Friday, August 31, 2012

No. 601: A new semiconductor element made of synthetic diamond (August 29, 2012)

Researchers from the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) and Tokyo Institute of Technology jointly developed a new semiconductor element that reduces power loss of transformer stations, railway cars, and e-vehicle to less than one fiftieth. The new element is one of the next-generation power semiconductors expected to become the core of the energy saving technology for years to come. The researchers made it using synthetic diamond made of methane. A power semiconductor made of synthetic diamond resists high voltage 10 times more than the power semiconductor made of a currently state-of-the-art material and reduces power loss in operation considerably. They are confident that they can produce the synthetic diamond at a lower cost than they produce silicon carbide and gallium nitride in the future. They wish to put the new power semiconductor into practical use in 2020.  

If all the silicon power semiconductors currently used are to be replaced by power semiconductors made of diamond, it will be possible to save power equivalent to the power generated by eight nuclear power plants with a generation capacity of 1 million kW each. The new diamond power semiconductor doest not need equipment for cooling and has 10 times higher thermal conductivity than silicone. The world power semiconductor market is estimated to grow more than two times in the next 10 years to 4,500 billion yen in 2010.

 A new semiconductor element made of 
synthetic diamond can reduce power loss considerably. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

No. 600: Teijin’s aramid fiber is adopted for the parachute of NASA’s Mars probe Curiosity (August 28, 2012)

NASA of the United States adopted the para aramid fiber developed by Teijin for the parachute of its Mars probe Curiosity. Teijin’s para aramid fiber will be used for the suspension codes that connect the probe and parachute. The product is Technora produced by Teijin Techno Products.

The 80 suspension codes made of para aramid fiber connect the parachute that weighs about 60 kg and is abut 15 m in diameter. Para aramid fiber has eight times higher tensile strength than iron of the same weight. Its strength deterioration due to conflict and infection is small, and its heat resistance is excellent. It is being used for bulletproof vests, optical fibers, and an reinforcing agent of tires. Teijin has 50% share in the world para aramid fiber market.  

Teijin’s para aramid fiber Technora is adopted for the parachute of NASA’s Mars probe Curiosity. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

No. 599: Japanese super high vision technology is an international technology standard (August 27, 2012)

NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) Science and Technology Research Laboratories has been developing the super high vision (SHV) technology in alliance with leading electric companies including Panasonic since 1995. Because SHV has more than 33 million pixels, its image does not become coarse even if the screen is larger than 100 inches. And the number of frames per second is 120, two times more than the number of frames supported by the current technology. The state-of-the-art high image quality technology currently available from Toshiba and Sony is 4K, but SHV exhibits 8K.

International Telecommunication Union (ITU) reportedly adopted Japan’s SHV technology as an international technology standard. Great Britain and Korea are expected to adopt this technology. Japan is preparing for the experimental broadcasting by SHV scheduled for 2020. During the London Olympics, SHV was offered for public viewing in nine locations in the world including three in Japan.

SHV technology developed by
NHK and Japanese electric companies

Saturday, August 25, 2012

No. 598: A fuel cell system supporting both city gas and propane gas for emergency use (August 25, 2012)

Medical institutions are asked to have an emergency power source by the Japanese law, and the Ministry of the Environment subsidize 50% of the expense that private hospitals need for capital investment as a power saving measure. Fuji Electric developed a fuel cell system usable as an auxiliary power source at the time of disaster. The new fuel cell system runs by city gas, but it runs by propane gas when supply of city gas stops because of a disaster. It collects hydrogen from gas for power generation. It has an output of 100 kW and can switch the fuel from city gas to propane gas in 30 seconds. 

Because the fuel cell system emits air that contains a low level of oxygen in operation, the company plans to sell the new system to data centers by emphasizing this feature. It is 65 million yen a unit, and another 15 million is required for installation. In alliance with a German venture company N2Telligence, Fuji Electric developed a fuel cell system combined with a low oxygen system for data centers abroad. The oxygen concentration of air is usually about 21%, but a fuel cell system can reduce the oxygen concentration to less than 14% that prevents combustion reaction from occurring. Demand for a generation system helpful for fire precautions is growing in Europe. The hybrid system obtained a CE Mark that is the safety standards vital for the marketing inside Europe. Fuji Electric is one of the four makers around the world capable of building fuel cell systems for industrial use.    

