Friday, November 30, 2012

No. 658: Using a capsule to recover rare metals from industrial effluent (November 29, 2012)

Morishita Jintan will make a capsule to recover rare metals from industrial effluent practical in 2013 in alliance with Mitsubishi Corp. Capsules with microorganisms inside that adsorb rare metals are built in a device to be incorporated in the effluent purification equipment for efficient recovery and recycle of rare metals. The company will build a plant to produce the capsules with an investment of 500 million yen including a subsidy from the Ministry of Economy,Trade and Industry. The plant will start operation in March 2013, and full production is scheduled to start in September. Mitsubishi Corp. will market and lease the device that incorporates the capsules. Capsules inside the device can be replaced as needed. The price of the capsule is not decided yet.

Morishita Jintan utilized the self-developed technology that it has accumulated in such business fields as foods and pharmaceuticals. The microorganisms inside the capsule adsorb rare metals that infiltrate through the capsule’s membrane. Rare metals are recovered by burning the capsules. It does not cost much to introduce the device incorporating capsules because what is required is only to install the device in the equipment. 

Morishita Jintan’s researchers who 
developed the capsule to recover rare metals

Monday, November 26, 2012

No. 657: A data center with considerably low power consumption for air-conditioning (November 27, 2012)

NEC developed a data center that reduces power consumption considerably. The newly developed system takes in external air from outside and lets inside hot air out from the top of the container efficiently using heat generated by servers. Accordingly, artificial cooling is hardly needed and ventilation alone is needed only in summer. It can reduce the power consumption of air-conditioning by 60%, and can reduce the power consumption of a data center by 20-30% per year. In a data center, power consumption of servers accounts for 50-70% of the total power consumption, and air-conditioning accounts for most of the remaining 30-50%. NEC plans to commercialize the new system in 2014.

The container is 4 m high that is about 1.5 m higher than the conventional container, and partitions are installed inside the container. The internal temperature is kept between 15-32 degrees centigrade to prevent the servers from malfunctioning. It is necessary to run the blower fans in summer when the internal temperature goes up to 40 degrees centigrade, but natural ventilation is enough in spring, autumn, and winter. A new type container can house 200-300 servers. According to an NEC official, a data center that hardly uses blower fans has never been commercialized in the world. With the explosive spread of cloud computing services, it is growing critical to reduce power consumption of a data center. 
Click here for the concept of the system

A conventional data center container 

No. 656: Cement production using garbage and sludge as fuel (November 26, 2012)

Kawasaki Heavy will market a cement production plant that uses waste like urban garbage as fuel. The company developed the plant in alliance with the largest cement producer in China. Besides reducing coal consumption and carbon dioxide emissions, cement producers can increase their revenues by collecting cost of solid waste disposal from local governments. It has already started business negotiations with several domestic cement producers. Kawasaki Heavy and the Chinese company jointly developed a system to build a furnace to gasify garbage and sludge next to a burnt kiln that produces cement. The system uses gas generated by burning garbage and sludge as fuel and resultant ashes as raw materials for cement production.

In the case that a gasification furnace with a capacity to treat 300 tons of garbage per day is built next to a burnt kiln with a cement production capacity of 5,000 tons per day, the system is expected to earn revenue of 12 million yen per day. That is, revenue is expected to be 1,200 million yen should the plant receive waste 100 days per year. In addition, the plant can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 5%. Such hazardous components as chlorine substances and sulfur oxide are eliminated before the gasification of garbage and sludge, and metals like iron are separated for recycling. Currently, only a few cement producers accept urban garbage as fuel because chloride substances it contains damage the furnace and degrade the quality of comment. The cost to introduce the system is about 2,000 million yen. Please click here for further details.

A cement production using waste as fuel 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

No. 655: Developing a green semiconductor laser with the world’s highest light output (November 24, 2012)

Nichia developed a green semiconductor laser that has the world’s highest-level light output. By improving the design, the company successfully increased the current-to-light conversion efficiency by more than 50%. It can be used for video equipment like a high image quality TV. The company plans to mass produce the newly developed green semiconductor laser in 2013.

