industrial fields, stimulating the labor market. According to a survey, the market related to wind generation will increase 8 times over the level in 2011 to over 3,000 billion yen in 2030. 

Hitachi's offshore wind generation system operating in Ibaraki Prefecture. It has been running since July 2010. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

No. 559: Smartphone grows more versatile (July 11, 2012)

An increasing number of home electronics that you can manage using your smartphone are on the market. A new video camera introduced by JVC Kenwood allows for wireless monitoring of children in another room, and you can see them playing on the screen of your smartphone by fixing position of your video camera in the room where they are playing. Sharp’s cleaning robot, Cocorobo, has a built-in camera that allows for wireless LAN connection and enables you to monitor the moves of your cat or dog left in your home using your smartphone.

The non-contact IC technology incorporated in Panasonic’s microwave oven allows you to set recipe and cookery instantly. What you need to do is to select a recipe from Panasonic’s recipe database using your smartphone, and put your smartphone on the sensor of the microwave oven. You can save your original recipes in Panasonic’s database. As a smartphone grows more highly sophisticated, the operation seems to grow more complicated. However, once you are used to the operation, you can feel the growing versatility of a smartphone. According to a survey company, domestic smartphone shipments increased 2.8 times over the level in 2010 to more than 24 million units in 2011. Demand for smartphone is growing for shorter time of housekeeping chores and increased sense of security when going out.   

Sharp's clearing robot, Cocorobo

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

No. 558: Recycling rare metals as a way to diversify sources of supply (July 10, 2012)

Business trend:
Rare metals are increasing important for autos and IT-related products. It is urgent for manufacturers of these products to diversify supply sources of rare metals for stable procurement. Sumitomo Electric will build a new plant to recycle such rare metals as tungsten with an investment of 2,200 million yen, and the plant will begin operation coming August. In this plant, superhard tools will be powderized using a heat treat furnace, and collected rare metals will be recycled as raw materials of superhard tools. The new plant will have a processing capacity of 5 tons per month. Because the company built a plant of the same kind last April, the two plant combined will be able to process all superhard tools, or 48 tons per month, it sells in the domestic market.

Mitsubishi Materials is also strengthening the system to recycle rare metals by increasing the production of intermediate materials of tungsten at its subsidiary Japan New Metals to stabilize procurement. Union Tool, one of the leading makers of precision tools for drilling semiconductor substrates, tripled sales of tools that reduced the consumption of rare metals through the change of geometry in two years. Rare metals including cobalt and tungsten account for more than 90% of a superhard tool in weight. Japan’s recycling rate of rare metals is about 25%. It is lower than 50% in the U.S. and 40% in Europe. Demand for tungsten remains strong thanks to the brisk auto business. Tungsten was 200 dollars per 10 kg in the spring of 2010, but it went up to 470 dollars in May of 2011. It stays around 430 dollars at present. The high price and possible shortage due to export restriction by China motivated Japan to increase the recycling rate of rare metals.  

Monday, July 9, 2012

No. 557: Increasing the conversion efficiency of a solar battery dramatically (July 9, 2012)

The conversion efficiency of a solar battery for home use is between 10% and 20%. Two university professors developed technologies to increase the conversion efficiency of a solar battery dramatically. Susumu Noda of Kyoto University changed sunlight of a wide range of wavelength to sunlight of a specific wavelength easily usable for photovoltaic generation. His research team developed a new material by combining a semiconductor that emits only light of a specific wavelength if heated with the photonic crystal that locks in and amplifies light. Only light suitable for solar battery can be taken out if the new material is heated by sunlight collected by a lens, and the energy conversion efficiency is estimated to grow higher than 40%. The research results were reported to the Nature Photonics.

Taku Saiki from Kansai University developed a crystal that can convert sunlight to laser. The generated laser is used to irradiate a particle of oxidative products of iron or aluminum, making it possible to create a metallic particle without oxygen at a temperature higher than 4,700 degrees centigrade. This metallic particle generates hydrogen when it reacts with water, and the hydrogen can be used as a fuel. Because the efficiency of conversion from sunlight to laser is about 60%, it will supposedly have higher conversion efficiency than the existing solar battery even though the process to generate hydrogen from laser is taken into consideration.  

Saturday, July 7, 2012

No. 556: HEMS grows widespread to promote energy saving efforts in households (July 7, 2012)

Business trend:
Consumer electronics makers and housing companies alike are planning to introduce products supporting the house energy management system (HEMS) in succession. According to the government, industrial energy consumption decreased 12% between 1990 and 2009, but household energy consumption increased 23% in the same period largely due to growing size of home electronics including TV set. Toshiba Lighting and Technology launched HEMS-supporting control equipment for air-conditioners and lighting fixtures. As the government absorbs 100,000 yen for the purchase of this equipment, the amount consumer needs to pay is around 50,000 yen. The Toshiba group is planning to commercialize the HEMS-supporting photovoltaic generation system and storage battery in the near future.

Misawa Homes will put HEMS housing that incorporates its self-developed HEMS-supporting control equipment on the market soon. Mitsui Fudosan Residential will introduce the HEMS to the apartment complex it is developing in Tokyo. Both companies employ the ECHONET that is the communication standard recommended by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. Because this standard allows for integrated control of home electronics regardless of their makers, the market will supposedly start to grow rapidly after coming October. The spread of the HEMS will facilitate the growth of the market related to smart house. According to a survey company, the smart house-related market will grow about three times over the level in 2011 to 3,500 billion yen in 2020.