Fuji Electric’s fuel cell system. Fuji Electric developed a fuel system that can run both by city gas and propane gas. The switch from city gas to propane gas takes only about 30 seconds.

Friday, August 24, 2012

No. 597: Android-based digital camera from Nikon to compete with smartphones (August 24, 2012)

Business trend:
To compete with smartphones spreading explosively, Nikon will launch a new compact digital camera that incorporates Android as its operating system coming autumn. The new Android-based digital camera will be a new product on Nikon’s Coolpix series. It can process images with the help of a supporting application and upload them on the Internet as a smartphone does, and send images to SNS directly. Nikon will be Japan’s first camera maker that employs Android as the operating system of its digital cameras.

In the initial stage, the company will incorporate Android only into upmarket models. Samsung Electronics of Korea is reportedly developing an Android-based digital camera. The price of a digital camera shows a declining trend because smartphones are spreading quite rapidly. In addition, because the product cycle is rather short, volume retailers need to reduce the sales prices of digital cameras by about 30% in half a year after the introduction. According to Camera and Imaging Products Association (CIPA), the world shipments of compact digital cameras are supposed to decrease 0.8% from the previous year to 99 million units in 2012. 

Nikon incorporates Android into its Coolpix digital camera series to compete with smartphones as the first Japanese camera maker. The new model will be put on the market this autumn. Because of the explosive spread of smartphones, volume retailers need to discount digital cameras by 30% in half a year after the introduction.  

Thursday, August 23, 2012

No. 596: IHI participates in biomass generation in the U.S. (August 23, 2012)

Business trend:
IHI will participate in the biomass generation business in the U.S. The company acquired stocks of five power generation plants in California owned by Exelon of the U.S. Taking the opportunity of the investment, it wishes to expand its energy-related business in the U.S. The five power plants are three plants that utilize wood waste and two coal thermal power plants.

Total investment is estimated at several billions yen. IHI plans to convert the two coal thermal plants into biomass generation plants in the future. IHI has been shipping core equipment including boiler to power plants in the U.S., but will participate in the management of power plants for the first time. With the favorable treatment given to generation facilities that use renewable energy, it is highly expected that construction and renewal of biomass generation facilities will grow in the U.S. 

A biomass power plant surrounded by woods in the Kanto district

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

No. 595: Mass production of palm shell-based negative electrodes for lithium-ion battery (August 22, 2012)

Business trend:
A lithium-ion battery is composes of our major components: electrolyte, insulation, positive electrode, and negative electrode. Graphite is widespread as the material of negative electrode because it is inexpensive. Hitachi Chemical and Mitsubishi Chemical are the two leading manufacturers of graphite-based negative electrodes. To compete with them, Kuraray and Kureha will jointly build a plant to produce negative electrodes made of hard carbon instead of graphite with an investment of about 3 billion yen. Hard carbon is created by carbonizing palm shells. Because it has a more complicated structure than graphite, it does not deteriorate fast even though the battery is repeatedly charged and discharged. Construction work will start coming October, and the plant will be ready for operation in autumn next year.

Kuraray’s subsidiary Kuraray Chemical and Kureha’s subsidiary Kureha Battery Material Japan will establish a joint company exclusively for the production of plant-derived hard carbon negative electrodes. The Innovation Network Corporation of Japan (INCJ) will also invest up to 10 billion yen in this joint company. The number of lithium-ion battery e-vehicles built in 2011 was 1.2 million units, and it will supposedly increase to 12 million units in 2020 with the growing popularity of hybrid cars and e-vehicles. Accordingly, demand for negative electrodes is estimated to increase from the present 5,700 tons in 2011 to 76,000 tons in 2020. Although graphite is dominant in the market, the joint company wishes to increase the share of hard carbon from the present 5% to 20-30% in 2020 through reducing production cost. Related web page