The newly developed green semiconductor laser has 14% current-to-light conversion efficiency with a light output of more than 1 watt. The existing product has 9.0% current-to-light conversion efficiency with a light output of 0.1 watt. The company increased the conversion efficiency by improving the quality of crystal with the help of the materials that it uses for its light-emitting diode (LED), blue semiconductor laser, and blue-violet semiconductor laser. Because red and blue high output semiconductor lasers are being mass produced, the company will have three primary colors for mass production.  

Please click here for further details in English.
Please click here for the video of the high output green semiconductor laser developed by Nichia

Friday, November 23, 2012

No. 654: Nissan’s collision avoidance system makes a debut (November 23, 2012)

Nissan released its newly developed collision avoidance system to the public yesterday. The company will put its upmarket minivan El Grande equipped with this system on the market next month. The images from the in-car cameras and supersonic waves from the sonars together avoid an accident caused by a mistaken application of the accelerator at low-speed traveling in a parking lot. An El Grande with this system is only 20,000 yen higher than a standard El Grande. Nissan plans to increase the number of models with the system gradually. Please see No. 646: Japanese auto safety technology is growing more sophisticated (November 14, 2012) for reference.

The four sonars installed in the front and rear bumpers detect an obstacle. Even if the driver of a vehicle applies an accelerator mistakenly, the system automatically controls the acceleration and applies the brake before collision. The four in-car cameras detect the while lines showing the parking space and recognizes the parking space for a vehicle to avoid a mistaken application of the accelerator even if no obstacle exists in the vicinity of the vehicle. An El Grande with this system is priced at about 5,200,000 yen.

Nissan’s El Grande minivan equipped with its 
newly developed collision avoidance system 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

No. 653: A quadrupedal walking robot from Toshiba for the nuclear power plant in Fukushima (November 22, 2012)

Toshiba developed a quadrupedal walking robot for the nuclear power plant in Fukushima. The new robot allows for jobs in the place where contaminated water may exist. It is 62.4 cm deep, 58.7 cm wide, and 106.6 cm high. It can climb a staircase and transport a small vehicle loaded with a high definition camera using its arms.

The operator can navigate it by remote control using a controller like a video game console. It can walk up and down a staircase with a 22 cm level difference. I can transport a cargo up to 20 kg. It can walk continuously for about 2 hours at a speed of 1 km/h.

Toshiba’s newly developed quadrupedal walking robot 
designed for the nuclear power plant in Fukushima 

No. 652: Studying the mechanism of empathy to develop a new advertising approach that arouses consumers’ empathy (November 21, 2012)

Dentsu, Japan’s leading ad agency, will stat to conduct research on the mechanism of human brain that invites empathy with others in collaboration with Ryuta Kawashima of Tohoku University famous for his collaboration with Nintendo in the development of the brain training game software. Utilizing the research results, the company plans to develop a house that enhances the sense of unity of family members and a social networking service that deepens spiritual exchange of users.

Prof. Kawashima developed a technology to measure 20 brains simultaneously on the basis of brain blood flow changes by irradiating the heads with far-red light. In the latest experiment, he learned that brains of people working together show the same wave pattern of brain activity occasionally even though they are totally strangers, opening up the way to clarify the mechanism of brain when people feel empathy.

Clarifying the mechanism of brain brings about the possibility to develop a new product and advertising approach. For example, family members live in a model house with equipment for the measurement of their brain activities to study the optimal area of the dining room, the optimal conditions for lighting and air-conditioning, and most suitable building materials. Automakers plan to design the optimal interior space that allows all passengers to share the pleasant time. It may be possible to develop a meeting room that activates brainstorming of all attendants. Dentsu will establish a joint research organization named “Smart Aging Lab” in alliance with a total of 10 companies from such industries as education, real estate, auto, and info-communications next January.   

Nintendo’s brain training game software

Nintendo’s brain training game software

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

No. 651: Japanese shipbuilding companies focus on eco-ships (November 20, 2012)

In a plant of Mitsui Engineering and Shipbuilding, a new environmental technology is being developed for practical application scheduled for next year. The new technology is to recover waste heat from the engine by the oil pump and use it as an aid to turn the crank axle of the propeller. The mechanism of this technology is like the mechanism used by a hybrid vehicle that uses regeneration energy of the break as a power source. The company reckons that this new technology will allow a bulker to save fuel cost by 20 million yen per year. The company is the front runner in building eco-ships that increase fuel consumption by 30% with improved design of ship and engine. Mitsubishi Heavy developed a technology to reduce frictional resistance by sending air bubbles to the ship bottom. This technology is expected to improve fuel efficiency by more than 10%.