Flowchart of the home energy management system (HEMS)

Friday, July 6, 2012

No. 555: Japanese waste power generation technology goes to Vietnam (July 6, 2012)

Business trend:
Hitachi Zosen will construct Vietnamese first waste power generation facilities in collaboration with New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO). The facilities will be constructed in the suburbs of Hanoi with an investment of about 2.4 billion yen. NEDO absorbs about 1.6 billion yen, and the remaining 0.8 billion yen will be split between Hitachi Zosen and Hanoi. NEDO will exchange memorandums with the Vietnamese government on July 6. Rapid urbanization is increasing the amount of industrial waste quite rapidly in Vietnam, and there is a growing concern about power shortage.

Hanoi produces 225 tons of industrial waste daily. The facilities will incinerate 75 tons, or 30% of the 225 tons, of industrial waste for generation daily and sell electricity to the neighboring industrial park. In Southeast Asian countries, land reclamation is widespread to dispose of industrial waste, but disposal fields are in short supply and emissions of toxic substances as dioxine attract wide attention these days. It is highly likely that power generation from waste will grow popular in such countries ad Indonesia and Malaysia that have great power demand. NEDO will exert lots of energy to export Japanese waste power generation technology in alliance with private companies.   

Vietnamese first waste power generation plant to be constructed by Hitachi Zosen

Thursday, July 5, 2012

No. 554: High precision automatic construction machinery from Komatsu (July 5, 2012)

Komatsu, Japan’s leading construction machinery maker, developed construction machinery that allows for unattended operation. With the help of sensor technology, the newly developed machinery can excavate and level land to a precision of a few centimeters. A bulldozer can figure out irregularity on the land surface automatically and adjust the depth in centimeters. Although an operator is needed for basic operation and safety reasons, even an unskilled operator can carry out complicated jobs exactly to design drawing. In addition, no advance measurement is required. The company will sell the machinery with software as a package to compete successfully with makers from Korea and China that underprice Japanese makers.

Automatic machinery makes it possible to estimate the time required for work, and the level of skill of workers do not affect the work. It is of great help for shorter work periods and lower construction cost. The price is not yet decided, but these kinds of features can absorb the cost increase. Komatsu has been running a remote control system that monitors the operation of all machinery all over the world since 2001. Starting in 2013, the company will market driverless hydraulic shovels and bulldozers in the U.S. and Europe. 

Komatsu’s automatic operation
machinery can excavate in several centimeters.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

No. 553: Honda delivers its business jets starting late 2013 (July 4, 2012)

Honda will deliver its business jets starting late 2013 in the U.S. and Europe through its subsidiary Honda Aircraft. The company has already received orders for a total of more than 100 jets from the U.S. and Europe to date. Local service companies will take charge of maintenance and inspection. Honda has already set up six bases in the U.S. and three bases in Europe for sales and service activities. After developing the market in the U.S. and Europe, it plans to cultivate the market in such newly industrialized countries as China and Brazil besides the Middle East. 

Honda’s business jet has the maximum cruising speed of 787 km/h with 20% better fuel efficiency that the existing business jets. It has a flying range of 2,185 km with the operative altitude of about 13,100 m. It is priced at 4.5 million dollars. The world business jet market has annual demand between 800 and 1,000 jets. Currently, demand from the U.S. and Europe account for 70% of the world demand. The two dominant forces are Cessna of the U.S. and Embraer of Brazil. Honda wishes to cultivate the market in newly industrialized countries emphasizing the fuel economy and excellent occupant comfort and get 15% share in the world small jet market.

 Honda's small business jet 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

No. 552: Developing equipment to measure radiation dose is advancing through collaboration with university (July 3, 2012)

Horiba, one of Japan’s leading measuring instrument makers, opened up the prospect of the equipment to film the strength of radiation dose coming from a radioactive substance and display it on the screen in alliance with Kyoto University. The company utilized the technology developed by Kyoto University to detect the radiation that a star generates when it explodes at the end of its life. The newly developed equipment can measure such low radiation as 0.05 micro sievert per hour. It is now developing a technology to display the strength in different color in collaboration with Canon. The finished product will be put on the market in 2014 for about 10 million yen.

Mitsubishi Heavy is working on the practical application of a camera to visualize radiation dose in alliance with Nagoya University. They have already built a trial product based on the camera for artificial satellite. They are trying to make it as light as 10 kg so that a worker can carry it easily in the field. Furukawa plans to develop a system to observe the radiation contamination from the sky jointly with Tokyo University in two years. A camera will be incorporated in an unmanned helicopter for pesticide spraying, and the helicopter flies at an altitude between 10-20 m and covers an area of 400-square-meter in less than one minute. The system will exhibit strength in the measurement in the mountain area. Currently, measuring radiation dose is costly and time-consuming because it depends mostly on manual labor with a dosemeter. An effective visualization technology is strongly desired.  

Monday, July 2, 2012

No. 551: Utilizing the nanofiber technology to regeneration medicine (July 2, 2012)

Teijin will participate in regeneration medicine of bone and cartilage by utilizing its accumulated nanotechnology by 2020. The company will develop a technology to fill in a defective part of a bone and cartilage with a thread made of a medical agent and a biological absorption polymer for faster regeneration of the defective part. Teijin’s accumulated nanofiber technology is advanced enough to utilize a thread 700 nanometers in diameter. It has been developing the next-generation medical materials that enhance treatment effect in combination with the existing medical treatment.  

It has also been studying a technology to facilitate the regeneration of bone and cartilage and working on preclinical trials in collaboration with Kobe University and Osaka Prefecture University. They plan to start clinical study in 2014 at the earliest. This technology is supposed to be effective to the treatment of bone hard to regenerate. Teijin also opened up the road to a practical use of a microneedle in which plastic fine needles of several micrometers long each are aligned in the high density. The microneedle is helpful to deliver efficacy through skin efficiently. The company is scheduled to put this technology into practical use after 2020.