Hard carbon for the negative electrode of
lithium-ion battery from Kureha Battery Material Japan 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

No. 594: A new power conditioner much smaller than the existing model in volume from Yaskawa Electric (August 21, 2012)

Yaskawa Electric successfully reduced the volume of the existing power conditioner to one-25th without decreasing the output capacity. The new small power conditioner will be helpful to make an autobody lighter for better mileage should it be mounted on an e-vehicle. The company used silicon carbide-based power semiconductors that increase efficiency of power conversion and increased the output per liter. Silicon carbide operates even at a high temperature, and it is featured by a small amount of power loss in conversion. The company built a trial product. It has an output of 45 kW, and its outside dimension is 35.8 cm x 28.2 cm x 2.9 cm. The company wishes to commercialize the small power conditioner by 2014.

Yaskawa will quintuple the production of power conditioners to satisfy the growing demand after the introduction of the system that lets electric power companies purchase renewable energy. The company will increase the monthly production capacity from 200 units to 1,000 units. Because direct current created by solar batteries need to be converted to alternate current, a highly efficient power conditioner is critical in photovoltaic generation. In addition, a power conditioner adjusts the unstable voltage of electricity created by photovoltaic generation. 

 A new very small power conditioner
built by Yaskawa Electric on trial

Monday, August 20, 2012

No. 593: Japan’s all-star team jointly develops a technology to explore sea bottom resources (August 20, 2012)

Business trend:
Under the initiative of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, six leading Japanese universities collaborate to develop the technology for efficient exploration of sea bottom resources including rare metals. They are Tokyo University, Tokai University, Kochi University, Toyama University, Waseda University, and Kyoto University. Integrating knowledge and technology each university has developed independently, they plan to operate submarine prospecting using an unmanned probe vehicle in three years. The ministry helps the project financially. It has decided to appropriate necessary expenses for the project in the budget request for the next fiscal year.

Currently, each university is working on seafloor development independently. Tokyo University developed a technology to draw a 3-D a sea floor map with the help of the time and intensity of sound waves that go to and come back from the seafloor deposit, while Kochi University developed a technology to know what kinds of resources are buried by studying the substances of water coming from the mineral deposit. The all-star team will integrate each technology and establish a high-precision exploration technology for commercial mining, necessary sensors, and software programs. Although Japan is not blessed with natural resources on land, Japan is supposed to have abundant sea bottom resources. As Article 549 reports, Tokyo University clarified the possibility of the existence of rare earthes in the sea inside the Japanese exclusive economic zone (EEZ). A high-precision exploration technology is vital to the commercial mining of sea bottom resources.  A related document in a pdf file.

Japan’s state-of-the-art ocean exploration ship “Hakurei” 
Media covers "Hakurei" for the first  time. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

No. 592: Japanese refuse disposal generation technology goes to China and Vietnam (August 18, 2012)

Business trend:
Mitsui Engineeringand Shipbuilding will establish a joint venture to market biogas generation equipment with a Chinese company in Chongqing of China with a capital of 600 million yen on a 50:50 basis. Mitsui’s technology smashes food residues after eliminating water and oil and ferments them, and subsequently recovers methane gas for power generation. Water will be discharged after treatment, and sludge will be dried and used as compost. The company used to focus on the Japanese domestic market, but it decided to expand the business to China because food residues are growing fast in China as it grows richer. The system costs between 500 million to 1,000 million yen each.

JEF Engineering got an order for a biogas generation plant scheduled for operation in 2013 from Shinyu of China. The plant has a capacity to treat 200 tons of food residues collected from restaurants per day. Hitachi Zosen is planning to establish a base in Hanoi of Vietnam to market its generation plant that uses waste heat recovered from burning municipal waste. Refuse disposal generation does not emit carbon dioxide. A research firm predicts that the world market of refuse disposal generation will grow from 25 billion yen in 2010 to 73 billion yen in 2015.         

A health center that utilizes residual heat produced by refuse disposal. Japanese engineering companies started to expand business to Asian countries including China and Vietnam where food residues are growing fast as they grow richer to market their latest refuse disposal generation technology. 