The efforts of these shipbuilding companies are backed up material producers with advance technology. Nakashima Propeller has 3% share in the world ship propeller market with such advanced technology to build a propeller 12 m in diameter with an accuracy of one hundredth millimeter. The company is developing a propeller that uses carbon fiber reinforced plastic in alliance with the University of Tokyo and Class NK. A carbon fiber propeller has a specific gravity one fifth of a copper alloy propeller, and it is expected to save fuel cost by about 3%. A carbon fiber propeller is scheduled to make a debut in 2014.

Yanmar and Daihatsu Diesel are two of the four leading companies of ship diesel engines in the world market. Yanmar is one step ahead of the pack in the technology to cope with the regulation on emissions of nitrogen oxide. Nippon Paint has a technology to reduce the frictional resistance between the ship and seawater. This technology is based on the idea that the company got from a tuna swimming at 100 km/h in the sea. The company is scheduled to launch a new product that reduces fuel cost by 10% next year. Facing fierce competition with shipbuilding companies of Korea and China, Japanese shipbuilding companies focus on eco-ships with advanced energy saving technology. 
A ship propeller built by Nakashima Propeller 

No. 650: Developing the next-generation power semiconductor using artificial diamond (November 19, 2012)

A research team led by Shinichi Shikada of the Diamond Research Laboratory of Advanced Industrial Scienceand Technology built a substrate made of artificial diamond. It is 4 cm deep, 2 cm wide, and 0.5 mm thick. The research team enlarged the area of microscopic crystals using methane gas. It plans to build a disc-shaped substrate 5 cm in diameter toward next March. Because it will be put on the production line of LSIs, it will allow for continuous production of power semiconductors. The diamond substrate can resist more than 30 times higher voltage than the silicon substrate and about four times higher voltage than the silicon carbide substrate. In addition, the diamond substrate can reduce the power loss in operation by up to one tenth.

Silicon carbide and gallium nitride are expected to replace silicon as the material of substrate. Mitsubishi Electric is testing subway cars that incorporate silicone carbide power semiconductors in Tokyo, and it successfully reduced the power loss of the inverter by 30%. Because diamond has a higher ability to resist high voltage, it is expected to contribute to energy saving. In addition, should it be used for the power conversion equipment of an electric vehicle, the cooling system will be downsized to make an electric vehicle smaller.

It was generally believed that the practical application of a diamond power semiconductor will be after 2025, but the technology to have built a larger than 5 cm disc-shaped substrate will accelerate the development. A research firm predicts that the world power semiconductor market will increase from 1,860 billion yen in 2011 to about 3,000 billion yen in 2020. Some estimate that replacing silicone by silicon carbide as the material of all power semiconductors will save power equivalent to 8 nuclear power plants with one million kW each in 2020. Diamond and gallium nitride will save power greater than silicon carbide. 

A silicon carbide substrate developed by Denso

Saturday, November 17, 2012

No. 649: Successful development of a solid magnesium battery on trial (November 17, 2012)

A research team of Toyota Central R and D Labs succeeded in building a solid magnesium battery on trial. The research team developed a solid electrolyte that conducts magnesium ion. Although it only confirmed that the trial product can discharge electricity, it theoretically opened up the road to a new battery that has more than five times higher energy density than the existing lithium-ion battery. The trial battery employs metallic magnesium for the negative electrode, sulfur for the positive electrode, and self-developed inorganic solid materials for the electrolyte. The operation temperature is between 100 and 150 degrees centigrade. Although it is still unknown whether the new battery can get recharged, the research members confirmed that a solid magnesium battery works as a battery for the first time. 

The newly developed solid electrolyte is a chemical compound made of magnesium, boron, nitrogen, and hydrogen. Its electric conductivity is 1 microsiemens per centimeter at 150 degrees centigrade. The solid electrolyte with the highest electric conductivity at present has an electric conductivity of about 10 microsiemens per centimeter at 500 degrees centigrade. A solid magnesium battery has a five times higher theoretical volume energy density than the existing lithium-ion battery at 2,500 watt-hour. 