Friday, August 17, 2012

No. 591: Sharp goes to Kenya to purify well water with its photovoltaic generation technology (August 17, 2012)

Business trend:
Sharp will market a well water reuse system that combines photovoltaic generation and electrolysis water purification equipment in Kenya toward 2013. The system is designed to purify well water polluted by fluorine and highly concentrated sodium, and make it usable as daily life water. The company will develop a photovoltaic generation system suitable to the local solar radiation conditions. Because the water purification equipment is DC-operated, it works well with photovoltaic generation and consumes less electricity. In addition, neither fuel nor maintenance is required because it runs by electricity from photovoltaic generation. It is the size of a small container, and it can treat 25-30 tons of well water per day.

Major industries are rushing to get a big share of scarce water resources in Kenya affected by climate change. Reportedly, there are not a few failure wells polluted by harmful substances. As Sharp’s system will be applied to treat storm water and polluted water, it will be usable for intermediate water supply for manufacturing plants and water supply for hotels. Sharp will collaborate with NTT Data Institute of Management Consulting and electrode manufacturers to set up a consortium. The company wishes to increase the presence in Kenya as an excellent provider of photovoltaic generation system and build a mega solar market in Kenya in the future. 

Sharp’s photovoltaic generation. Sharp is planning to market a system to reuse well water based on its photovoltaic generation technology in Kenya. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

No. 590: A new sheet for the administration of various drugs and pharmaceuticals (August 16, 2012)

Akira Yamamoto and Katsumi Hidemasa of Kyoto Pharmaceutical University developed a new sheet to apply various kinds of meds in alliance with Ohtsuka Pharmaceutical and CosMed. A doctor can administer various kinds of drugs and pharmaceuticals by applying them on this new sheet. The composition of a drug is put in the top of very mall protrusions lining on the sheet surface. The new sheet is made of hyaluronan that is skin’s main composition. It has lancet-shaped protrusions, each of which is 500 micrometers long and several tens of micrometers in diameter, on the surface. The drug compositions put in the top seep in one hour.

Because the protrusions are very small and soft, the patient does not feel any pain. And the drug compositions are easily absorbed because they effuse close to the blood vessel after getting through the skin keratin. They made a sheet that contains interferon alpha on trial and found that 90% of the composition was absorbed into the body. No safety problem was found. They already confirmed through animal experiments that the new sheet is effective for the administration of drugs for diabetes and osteoporosis.  

Japan’s famous medicated plaster Salonpas from Hisamitsu Pharmaceutical. The new sheet is based on the same concept and effective for the administration of various drug compositions.   

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

No. 589: Successful development of a paint with less environmental load (August 15, 2012)

Nippon Paint developed a paint with less environmental load for outdoor iron structures. The company used water in place of organic solvents like thinner and succeeded in reducing the emissions of volatile organic compounds by 90%. The new paint is heavy-duty coating for such outdoor iron structures as bridge, plant, and tank. The newly developed technology prills epoxy resin and makes it easily dissolved in water, and dilutes it with water after reacting it with a substance like a surface-active agent.

The new paint is suitable for paint application in residential streets and crowded areas because it does not contain organic solvent. It reduces emissions of volatile organic compounds that cause air contamination and petrochemical smog considerably. It halves the term of works to two days. In addition, it is excluded from the list of dangerous substances specified by the Fire Defense Law, and it is not subject to the limit on the stockable quantity specified by the Fire Defense Law. The new paint is 30% higher in price than the conventional products. 

The new heavy duty coating for outdoor iron structure like bridge developed by Nippon Paint scarcely emits volatile organic compounds that cause air contamination and petrochemical smog.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

No. 588: A new plant-derived piezoelectric element (August 14, 2012)

Teijin and Yoshiro Prof. Tajitsu of Kansai University jointly developed a new plant-derived piezoelectric element expected to create a new and promising field in organic electronics. The new element can be mass produced more easily and at a lower cost than the existing elements based on ceramic materials. They put a thin film made of polylactate and a conductive resin to be used as electrode alternately. The new element extends about 2.5 times longer than lead zirconate titanate if the same voltage is applied. It is also rather suitable to create a large sheet. In addition, it is environment-friendly because it does not contain lead.

The new piezoelectric element will have a variety of new applications because it is thinner and softer than the existing piezoelectric elements besides being transparent. Wrapping a sheet made of the new element around the knee of an elderly person and changing the voltage applied to the sheet helps him walk comfortably. This is a new concept of walking aid device. Should it be stuck to a human body, it is possible to develop a system to charge a cardiac pacemaker using electricity created by the movements of breathing and walking. Should it be applied to a touch panel, the user can change the screen simply by changing the pressure to touch it. Teijin and the professor plan to put the new piezoelectric element into practical use in a few years. 

A photo of the existing piezoelectric element. The newly-developed piezoelectric element is plant-derived. It is thinner and softer than the existing piezoelectric elements besides being environmentally friendly.

Monday, August 13, 2012

No. 587: Two Japanese cleaning robots compete with Roomba (August 13, 2012)

The domestic cleaning robot market is growing very fast, and is estimated to increase from 200,000 units in 2010 to 1,000,000 units in 2020. Roomba from the U.S. is dominant, but two Japanese cleaning robots are chasing Roomba. One is Cocorobo from Sharp and the other is Smarbo from Toshiba Home Appliance. The former cleans a room while dancing if instructed and understands several foreign languages as if it has mind (cocoro). The latter cleans a room twice. In the second cleaning, it cleans a room at a right angle to the angle of the first cleaning for complete clean up.

According to the Japan Electric Manufacturers’ Association (JEMA), a cleaner is used for six minutes per day on average, meaning that it is used for 10 hours a year should it be used for 100 days a year. As is often the case, Japanese makers were too much absorbed in reducing noise and increasing suction to build even better models and one step behind Roomba in marketing without working out new concepts. In the cleaning robot market, it has become critical to offer models with functions required by users and put them on the market at competitive prices. The race to put additional functions and values to a cleaning robot is heating up.

Sharp’s cleaning robot Cocorobo

Toshiba’s cleaning robot Smarbo

A Smarbo vs. a cat

Saturday, August 11, 2012

No. 586: A new technology to transmit 100 times more information than the existing technology in optical communication (August 11, 2012)

A research team led by Masataka Nakazawa of Tohoku University developed a new technology to centuple the communications traffic of an optical fiber line that connects major cities. The new technology is based on the optical wave pattern that an American researcher predicted mathematically more than 80 years ago. It increases information amount per optical fiber dramatically by modifying the optical signals that contain information to a unique wave pattern. A wave pattern has a big mountain that represents a signal, and the new technology adds a wave pattern that nulls its amplitude to the foundation of the mountain at regular intervals. It can increase information amount only by reinforcing the existing communications network.

The new technology can transmit 1 terabit per second that is 100 times more than the amount transmittable by the current technology for each wevelength. The research team experimented it using the standard optical fiber and light with a wevelength of 1.5 micrometers and found that information was transmitted correctly and precisely for a distance of 500 km. The basic trunks connecting major cities may suffer from communication failure in five years because the rapid spread of smartphones and cloud computing services has been increasing communications traffic of the optical fiber line by more than 40% annually. It is urgently required to increase communications traffic per optical fiber to avoid the possible failure. The research team plans to put the new technology into practical use in five years in alliance with private companies. 

Optical fibers. A new technology to increase the
communications traffic of an optical fiber is strongly desired.

Friday, August 10, 2012

No. 585: Mass production of a new sealant for solar battery (August 10, 2012)

The sealant of solar battery plays the role of adhesive of the back sheet that protects the cells from heat and salinity. Currently, a synthetic resin called ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) is widely used as the material of the sealant. However, EVA might cause electric leakage inside the solar battery and decrease the output because it is easily permeated by moisture. Dainippon Printing used polyolefin in place of EVA for its sealant because it is not so easily permeated by moisture as EVA. However, polyolefin resin is liable to break and lose transparency as heat resistance increases, resulting in poor intake of sunlight. This is why EVA is more popular than polyolefin. Dainippon overcome the drawback of polyolefin by improving the blending of materials. Its new sealant has 10 times higher ability to block moisture than the existing sealant and avoids power decline due to leakage.