Magnesium batteries 

Friday, November 16, 2012

No. 648: Creating an electronic book at high speed without ripping the original book apart (November 16, 2012)

Dainippon Printing and the University of Tokyo jointly developed equipment to create an electronic book automatically while flipping pages of the original book at high speed. In addition to eliminating the necessity to rip a book apart, the equipment can read 250 pages per minute automatically even if a page contains photos and illustrations besides letters. Dainippon Printing will sell this equipment to electronic book publishers starting in 2013.

The equipment utilizes the high-speed image recognition technology developed by Masatoshi Ishikawa of the University of Tokyo. A high-speed camera shoots a book 500 times a second from the above while a special machine is flipping pages, and infrared laser recognizes the distortion of a page created when a page is flipped. A high-definition camera shoots a well-organized page, and the image is corrected to eliminate distortion. The resultant digitalized images are good enough to bind them as an electronic book. The equipment can process a page that contains even handwritten characters and cartoons. Because it can also process a fat book, it is useful to digitalize bound corporate and academic materials.

Corporate introduction of Dainippon Printing

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

No. 647: Successful development of a technology to double the travel distance of an electric vehicle (November 15, 2012)

Toyota developed an infrastructure technology for the next-generation storage battery that increases the travel distance of an electric vehicle (EV) by more than two times. The company developed a positive-electrode material to be used for the sodium ion battery. The new material is a chemical compound made up of multiple phosphate compounds, metals including nickel, and sodium. The trial battery of a coin size realized a voltage that is about 30% higher than the voltage by a lithium-ion battery at room temperature. A storage battery that allows for a travel distance between 500 km and 1,000 km per charge has come in sight.

A hybrid vehicle has a maximum travel distance of 1,000 km. However, the maximum travel distance of a lithium-ion battery will not exceed 300 km per charge, though a travel distance between 500 km and 1,000 km is vital to spread electric vehicles widely. Theoretically, it is said that a sodium ion battery cannot surpass a lithium-ion battery in performance, but the successful development of the new material allows it to be one of the candidates of the next-generation storage battery. Toyota is concurrently developing a solid state battery and air battery.    

A sodium ion battery 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

No. 646: Japanese auto safety technology is growing more sophisticated (November 14, 2012)

Toyota developed a new collision avoidance technology on high speed traveling. The new technology is effective even if the speed difference between your car and the car traveling before you is 60km/h. Suppose you are traveling at 80 km/h and the proceeding car is traveling at 20 km/h. The speed difference is 60 km/h. When you come close to the proceeding car, the new technology gives an alarm and activates the powerful automatic brake if your braking is not enough to avoid a collision. Toyota’s existing technology responds to a speed difference up to 40 km/h. In the case of speed difference of 60 km/h, the avoidance technology grows more demanding because the time before a collision becomes shorter. Toyota is trying to offer the new system for less than 150,000 yen.

Toyota also developed a technology to reduce the collision accident inside a parking lot. When you shoot a car in a place where an obstacle exists both before and behind your car, the technology will automatically regulate the engine and apply the brake. This technology will decrease the accident will prevent you from crushing your car into a convenience store. Honda also plans to develop a collision avoidance system. Using an in-car camera and radar, Honda’s technology is expected to perceive a pedestrian before your car and bring it to a stop automatically even if your car is traveling at 60km/h. Fuji Heavy is one step ahead in the collision avoidance system with its Eyesight, but Fuji Heavy’s system responds to a speed up to 30km/h.

Japanese automakers are sophisticating their safety technologies
Technology trend
Collision avoidance on high speed traveling. Collision avoidance in a parking lot due to mistaken application of the accelerator  
Plans to install a collision avoidance system based on automatic operation of steering beginning in 2015
In the process of developing a technology to predict moves including lane changes of cars around you when you are traveling.
The Eyesight is already installed on upmarket vehicles

Toyota’s latest collision avoidance technology

Nissan’s collision avoidance technology 

Fuji Heavy’s Eyesight  

Monday, November 12, 2012

No. 645: Japanese presence in the smartphone material market is growing (November 13, 2012)

Business trend:
According to a U.S. survey company, worldwide smart phone shipments are estimated to increase 2.5 times over the level in 2011 to 1,260 million units in 2016. Japanese companies have a tough game in the finished product market, but they enjoy an established presence in the material market thanks to its advanced technology. They increase the investment in the development and production of smartphone materials to strengthen the competitive edge further.

Kuraray will mass produce film materials for clearer image. The company has 80% share in the world market of polarizing plate films for liquid crystal displays, and it will start mass production of insulator films for printed circuit boards. It will increase the annual production capacity 15 times to 3 million square meters. Sumitomo Chemical will increase the production capacity of semiconductor materials for high-speed wireless radio communication. The company will increase the production capacity 25% with an investment of 5 billion yen. JX Nippon Mining and Metals will start world’s thinnest 6 micrometers foldable material for printed circuit boards.

Strategic moves of other major companies in the material market
Plans to produce glass for touch panels. The new glass is 50% lighter than the existing products.
Plans to increase the production capacity of lightweight resin sheets for touch panel by five times
Plans to double the production capacity of packaging material to protect lithium-ion battery

Sunday, November 11, 2012

No. 644: The possibility to utilize a carbon nanotube for caner treatment (November 12, 2012)

A research team led by Tatsuya Murakami of Kyoto University explored the possibility of utilizing a carbon nanotube for cancer treatment. The research team confirmed that if a carbon nanotube is irradiated by near infrared light with the property to transmit a human body, active oxygen is generated to kill cancer cells effectively. If combined with a technology to aggregate pharmacological agents in an affected area like tumor, a carbon nanotube could be utilized to develop a new cancer treatment.  

The research team coated a carbon nanotube with a kind of cholesterol like phosphatide to allow it to exist in a human body in a stable manner. They put the coated nanotube in a culture of lung cancer cells and irradiated a near infrared light with a wavelength of 808 nanometers for 10 minutes. They counted the number of lung cancer cells one day later and found that the number decreased by 45%. The number decreased by 28% in the case that a reagent to control active oxygen is put in the reagent, showing that active oxygen is effective to kill cancer cells. Please click here for further details in Japanese, and here for further details in English

Carbon nanotubes

Saturday, November 10, 2012

No. 643: A micro machine that moves autonomously on the water surface (November 10, 2012)

Susumu Kitagawa of Kyoto University developed a micro machine that moves autonomously on the water surface while emitting a chemical substance that repels water in alliance with Hiroshi Matsui of New York City University. Made of special crystals, it is about 5 mm square. They constructed the micro machine with porous metallic complexes where cubes of 0.7 nanometers square each stand in neat rows. They put diphenylalanine that has hydrophobic property inside the machine.

In the experiment, they put it in a solution mixed with a substance that melts down the cubic. They confirmed that the hydrophobic substance seeps gradually and the micro machine moves autonomously on the water surface for more than 20 minutes. Please click here to read further detailed information in the Nature Materials.  

Friday, November 9, 2012

No. 642: IHI constructs the world’s first plant to mass produce ammonia from coal in Indonesia (November 9, 2012)

IHI will construct the world’s first plant to mass produce ammonia from coal in Indonesia. The company will start the substantiative experiment in alliance with a local fertilizer company in 2014 and deliver a 100 billion yen plant toward 2016. The Indonesian government will support the project. Although natural gas is usually used to produce fertilizers, IHI developed a technology to reduce the production cost by one third using cheaper low-grade coals.

Coal reserve is estimated to satisfy world’s demand for 200 years, but about 50% of the coal reserve is low-grade coals like brown coal that is hard to burn due to a high water content. IHI opened up way to the practical application of a technology to reform brown coals to hydrogen using a high temperature gasification furnace to produce ammonia. Indonesia is rich in coal resources, 70% of which is low-grade coals. Indonesia can increase exports of natural gas to Japan if it can reduce domestic consumption of natural gas.

IHI will build a demonstration facility outside Jakarta that has a production capacity of 50 tons per day. The initial investment is about 5 billion yen. The 100 billion yen plant will have a capacity to produce 500-1,000 tons of ammonia per day. The Indonesian government pays the construction cost.  

Thursday, November 8, 2012

No. 641: Monitoring the water level of a river using laser (November 8, 2012)

Mitsubishi Electric Engineering, a group company of Mitsubishi Electric, developed a system to detect an increase of the water level of a river in real time by irradiating laser over a wide range and analyzing the reflection it gets from the watch item. Because laser can detect slight variations, the system can analyze the place that is dim due to plume and dense fog. The company plans to commercialize the system in two years.