Because Dainippon got favorable responses from customers that have been testing the new sealant, it will mass produce the new sealant in its existing plants instead of building a new plant for it. The price will be the same as the existing sealant, the company said. The company is also scheduled to mass produce new back sheets with improved insulating performance. According to Japan Photovoltaic Expansion Center, the average price of a residential photovoltaic generation system in the second quarter of this year decreased 10% from the same period of the previous year to 500,000 yen per kW mainly because of the price competition with products from China. A research company in Tokyo forecasts that the world market of materials of solar battery will increase 2.7 times over the level in 2010 to about 6,800 billion yen in 2020. All Japanese companies involved in the photovoltaic generation business are busily occupied with the development of even higher performance products that can be offered at a more competitive price.

Sealant of solar battery 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

No. 584: Establishing standards to measure how much outdoor advertising is effective (August 9, 2012)

According to an industrial source, Japan’s outdoor advertising market decreased 6.8% from the previous year to about 290 billion yen in 2011. This is partly because ad agencies cannot easily show advertisers how much their ads are effective. A total of 54 ad agencies including Dentsu and Hakuhodo established standards to measure how much outdoor ads are effective. With the standards, they can calculate the rate of visual recognition that shows how many people see the content of outdoor billboards and explain how much outdoor ads are effective to advertisers. They developed a method to calculate the rate of visual recognition for such condition as location of the billboard and angle from which people see the billboard. They wish to stimulate the outdoor advertising market through industry-wide activities.

They calculate the rate of visual recognition using five conditions: area of the billboard, location and angle of the billboard, height of the billboard, existence of competing billboards, and degree of the illumination of the billboard. Naturally, a billboard in an intersection where many people wait for the green signal has a high score. A billboard in the Shibuya intersection that is one of the most crowded intersections in Tokyo is estimated to have 390,000 viewers per week. In other crowded areas inside Tokyo, survey on the number of pedestrians is under way. In the standards, the highest score point is the intersection of both ways, and the second highest is the corner cutoff of an intersection. The third is the intersection of one way, followed by the area for pedestrians other than intersection and the area not for pedestrians other than intersection.

The billboards in the most crowded intersection in Tokyo. They have 390,000 viewers per week. A group of ad agencies established standards to measure how much each of the billboards is effective to stimulate the outdoor advertising business. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

No. 583: The development competition of exposure equipment heats up in the global market (August 8, 2012)

Business trend:
Nikon allies with Intel to develop a lithography system that will play a critical role in manufacturing the next-generation semiconductors. The company plans to put a technology to halve the production cost of semiconductors by drawing a circuit on a larger semiconductor wafer than the existing one into practical use by 2018. Intel reportedly decided to bear several tens of billion yen to help Nikon develop a new lithography system. It has become rather hard for a company to develop new lithography equipment independently because several hundreds of billion yen is required for the development. The same is true for the market leader ASML of the Netherlands that will accept an investment from semiconductor manufacturers including Intel.

The miniaturization technology that Intel has been developing under its initiative is reportedly approaching to the limit. Intel’s strategy to compete Nikon and ASML indicates that further technological innovation in alliance with equipment manufacturers is critical for the development of the next-generation semiconductors. Like it or not, the move to form large syndicates is in progress on the global market. The trend to establish alliance between semiconductor manufacturers and equipment manufacturers is supposed to grow widespread in other parts of semiconductor manufacturing process.   

Nikon’s liquid immersion exposure equipment. The competition for technological innovation is heating up in the semiconductor business involving both equipment manufacturers and semiconductor manufacturers. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

No. 582: Cloud computing for better agricultural management (August 7, 2012)

Fujitsu will launch a cloud computing service to increase the efficiency of agricultural management this October. The system is named Akisai that means colors of autumn. It keeps and analyzes data on field jobs and crop images for more crop yields and better crop quality. Because the system is cloud computing, the user can manage it by PC, smartphone, or tablet PC. The basic plan designed for a team of five people is 40,000 yen per month besides the initial cost of 50,000 yen. The company plans to sell the service to organizations eager to increase the management efficiency like agricultural associations, distributors of agricultural products, and restaurant chains.