Called “Field Viewer,” the system is made up of laser irradiation equipment and cameras. It irradiates about 8,500 lasers to the watch item and analyzes the reflection data. It is rather hard to predict a flood from a river by a water level indicator or visual observation in the case of a thick haze and a short-lasting heavy rain like guerrilla rainstorm. The new system, however, can detect even a subtle change of water level instantaneously, and the picture image of an increase of the water level can be displayed on the monitor of the PC of the superintendent.

The laser have an effective range of up to 250 m. Based on the analysis of reflection, the system can measure the distance between the irradiation point and the watch item within a measurement error of less than 10 cm. Detailed standards will be decided in the near future for the commercialization of the system. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

No. 640: Increased luminous efficiency of a green light emitting diode (November 7, 2012)

NGK Insulators confirmed that the gallium nitride wafer it developed with Hiroshi Amano of Nagoya University doubles the luminous efficiency of a green light emitting diode as compared with the existing green light emitting diode.

In the experiment of a green light emitting diode that uses the newly developed gallium nitride wafer, the internal quantum efficiency that shows luminous efficiency doubled to 60%. The company has already achieved luminous efficiency of 90% in blue light emitting diode. The company plans to quintuple the monthly production capacity of gallium nitride wafers to 1,000 pieces in 2013. Please click here to read detailed information.   

 NGK Insulators successfully doubled the 
luminous efficiency of a green LED

Monday, November 5, 2012

No. 639: Zeon starts mass production of single-walled carbon nanotubes next January (November 6, 2012)

Zeon will start mass production of single-walled carbon nanotubes in January 2013 for the first time in the world. Single-walled carbon nanotube was developed by Sumio Iijima of the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) early 1990. It is excellent in heat and electric conductivity besides being high in intensity. It is a rather promising material for electric vehicle motors and electronic circuits. Because it stores energy effectively inside the hollow in the tubular carbon atom, it can be used for a material of the electrode of lithium-ion battery.

The production cost of single-walled carbon nanotube used to be too high to translate it into practical use. Actually, it cost several tens of thousands to produce one gram of single-walled carbon nanotube. Zeon and AIST succeeded in reducing the mass production cost considerably. They produced a single-walled carbon nanotube by applying hydrogen to the stainless substrate coated with elementary particles of iron with the help of a catalyst. Because adding a small amount of water can increase the purity of carbon easily, the production cost will be around several hundreds yen per gram.

Zeon plans to mass produce single-walled carbon nanotubes starting next January. In the initial stage, the company will produce 600 grams per day and ship finished products to chemical companies that will develop applications to make the best use of the product characteristics. Zeon will gradually increase the volume of mass production to reduce the production cost to several tens of yen, and construct a plant toward 2015.

Because a single-walled carbon nanotube has a high degree of elasticity and strength, it can be used for electronic paper, super-thin touch panel, and artificial skin. In addition, because it can absorb broadband light, research is under way to apply it to infrared sensor and absorber of electromagnetic wave. A single-walled carbon nanotube has 20 times higher tension strength than high-strength steel, 1,000 times higher density tolerance for high current and 10 times higher heat conductivity than copper, and has a half mass of aluminum.     

 Single-walled carbon nanotube

No. 638: A high-performance electrolyte film for fuel cell with a reduced additive amount of phosphoric acid (November 5, 2012)

A research team led by Atsunori Matsuda of Toyohashi University of Technology developed a high-performance electrolyte film for fuel cell with a reduced additive amount of phosphoric acid. Using an inorganic compound with a high degree of conductivity of the hydrogen ion, the research team successfully reduced the additive amount of phosphoric acid to one third. The maximum output of a fuel cell using this electrolyte film reached the world’s highest level of 350 mW per square centimeter at 160 degrees centigrade without humidification.

The inorganic compound used for the electrolyte film is a powder made by mixing inorganic heteropoly acid containing tungsten and silicon with hydrogen cesium sulfate in a ball mill. The research team induced a chemical reaction by mixing them while giving impact mechanically. Because the surface is activated, the hydrogen ion has a high degree of conductivity, and the high degree of conductivity is maintained throughout a wide range of temperatures. Accordingly, the operation temperature of a fuel cell is between minus 20 to plus 160 degrees centigrade.

The electrolyte film used for Honda’s fuel cell vehicle FCX  

Saturday, November 3, 2012

No. 637: Application of biomaterials is spreading (2/2) (November 4, 2012)

Business trend:
Japanese leading trading companies are expanding the business of biomaterials in alliance with foreign companies. Itochu invested in ZeaChem of the U.S. that has the technology to refine bioethanol from plants using an enzyme collected from intestinal microorganism of termite. Mitsui and Co. is constructing the world’s largest plant to produce bio resins in Brazil in alliance with Dow Chemical of the U.S. They will establish an integrated system of production from raw material to finished product inside the premises with a view to producing bioresins at a cost comparable to producing them using oil-derived materials.

The Japanese government decided to take initiative in developing an enzyme for effective production of resin materials from wood, and held a meeting with some 30 leading companies in the related fields. It plans to allocate a budget of several billions of yen for 2-3 years for joint research. Some Japanese companies have already been developing advance technology for biomaterials. Ajinomoto is producing 1 million ton of amino acids annually by fermenting various plant materials like rice and tapioca. Ajinomoto may be the only company in the world that has an integrated system to procure plant materials, transport them, and utilize the effluent. Using Ajinomoto’s technology, Bridgestone is developing a technology to produce synthetic rubber from plant. Ajinomoto is developing a microorganism for the production of isoprene through fermentation, while Bridgestone will process isoprene to rubber using the enzyme technology.

Leading engineering companies are also energetic in developing biomaterials. JGC created a special team three years ago to develop large-scale equipment for effective production of resin materials with the help of microorganisms. Western companies are ahead of Japanese companies in developing such natural resources as oil, but Japanese companies are trying hard to increase the presence in the production and application of biomaterials.  

Please click here to see images of Toyota cars 20 years later that employs lots of biomaterials.

No. 636: Application of biomaterials is spreading (1/2) (November 3, 2012)

Business trend:

Efforts to apply biomaterials to auto parts and home electric appliances are accelerating. Toyota told its suppliers that it would give higher priority to biomaterials than oil-derived materials on the condition that biomaterials to be employed should have the same cost competitive and quality offered by the existing materials. SAI, Toyota’s hybrid car, has seats made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) developed jointly by Toyota and Toyota Tsusho. The PET they developed is as smooth and has the same degree of abrasion resistance as the oil-derived PET. They successfully reduced the cost of the plant-derived PET to the same as the oil-derived PET by importing plant materials from India. Plant-derived materials now account for 80% of the total area of SAI’s interior decorating. Toyota plans to increase the number of models that use plant-derived materials. Please click here to see images of a Toyota car to be build 20 years later that employs lots of biomaterials

The usage of biomaterials started in the mid-1990s, and they were mostly used for containers in the initial stage because they were relatively high in price and did not have enough functions to be used for industrial purposes. In addition, they were not stably procured because they were under the influence of supply and demand of food. The technology to utilize nonfood plants like wood has been developing quite rapidly recently, and the mass production technology reduced the application cost. Today, plant-derived materials higher in performance than oil-derived materials are available.

The plant-derived nylon jointly developed by Toray and Ajinomoto has the same heat resistance and strength as oil-derived nylon. It has two times higher ability to absorb and desorb moisture than oil-derived nylon. Toray plans to apply the plant-derived nylon to stockings and undershirts. Unitika constructed a plant to produce resins made of ricinus produced from a kind of sesame. The Unitika’s plant-derived resin can be produced at the same cost as oil-derived resin. Moreover, it is had to deform and has a higher degree of heat resistance than oil-derived resin. The company plans to sell the plant-derived resins to fuel tubes of cars and connectors of electric appliances. Mitsubishi Chemical wishes to increase the share of biomaterials for its resins to 20%, and Mitsubishi Rayon tries to increase its share to 50%.

Approach for biomaterials
Major applications
Mass producing highly heat resistant polyamide resins
Auto parts
Joint development with Bridgestone, and Toray
Tires, clothes
Mitsubishi Chemical
Mass producing high performance plant-derived resins
Auto parts
Mitsubishi Rayon
Increase the share of biometerials of acrylic resins to 50%
Home elecctric appliances
Joint development of plant-derived materials for lithium-ion battery