In the field, workers record such data as working hours, fertilizers used, and growing condition, and transmit them to Fujitsu’s data center. They can monitor such data as crop situation, cost, and profitability using their PCs in their office. Companies involved in the distribution of agricultural products have to pay 100,000 per month for the service. They can unify management of such data as production plan and expected crop yields of each contract farmer and growth situation for better and smoother procurement. Fujitsu has been conducting experiments of the system since 2008 in 10 agricultural production corporations, and successfully increased the crop yields of cabbage by 30%. Following Fujitsu, NEC will also launch a cloud computing service to monitor the cultivation in the greenhouse shortly. 

Fujitsu’s cloud computing service for
more crop yields and higher crop quality

Monday, August 6, 2012

No. 581: Successful development of a technology to produce butadiene from plant-derived ethanol (August 6, 2012)

Butadiene is a material indispensable to synthetic rubber, and it is currently produced from a byproduct of ethylene that is produced from naphtha. That is, naphtha is vital for the production of butadiene that is an ingredient of tire. As the production cost of shale gas decreases, shale gas will grow more popular as the raw material to produce ethylene. Production of ethylene using shale gas does not produce butadiene. More specifically, growing popularity of shale gas decreases the supply of butadiene and increases the cost of tire production.

Dow Chemical of the U.S. built an ethylene plant that relies on shale gas. For fear of possible short supply of butadiene, Bridgestone and Wataru Ueda of Hokkaido University jointly developed a technology to produce butadiene from plant-derived ethanol. Mitsubishi Chemical developed a method to produce butadiene from butene produced in the purification process of oil. As discussed in No. 526, Bridgestone is working with Ajinomoto to develop biomass-derived tires. The development race of technology involved in tire production is growing fiercer.

Plant-derived synthetic rubber that
Bridgestone made on trial

Sunday, August 5, 2012

No. 580: Japanese high-speed rail trains go to Great Britain (August 4, 2012)

Business trend:
Hitachi officially got an order for 596 high-speed rail trains from Great Britain. They are for the high-speed railway departing from London for Edinburgh of Scotland, etc. The contract amounts to 550 billion yen including the maintenance service of the trains for 30 years. It is Hitachi’s biggest order from the railway business abroad. The company will build a manufacturing plant in Newton Aycliffe in Great Britain to start the production in 2016.

In the world railway business, Siemens of Germany, Alstom of France, and Bombardier of Canada have a combined share of more than 50%. Each of them enjoys an established reputation thanks to the ability to provide integrated business including trains, maintenance, and traffic management. Japanese companies including Hitachi are one step behind them because of the inability to provide an integrated service. Hitachi plans to build a manufacturing plant in India and Brazil to satisfy growing demand for railway improvement in newly industrialized countries. 

An image of the high-speed rail trains
that Hitachi will ship to Great Britain 

Friday, August 3, 2012

No. 579: A new technology to reduce CO2 emissions of coal fired power generation by 20% (August 3, 2012)

In coal fired power generation, generating efficiency increases and CO2 emissions decrease as the burning temperature increases. However, materials built by the existing technology can endure a temperature up to 600 degrees centigrade. Hitachi and Tohoku University jointly developed a technology to build a material that can endure a temperature up to 800 degrees centigrade and reduce CO2 emissions by 20%. They added metals including cobalt to the alloy material to increase the heat resistance of the new material, using Tohoku University’s technology on metallic compounds. The new material will be used for parts that require a high degree of heat resistance, such as turbine and boiler tube. They plan to put the technology into practical use in 2020 to build a steam turbine plant resistant up to 800 degrees centigrade for the first time in the world.

The newly developed technology increases the generating efficiency of coal fired power generation from 40% to 50% and decreases the CO2 emissions 20% to about 700 grams per output of 1 kW. Because oil thermal power generation emits about 740 grams per output of 1 kW, coal fired power generation resistant up to 800 degrees centigrade emits less CO2 emissions than oil thermal power generation. And it is even close to LNG thermal power generation that emits about 600 grams per output of 1 kW. World generation capacity of coal fired power generation will supposedly increase 60% over the level in 2008 to 5 billion kW in 2030. The business involved in coal fired power generation is expected to grow further in countries rich in coal resources, such as the U.S., China, and India, whereas LNG thermal power generation will be widespread in Japan. Hitachi is considering combining the new heat resistant material with CO2 recovery equipment to increase the competitive edge of the new technology. 

The new technology makes equipment more heat resistant and
allows for efficient power generation with decreased CO2 emissions.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

No. 578: Successful development of a micropump 50 times more powerful than the standard micropump (August 2, 2012)

A research team led by Shinichi Yokota of Tokyo Institute of Technology developed a micropump 50 times more powerful than the standard micropump. The newly developed micropump uses liquid called electro conjugate fluid (ECF) as the driving source. ECF is mainly insulating liquid of the fluorine system, and it produces strong jets between electrodes if voltage is applied. The micropump can be miniaturized easily without the necessity of adding any extra equipment because it can be driven only by voltage. In addition, it can be easily mass produced at a low cost because the micro electromechanical system (MEMS) is used for the production. The research team plans to apply it to micro robot hand and artificial muscle.

The new micropump consists of triangle poles and slit-like electrodes put on each of the poles. The MEMS process that combines thick film resist and electroplating is used for the production. Both the slit width and the clearance between electrodes are 200 micrometers. When voltage is applied to the micropump connected to a container that contains ECF, ECF flows along the channel. Power of the pump can be adjusted by the amount of voltage. A unit is 0.5 mm high, 0.7-1.0 mm wide, and 2 mm long. It is possible to increase the discharge pressure and flow rate by connecting units in series and in parallel. A new micropump composed of three units in parallel and 10 units in series exhibited power density of 150 mW when 4 kg voltage is applied. Because it is five times more powerful than the standard micropump, it can be used for a micro robot that needs a certain amount of force for driving.   

The newly developed micropump 50 times
more powerful than the standard micropump

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

No. 577: Developing rice breeds highly resistant to climate change (August 1, 2012)

Abnormal climate damages the growth of agricultural products worldwide, and global warming seems to have entered into a new and more serious stage. Universities and laboratories are busily occupied with developing rice highly resistant to climate change. Toshiaki Mitsui of Niigata University developed a new breed that does not deteriorate the quality even at a high temperature and in a high concentration of carbon dioxide. Rice suffers from abnormal accumulation of starch when a high temperature lasts long in summer. If the average temperature of the 20 days after rice ears up exceeds 26 degrees centigrade, rice grains become clouded and deteriorate the quality. He replaced the gene of the enzyme for resolving starch by another gene to decrease cloudiness. In the environment where the temperature is higher than in the production district, the rate of cloudiness of the new breed is 30%, whereas 70-80% of the existing breeds become clouded. In the environment where carbon dioxide concentration is 600 ppm that is 200 ppm higher than the production district, the rate of cloudiness of the new breed is 30-40%, whereas 50% of the existing breeds become clouded. It is expected that the new technology will be put into practical used in a few years.

National Agriculture and Food Research Organization (NARO) developed a new breed that blossoms early in the morning to avoid problems with pollination. Rice does not bear easily if the temperature at the time of flowering exceeds 35 degrees centigrade. NARO mated a wild breed that blossoms early in the morning with the existing breed. The new breed flowers around 7:00 a.m., three hours earlier than the existing breed. Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology and Nagoya University developed a new breed that has thicker stalks than the existing breed. The new breed does not come down easily even in a gale. The stalk of the new breed is 7-8 mm, 2 mm thicker than the existing breed. Accordingly, the new breed has 40% higher ability to resist wind without being broken. As global warming develops, a typhoon grows bigger and faster. The new breed is expected not to fall down until harvesting. As mentioned above, lots of efforts are being made to develop rice breeds more productive in the days of climate change.  

 Developing rice breeds highly resistant to
climate change is in progress